Monday, August 1, 2011

Temptation Starts with Distorted Identity

"Who am I?" Perhaps the quintessential question of human existance for all of us. Dr. Russell Moore's awesome new book called, "Tempted and Tried: Temptation and Triumph of Jesus" helps dissect the human experience of temptation by showing how the question of human identity is really the starting point of our downfall into sin.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two, in which he writes:


“Temptation – for the entire human race, for the people of Israel, and for each of us personally – starts with a question of identity, moves to a confusion of the desires, and ultimately heads to a contest of futures. In short, there’s a reason you want what you don’t want. Temptation is embryonic, personality specific, and purpose directed.
Something is afoot out there that’s deeper and older and scarier than we can contemplate. The Christian Scriptures propose an answer to the question, What’s wrong with me? Before you wrestle with the temptation in your own life, you’ll need to see the horror of what it really is, as well as the glory of how Jesus triumphs over it. Jesus walked through the cycle of temptation for us, and does so with us. Like “a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7), he walked out into the wilderness and onto the stairway to hell.
WHO ARE YOU?
The first step in the cycle of temptation is the question of our identity. James told the poor and the beaten down to “boast in his exaltation” and told the prosperous and the up-and-coming to glory “in his humiliation” (James 1:9-10). Why? James understood that temptation begins with an illusion about the self – skewed vision of who you are. The satanic powers don’t care if you illusion is one of personal grandiosity or of self-loathing, as long as you see your current circumstance, rather than the gospel, as the eternal statement of who you are.  If the poor sees his poverty as making it impossible for him to have dignity, he is fallen. If the rich sees his wealth as a denial that “like a flower of the grass he will pass away,” even “in the midst of his pursuits” (James 1:10-11), then he is undone.
Temptation has always started here, from the very beginning of the cosmic story. When the Bible reveals the ancestral fall of the human race, it opens with a question of identity. The woman in the Genesis narrative was approached by a mysterious serpent, a “beast of the field” that was “more crafty” than any of the others (Gen. 3:1). And that’s just the point. The woman, Eve, and her husband were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). They were living signs of God’s dominion over everything except God and one another. This dominion was exhaustive, right down to “every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).
But here she was being interrogated by a “beast of the field” that questioned God’s commands and prerogatives. Without even a word, the serpent led the woman to act as though he had dominion over her instead of the other way around. He persuaded her to see herself as an animal instead of as what she had been told she was – the image-bearing queen, a principality and power over the beasts.
At the same time the serpent was treating his queen as a fellow animal, he also subtly led her to see herself as more than an empress – (as god)… The serpent walked the woman along to where she could see herself as if she were the ultimate cosmic judge, free from the scrutiny of her Creator’s holiness. At the very beginning of the human story was a question: Who are you?" (Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Jesus, Crossway 20011, pages 28-29.)
The book just keeps getting better from there. So far, it has exceeded my expectations and I'm thrilled that other bloggers have been recommending it, otherwise, I may have missed out entirely.

Two things that I really loved about the excerpt above: 1) Learning that a distortion of our identity precedes our distorted desires and lusts taking root in the heart. 2) Reading his exposition of the creation/fall account which focuses on Eve's identitity as an image bearer. Typically in conservative Christian circles, our main focus is on Eve's identity as wife, but here Dr. Moore shows us why her core identity is much more essential, eternal, and evangelistic than her peripheral identity. The entire book is full of insights that are at least this good, for which I am extremely grateful.

(as a side note: Today's RZIM Devotional, "Peripheral Identities", discusses a similar idea from the perspective of Ruth and Naomi. I thought it was worth sharing.)

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