I have a mild yet devastating form of amnesia. This particular strain doesn’t cause me to forget my name, where I live, or what year it is, but there are times—too many for me to count—when my true identity escapes me. If only I could retain even a meager grasp on who I really am and just how much God loves me, sin would lose much of its luster. That’s because, as I’ve discovered, sin isn’t just a morality problem; it’s an identity problem.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s sin was not in wanting to be like God, for God had made them in His image to begin with (Gen. 1:26). Their error was in not knowing who they were. Had they understood their identity as unbelievably loved children of God, created to share intimate friendship with their Creator and to reign as His representatives in this world, Satan’s attempts to undermine God’s goodness would have seemed laughable. Adam would have rightly judged the serpent’s lies for what they were and silenced the venomous traitor once and for all. But Adam and Eve doubted God’s good intentions and their own special place in creation, and sin gained entry into this world.
Three Areas of Temptation
For Christians, all sin boils down to this type of identity crisis. When we fail to trust our privileged position as children loved by our heavenly Father, we begin to seek things, otherwise good and enjoyable, apart from Him. And this is sin.
The Bible sums up the seemingly inexhaustible realm of sin into three main struggles: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16)—in other words, the desires for pleasure, for possessions, and for position. All three can be seen in our first parents’ sin in the Garden:
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food [the lust of the flesh], and that it was a delight to the eyes [the lust of the eyes], and that the tree was desirable to make one wise [the boastful pride of life], she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. (Gen. 3:6)
On this side of Eden, we must choose daily whether or not we will seek out pleasure, possessions, and position on our own terms or seek the Giver of these good things instead. Seeking out the gifts is an act of misguided ambition. Seeking out the Giver is an act of obedience by those who know their identity as a child of God.
Idols Steal True Life
Too often, I have sought out the gifts instead of the Giver, and each time, it’s left me wanting. When I want adventure and fun, I seek pleasure, but there is no enjoyment imaginable that could rival God’s plans for me (1 Cor. 2:9). When I long for security, I look to my possessions, but God is the only Rock I’ll ever need (Ps. 18:2). And when I want to know the blessing of position, I work hard, giving my all to my goals, but position comes from the Lord (Ps. 75:6-7), and it is only our eternal position that truly matters (Matt. 25:21).
While these desires aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, they are not ultimate; the satisfaction they bring fades away. When I seek fulfillment in these otherwise good things, I tell myself, This time, it will be different. But it’s only a more deadly form of sin because it is subtle. Seemingly innocent, everyday desires, when sought apart from or instead of God, become life-stealing idols. The way to gain life is not by seeking after the things we foolishly believe will give us life but by offering up our lives to our Creator, the source of life.
The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). In fact, the temptations Satan served up to Jesus in the desert mirror the very same temptations Adam and Eve faced. In Luke 4:1-13, Jesus is tempted to satisfy His hunger with stones-turned-bread (lust of the flesh), to worship Satan in exchange for the kingdoms of this world (lust of the eyes), and to hurl Himself off of the temple’s pinnacle as part of a grand exhibition, sure to garner Him acclaim from the masses (boastful pride of life). Yet unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus chose submission to God each time Satan tempted Him. And He did this knowing that the road of obedience led to the cross. His was a life offered up to the Father.
Jesus knew His true identity: the much-loved Son of God. That knowledge empowered Him to stand up under the weight of temptation and to endure unimaginable suffering. Our identity is the same. God’s Word tells us that in Christ, we have been adopted as God’s children.
Goodness Despite Pain
Because Adam and Eve allowed sin to enter our world, creation is now twisted and broken with pain and suffering. For the child of God, even the greatest tragedy will be used for good in the end. It will be woven into a tapestry of unspeakable beauty that, for now, we see only with the blurred vision of the nearsighted. Still, when I trip over a difficult period of life, the pain seems to trigger my amnesia.
More often than I’d care to admit, I question God’s goodness. I ask why He allows His children to walk through disaster and heartbreak. But the problem is not with our heavenly Father. He is good, He is just, and in His presence, there is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forever” (Ps. 16:11). The problem is with my own forgetful heart. I forget that the present suffering is momentary, that the battle has already been won. I need regular doses of God’s Word and time with God’s people to remind me that I am His child. No hardship, disappointment, or trial is worth comparing to the goodness God has stored up for those whom He loves.