Bringing Home the Faith (nineteenth installment)

Bringing Home the Faith: a Pastor writes to her teenage son about Christian belief is a series of ten letters I wrote for my son addressing his doubts about Christian faith and answering his questions about what Christians believe and why.  Each letter is preceded by an Introduction which introduces its particular topic.

Please share these weekly installments of Bringing Home the Faith with someone in your life, whether young or old, who wants uncomplicated and honest answers to their questions and concerns about Christian faith.

Last week in letter No. 6: Why Becoming Like Jesus is What is Best for Us, I explained how Jesus can begin to bring out in us the good that we cannot do on our own.   This week I conclude the letter by writing about how true freedom is only found by submitting to Jesus’ will.

Jesus understood how strongholds such as pride, fear and idolatry make it impossible for us to be truly free and happy.  He was able to overpower them in his life and he can do the same in our lives, too.   In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke we hear that Jesus was tempted by the devil after he had reached adulthood and just before he began his ministry.  The temptations were designed to trip Jesus up so he would fail in his mission to set us all free from the power of sin.

Jesus tempted in the wilderness, James TISSOT, 1886-94

First the devil tempted him with fear and unbelief.  Jesus had been fasting and praying for forty days and he was hungry and without food at hand.  The devil tried to instill fear, about having enough resources, and doubt, about whether God would provide them, by tempting Jesus to take matters into his own hands.   The devil challenged Jesus to command the stones to become bread.  Jesus responded:

It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4) 

Jesus did not give in to the strongholds of fear or doubt about whether he was going to get to eat or not.  He chose to rely on God to provide what he needed most.  He knew God would never let him down.  God promises us in the Bible that we, too, can trust Him for what we need.  (See Luke 12: 22-31 for the teaching of Jesus on the subject of trusting God for food and clothing and the things we need most.) 

Next, the devil tempts Jesus to prove he is the Son of God by throwing himself down from the highest point of the temple.  Jesus responds:

It is also written, “do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)  

Jesus does not allow pride to get in the way.  He feels no need to test God’s patience by showing off, trying to prove to the devil he is the Son of God.  He is secure in his relationship with his Father and is confident of his Father’s love.  So Jesus doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone.  Nothing anyone can do or say will change his sense of identity and worth.

Temptation on the mountain, DUCCIO di Buoninsegna, 1308-11

Finally, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and pointed out the great kingdoms below.  He said:

All this I will give you…if you will bow down and worship me.”  Jesus responds, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matthew 4:9-11) 

Idolatry is the worship of something, or someone, other than God.  It is about making the pursuit or attainment of someone or something more important than God in our life.  Jesus was not interested in acquiring power and wealth or popularity.  He had no longing to control kingdoms and amass fortunes.  His only pursuit, his only yearning, was to do the will of his Father.

Can you see from the result of these temptations that Jesus was truly happy?  He felt totally secure in his Father’s love and care.  He didn’t need to prove anything.  He trusted in God to provide what he needed most and fear had no hold on his life.  He was truly happy because he had completely turned his life over to his Father.  In the same way, turning our lives over to Jesus is the only way we can find lasting happiness.

I mistakenly thought I had freedom and that I’d lose it by submitting to Jesus’ will.  Finally, it dawned on me that I was neither free nor in control.   At that point, nine years ago, I said to Jesus, “From this moment on, I only want what You want.  I trust You with my life.  I want to spend the rest of my life listening to You and following Your direction and giving You the glory.  I give up on my other pursuits.  From now on You are my only pursuit.”

Now, Caleb, I am finally happy.  My heart has found its home.  Through Jesus I lack for nothing.  Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (4:12-13) 

Only by submitting to Jesus can we be set free from the things that make us miserable, from the pressure we all feel to fit in, be a success, to have lots of money.  We are not losing our lives when we turn them over to him.  We are finally gaining them back.  Jesus is the model for how human life was intended by God to be.  Jesus’ relationship with his Father (“Not my will, but Thine”) is the model for our relationship with Jesus.  We find our freedom in becoming like him.  It all begins when we are ready to submit our lives to Jesus and let him be the boss.

I’m eager to continue this train of thought.  In my next letter, I’ll be writing about how to become more like Jesus.  Here are the most important things to remember from this one:

  • Happiness is not found by being in control of our lives. 
  • Even if we think we are in control of our lives, we are not.  Strongholds like pride, fear and idolatry have us in their grip.  For example, to want what we want is evidence of the stronghold of pride.  This actually makes us miserable.
  • Jesus did not succumb to any strongholds and only he can set us free from ours.
  • Freedom is found by allowing Jesus to be the boss of your life.

I hope my story is of help to you.  Even though I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, Jesus assured me he won’t let any of it go to waste.

Love,

Mom

This is the last installment for 2011 from my book, Bringing Home the Faith.  I will post the remaining four letters and epilogue next year.  You can find, in numerical order, the prologue and first six letters up on the black page bar, which runs under the large picture, at the top of the blog.  Click “Bringing Home the Faith” for the drop-down menu.

Next week:  Some thoughts on Genesis 22.

Discussion Questions for Nineteenth Installment: Why Becoming Like Jesus is What’s Best for Us

1)      Describe how the devil tempted Jesus and why Jesus responded the way he did.

2)      What is a stronghold?  Do you recognize any in yourself?

3)      How do we find true freedom?  Have you experienced this?  Please explain.

About Claudia Dickson Greggs

I am an Anglican priest, author, wife and mother. Writing and teaching about Christian life and faith are passions of mine.
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