Vietnam was a grueling war for America. America was unprepared because it was a mental war too. Our troops were fighting on Enemy Territory, and the Enemy knew how to use the mountains and jungles to their advantage – we weren’t prepared for the schemes of the enemy. It was guerilla warfare, where the enemy tried to stay hidden, unseen – and leave traps that we kept falling into. In the swamps they would plant punji sticks, shafts of dried bamboo, dagger sharp with poison on them. In the jungles, they would plant “Bouncing Bettys” along the pathways. Our soldiers would step on an unseen trigger, and out of the ground would spring an explosive that would cut the legs off of everyone around it.
So the battle was against this unseen enemy. And it wasn’t until we learned the schemes of the Enemy that we were able to avoid the traps and fight back. We had to understand the enemy’s tactics, learn to read the signs of an ambush, see the trap before we walked into it.
We too are in a battle with an unseen enemy. It’s a spiritual battle that’s fought on the battlefront of the mind and with our thoughts. And the attack always comes first at “Who I Am”—your identity, my identity.
When you don’t know Who You Are—when you’re not secure in who God says You Are—then you can easily be manipulated with lies telling you how to “Be Somebody.”
For me, understanding the temptations and traps set for me, things I kept falling into, gave me a way to fight this spiritual battle. I learned we can prevail and win and live the life God intended—with Security, with Value, Worth, Confidence that gives you inner strength.
We all get attacked and tempted, and Jesus did too. Jesus got attacked by Evil at the point of Identity. And as we see how Jesus was attacked and tempted, we’ll also learn how to fight spiritually and win.
The Bible tells us this about spiritual warfare:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:10-12
This is a Battlefield, fighting an unseen spiritual enemy—the battlefield is the mind.
Now, let me pause and acknowledge some of you are not sure you believe in God or Jesus, and satanic evil—that’s too much. Maybe you conjure up silly Hollywood images of devils in red suits with horns and pitchforks. I get it. But try to stay open.
Let’s think harder about evil and how it works. Because even if we can’t agree there’s an unseen satanic force, we can surely all agree there’s evil. Right? The world is filled with so much devastation, murder, abuse, and war. We just don’t often see how evil works.
As that verse says, it’s never people that are your real enemy. If we could only realize that.
It’s evil working hard to attack our sense of worth, pit us against each other, and get us to divorce, divide, villainize—democrat vs republican, white or black or brown, or even your own spouse. If you don’t see the battle, you’ll keep falling into the traps.
The leading historian on evil says:
“The suggestion that Jesus’ belief in Satan was merely part of a primitive worldview poses serious difficulties. The notion that the first century was a benighted age [not as enlightened as we are] compared with the 20th century is mere ethnocentrism shifted to time.”– Jeffrey Russell, professor at UCSB
Russell notes that our lack of belief in an Evil Satanic force bent on mass destruction has not decreased Evil, if anything it’s increased. Russell says nothing else can explain Transpersonal Evil–the fact that large groups of normal humans can be led to do horrific things.
But for our purposes, here’s what you need to understand. Evil’s only power over us is when we believe accusations and lies. The battle is won or lost in your mind.
So think about thoughts that have come into your mind, attacking your worth or value, provoking insecurity or superiority–then led you down a road that promised good, but ended up hurting you or others. That’s how Evil works.
And the attack always starts with Identity. Who Am I?
So let’s learn from Jesus how to see the attack on Identity and how to fight back.
Matthew 4 – The Temptations of Jesus
4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. 2 For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.3 During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:1-4.
We all face 3 temptations that will attack your sense of Identity and try to manipulate you out of insecurity to go against God’s ways.
They’re the same temptations Jesus faced in the desert. And it’s fascinating because these temptations come at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He gets baptized, and God the Father affirms his Identity. People at his baptism heard a voice from heaven say:
“This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” Matthew 3:17
Think about this for a minute. Before Jesus ever taught or performed a miracle, God was already pleased with Him. That’s how God feels about you! You don’t have to earn His love and affection. He loves you right now! As we surrender our lives to Him and follow Him, it’s out of gratitude that we begin to change and do the good works He has called us to do. Never forget that order! You are dearly loved by God!
God affirms Jesus’ identity, and then Jesus is led into the desert for 40 days of fasting and preparation, and when he gets weak, Satan attacks his Identity in the same 3 ways he attacks your identity.
Think about which ones tend to work best on you, so you can fight the lie with the truth.
