As Lent begins, I’ve been focusing on Jesus’ temptations in the desert, and looking at how we can engage with those “arch-temptations” in order to reduce the resistance to the “rivers of living water” that are supposed to be flowing out of us. Last time we looked at appetite. Today we move to affirmation.
The three areas Jesus was tempted in correspond roughly with the three aspects of the fruit that Eve found appealing in Genesis 3, and also with what old Apostle John calls “all that is in the world” (1 John 2:16)These arch-temptations are (as alliterated by Mike Breen):
- Appetite [stones into bread / good for food / lust of the flesh]
- Affirmation [temple leap / pleasing to the eye / lust of the eyes]
- Ambition [all the kingdoms / desirable for gaining wisdom / pride of life]
Let’s dive into affirmation today.
“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, and God will protect you,” the devil told Jesus.
This is the desire for affirmation, the desire to look good, wanting to see that which is pleasing and wanting to be pleasing. This is what John calls the “lust of the eyes,” and one of the reasons Eve ate the fruit is that is was “pleasing to the eye.”
One thinks of Lester Burnham, Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty, who, when asked why he was suddenly working out at the gym so much, said “I want to look good naked.” He had been taken in by this temptation. Or the Pharisees, who did all the “right things” (giving, praying, fasting) but for the sole purpose of “being seen.” They simply wanted to have a reputation of righteousness, without any desire to actually be righteous. “They have their reward,” Jesus said about them. They wanted people to notice them, and they did it: they were noticed.
Any self-aware person can probably recognize this in themselves. Many times the reason we do things is so that others will like us, affirm us, or want to hang out with us. We want to please people, not because we love them, but because we need them to like us so we feel good about ourselves.
This is because our identity always comes from somewhere outside of us. If we are not resting securely in the reality that we are children of our Father, if we’re not regularly receiving affirmation from him in that relationship of love, we will very quickly turn to others to get a sense of identity, trying to get “affirmation hits” from others.
- Insert funny comment now so people think I’m witty…
- Find a way to talk about my recent accomplishment…
- How can I make sure people know I’m intelligent?
- Does my boss really know how good I am at my job?
- What would people think if my kids did that?
- What should I wear to the party so people think I’m sophisticated?
- If I share what I’m really thinking, people won’t like me.
This is essentially idolatry, and living with these kinds of addictions cripples us. It is a way of life that will grind you to powder.
If you’re feeling that gnawing emptiness that leads to seeking the affirmation of others, it’s time to stop, and go to the source and fountain of unconditional acceptance and love. Return to the Father and let him affirm your identity. Repent. Come home.
One of the most important disciplines in my life is a simple, regular (at least once a day) turning toward the Lord to let him affirm me as his son. God has prepared the meal, all we need to do is come to the table. I’ve realized this is a meal I can’t afford to miss.
How do you battle the temptation to seek affirmation from others?
This is like an arrow straight to my heart, man. Thanks for this. Of the 3, I think this is might be my biggest temptation (although I'm starting to see the more subtle ways the other 2 creep in as well). Even in the "love languages" realm, my top way of receiving love is words of affirmation.
Ben Sternke says
One of the reasons I unplugged from Twitter for Lent is the affirmation I enjoy when someone likes what I say 😉 It's definitely a subtle temptation.
Thanks so much for this post. I've been confused lately because I know God uses others' affirmations to point us in the right directions, but I always seem to find a way to make it about myself. Your post is a good reminder to start by finding value in God and to consistently talk with Him about what the world tells us about ourselves — to ask His opinion and allow him to verify affirmations from other sources.
Ben Sternke says
You're definitely right, though, that oftentimes God uses others to affirm us. If we're going to edify one another, that will include affirming one another "in the Lord." The trick is keeping our affirmation "in the Lord," and making sure that we aren't depending on the affirmation of others for our sense of identity and worth.
Adeola Plumptre says
Could lust of the eyes also involve the appreciation of that which is destructive which has been made to appear beautiful?
Ben Sternke says
Yes that’s good. I think it’s the longing for “surface” beauty without much thought/concern for inner/true beauty.