“If you are the Son of God…”(Lk 4:3,9).
Why does the devil say “if” you are the Son of God? Clearly he knows who Christ is. Ah, but this is the most devious tool used in the temptation against Christ in the desert. You see, the devil knows the heart of man – the pride that lies therein, and he hopes to get a foothold, if nothing else, into that which may weaken Jesus. The great challenge he presents to Christ is not turning a stone into bread, rejecting the power and glory of kingdoms, or trusting angels will catch him if he throws himself from the temple. No, Christ must rather overcome the seed of doubt, continuously attempting to be planted within him by the devil. The devil challenges him, in doubting who Christ truly is, and provokes him to prove his true identity.
As men and women of flesh and blood, pride is a source of great weakness. There is undoubtedly within us, a nagging and unfulfilled desire to prove to others, and in turn ourselves, that we are authentically who we claim to be. Granted, our claims may be lofty and not always genuine. In fact, in corporate America, “talking up” qualities, responsibilities, or position, are part and parcel with gaining leverage in our career. Politics is an even shallower arena, boasting candidates who publicly affirm, support, and finance positions they morally and personally oppose.
As the political and spiritual chaos around us seem to increase, let us not forget the true enemy – the seed snatcher (Mt 13:19). Raising doubt within us is the fastest way to turn something we may not want to do into an enticing challenge. Fulfilling that challenge, and proving myself, becomes my bait and prize. Perhaps achieved at the cost of weakening my foundation, compromising my convictions, and insistent on an obligation that I provide physical proof of my claim – never on my terms. Slippery slope does not even begin to describe the landslide this pressure creates, on the soul as much as on society.
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. ~Ephesians 6:12
The devil not only tempts us, by planting the seed of doubt within us, but likewise enlists us to plant that same seed in others. Perhaps we find ourselves falling prey to this most often in our relationships, using language that is manipulative to coerce the other, even using children as leverage, constantly defeating the other. How often have we found ourselves using this deceitful skill, petitioning a request with the words, “if” you loved me, or any other format? We despise it in politics, in the workplace, and especially in our own homes, and yet can’t escape it.
Christ defeats this attitude with peace of heart. This may at first sound like a ridiculous claim, but without inner peace and reliance on God for all things, fear and anxiety easily take hold. The sky seems to be falling, and in an instant the sea is in an uproar. Suddenly I am forced to take matters into my own hands, despite my better judgement and moral clarity – because in this moment, Christ is asleep at the helm. But these moments are precisely when I am called back into the desert with Christ. I am called to do nothing at all, and let God lead. Out of the peace Christ creates in me, I am able to see and rebuke the devil for putting God to the test. As well, I am able to stand guard against my own patterns of contentious approach with others, adopting proper language, seeking to understand and affirm, rather than doubt. Peace of heart is not contingent on political and social peace or unrest, nor on the climate of the home. In fact, it is the only way to fight temptation and achieve salvation.
Christ is our most perfect example. Despite us kowtowing to the prideful challenges of the devil, who tempts us to prove our ability over self-doubt, Christ will not fall. Remember, the devil is relentless. After ending every temptation against Christ in the desert, “he departed from him until an opportune time” (Lk 4:13). As absurd as it seems, the devil actually planned, in that moment, to return to Christ again. Jesus’ weapon is once again peace of heart. He returns to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit,” which strengthens him. May this same spirit overshadow us, giving us peace of heart, and preventing doubt and fear from consuming and distracting us from the salvific power of God. Despite the unrest in the world, we are never forced to compromise the truths of a well-formed conscience, or prove ourselves by settling among presented options, which all oppose moral goodness and truth.
Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. ~Ephesians 6:14-16