Temptation One: I Am What I Do (Performance)
The devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” Matthew 4:3.
Satan just mean “accuser” and notice how all temptation starts with accusation “If you’re the son of God…prove it.”
God just said He was, but evil attacks identity.
Ever heard this accusatory thought?
“If you’re a real man…prove it by (fill in the blank).
“If you’re a woman worth loving prove it by…(what?).”
The accusation is against your True Identity—who God says you are. If you are not secure in Who God says you are, you can be manipulated. And the aim is to deceive you into doing something that’s outside God’s will or timing.
For Jesus, he was fasting until a certain time—he was hungry. Nothing wrong with meeting that need, but it wasn’t God’s timing.
Do you find yourself under thoughts of accusation trying to get you to prove your worth or based on what you do? Some of us set our sights on performance, accomplishments, to Make a Name for Ourselves. If I can just hit that next target of success, that coveted title on my office door, that next level of accomplishment. Then I’ll be somebody. Then I’ll feel good about myself. That’s just propping up a False Identity.
This is where I’ve struggled the most over the years. In my 20’s- early 30s, I could never accomplish enough—when I didn’t feel I was accomplishing enough fast enough, I’d start to sink emotionally. It caused me to red-line and at times use people as a means to my goals of accomplishment. It had a root in my family of origin, and I’ve shared before how God helped me discover that lie—My Worth is in My Accomplishments.
I had to push against lies that I was worthless if I was not doing more. I had to learn solitude–to be still, quiet, rest in just being loved, valuable to God, even if I didn’t perform. But man, it was hard, like dying to something–but learning the truth—it’s so freeing.
Then you can accomplish for right reasons–to love and serve God and people, out of security and overflow not to prove something.
Here are some signs you get your Identity from performance.
- If you feel extra good about yourself when things are up and to the right, but when you don’t perform or the metrics go south, you feel horrible about yourself.
- If your feelings of worth fluctuate with external circumstances—like the markets, net worth, title, accomplishments.
That’s a good sign you need to die to that Old, False Self for a New, secure Self.
Notice how Jesus fights the Accusations. Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 8:3—which is what God says is true.
You and I have to do the same. Last week I gave you a real time example of that as I shared how last Sunday morning God helped me out of the funk I have been in through Romans 8. When I shifted the focus from my fears to what is actually true of me because of Jesus, the funk lifted! This has been a really great week for me emotionally and spiritually!
Remember Jesus said: “If you follow my teachings, you’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
God’s Word in the Bible is Truth—it’s the antidote to the lies and accusations.
Who Are You In Christ? What is TRUE—if you’ve opened your heart to Christ, accepted the gift of God’s forgiveness, you are a child of the King. Just for fun, if this is true of you, let’s say it together:
I’m a Child of the King!
I am dearly loved and adopted–a son or daughter (chosen by God), blameless in his eyes. Ephesians 1:4-5
This is our new position, in Christ. You don’t have to prove your worth! God’s declared your worth! The question is, do we live like it?
That’s why week 1 we gave you the assignment to meditate on Ephesians 1-3 and make it personal (add your name to the story). You have to know Who God says you are, or you’ll be easily manipulated by accusatory thoughts.
So when that feeling comes “If you’re a real man, If you’re a real woman, If you were worth anything—prove it–do this or that.” Quote the truth and push against the worry or performance anxiety that says: “you are what you do,” and rest in what God says. Then you’ll be free to do good for right reasons.
So we get attacked with the lie “I Am What I Do”. But maybe for you, the bigger temptation is
Temptation Two: I Am What Others Think (People Pleasing)
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, 6 and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” 7 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”
Some of us have built our identity around what people think about us. We are aimed at pleasing people, but this too is a trap.
Satan tempted Jesus to throw himself down from the highest spot of the temple so that the angels would rescue him and people would believe in him.
“If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you.’” Matthew 4:6
Notice the Identity accusation “If you are the Son of God…” He knew Jesus was the Son of God, and He knows you are a Child of God with great value, but those accusatory thoughts are designed to manipulate you out of insecurity to please people. For Jesus, the temptation was to prove his Identity as Messiah and Savior without having to suffer on the cross. See, a Rabbinic tradition said the Messiah would appear on top of the Temple. So he’s tempting Jesus to prove His Identity by getting people to acknowledge him.
And this is fascinating because Satan quotes the Bible. He quotes Psalm 91 about how “God will send his angels to protect you” but he takes it out of context and twists it. Which is why you need to study God’s Word and know what’s true, or your enemy can twist it.
On Friday, Eric Bryant had an idea for the new year, and I want to invite you to be part of it. He is going to read through the New Testament. It’s just 1 chapter a day, 5 days a week. If you are new to the Bible, or you want accountability to make it through all the way, follow him on social media as he will be sharing in one minute or less some of the context of what we are reading and the ways God is speaking to us. (Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter if it’s still exists by then)
You see reading the Bible is not about getting more information. It’s about transformation! The Bible shows us the ways of God! It’s one of the main ways we can connect with Him in our personal relationship with Him!
But Jesus was going to overcome evil not by getting people to hail him as Messiah, but by dying to pay for our sins so that evil’s ability to separate us from God is broken. We can be forgiven and reconnected to God our Father – the Source of Security and Strength.
When your Identity is based on what others think, it will feel like death to disappoint them. It will feel like losing yourself to let them down.
But Like Jesus, you must die to people pleasing because the other side of it is Life and Freedom in who God says you truly are.
Paul said it this way:
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20.
When I was a new follower of Jesus, I memorized this verse. It really helped me reconnect with God and my identity whenever I was tempted or distracted or derailed.
We strengthen our true Identity by dying to what people think, dying to trying to prove our worth, and we trust in what God says is true! No one else loved you enough to sacrifice their life for your security. Jesus did! So forget about what people say or think about you. It doesn’t matter! All that matters is what God thinks and he loves you and gave himself for you.
Some of the signs that you are tempted to get Identity from people is if you feel a lot of shame.
Shame is different from guilt.
The Holy Spirit will convict you and you’ll feel guilty if you lie. The purpose is so that you’ll tell the truth. That’s good guilt – to correct a wrong action.
Shame is not about an action but about Identity.
You feel worthless or horrible or condemned as a person based on what others think. God wants to set you free from that kind of shame-based Identity.
Remember last week the first verse from Romans 8 was how “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”
Conviction brings life.
Condemnation brings death.
Again, Jesus fights the lie by quoting scripture because what God says is true! “Don’t test God, trust God.”
True freedom comes when we no longer need to be special in other people’s eyes because we know we are special in God’s eyes.
Does your identity get attacked saying “Prove your worth by what you do?” Or maybe “You are what people say you are?” Or maybe for you it’s…
Temptation Three: I Am What I Have (Possessions)
8 Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”10 “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. Matthew 4:8-11
When you resist the lies with the truth—the attack stops.
Jesus was shown all the wealth and power of the earth. For a time, evil rules this world.
If your obedience can be bought, evil can pay the price.
Does evil tempt you: “Look around at what everyone else has. You’re worthless. You don’t have anything. How can you think you are somebody? You’re a nobody—follow me and you’ll have it all.”
Satan plays on issues of fear and insecurity based on comparison. “Look at the house she lives in…if you were really worth something, you’d have a house like that…” That’s envy driven out of an insecure identity.
“Look at what he has…you’re not worth much…”
Evil tries to tell you your Identity is based on what you have compared to others.
Jesus’ identity gets attacked: “You can have it all—be somebody in this world.” But notice the lie—Jesus will have it all. All authority and power and all things will one day be under his loving Kingdom rule. And notice something else—God calls you his heir.
The Truth is–You will one day inherit all that God has:
And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.”…and since you are his child, God has made you his heir. Galatians 1:6-7.
One day, you’ll inherit everything God owns—ours to enjoy with Him forever. So don’t be manipulated by evil to think you have to prove your worth in comparison or by possessing more or finding your security somewhere or in someone else. Push against those lies designed to manipulate you and get you to worship things as most important instead of making God most important.
God wants you Secure, Fulfilled, Spiritual Strong, but we must get rid of the Old Self and all these lies and accusations we believed against our true identity.
We must Put on the New Self—growing up in security in who God says we are until we don’t need anything or anyone to do, say, or approve to feel complete, confident, loved, valued…secure.
That’s Life and Freedom. Jesus laid down his life to buy your life and freedom.
Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” John 10:10.
The way we follow Jesus into Life and Freedom is by laying down our Old Self, dying to self that must prove our worth, dying to self that needs people to approve of us, dying to self that envy’s, boasts or compares—so that The Life and Freedom of Jesus can live in and through us.