Temptations and the False Self

The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Lent 1—Year C; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13. Video.

Happy Valentine’s Day! So, what do you think we’re going to talk about today? Love? No. We’re going to talk about temptation! But to understand the nature of temptation, we have to get a few things out of the way first.


So, how do you most want to be perceived? How do you most want people to think about you? Or, what do you most long for? Give me some adjectives. Good (E&A). Strong (P&C). To be safe (SSS). To be rich (All of the above). Kind (E&A). Smart (P&C). Fast (P&C, SSS). Winner (P&C). To be popular (E&A). To have our basic needs met—enough food, enough money, shelter (SSS). On this Valentine’s Day, to be loved (E&A). Etc.


These ways that we want to be perceived, these ways that we want people to think about us, these things that we long for—they fall into three categories, into three realms—the longing for safety, security, and survival, the longing for power and control, the longing for esteem and affection. Cynthia Bourgeault has rightly identified these as the three power centers of the False Self. These are the drives that literally drive us—they drive our motivations, our actions, our behavior, our choices. These are the brakes, the gas pedal, and the steering wheel when the False Self has the keys to the car.

So, Jesus has just been baptized; he is full of the Spirit, he’s just returned from the Jordan River, and the Spirit (Did you catch that? The Spirit!), the Spirit leads him out into the wilderness for a little period of integration. Any time you have a profound spiritual experience, you then enter a period of time when you have to make sense of what it all means and often that period of time feels like a wilderness where even familiar things look strange. When things in your soul get completely reoriented, everything changes. So, when Jesus got baptized and those heavens opened and he heard God say, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you, I am well pleased,” Jesus touched his True Self—he understood who he really was, and it utterly and completely changed him. But it’s not all roses and rainbows from there. The Spirit understood that for him to understand the depth of his True Self, he, Jesus, would have to confront the power centers of the False Self.

So, off into the wilderness he goes to be tempted by the devil—διάβολοςthe one who throws things apart, the one who would test Jesus to see if he really was grounded in the True Self, the one who would try to separate him from the True Self.

Now then, Jesus hasn’t eaten for 40 days so he’s at a distinct disadvantage. I know when I run a few hours past a meal and my blood sugar is dropping that I can get rather grumpy. I don’t think clearly, and I am certainly not at my best. I can’t imagine 40 days. So, he is running on fumes. The text tells us, “He was famished.” Ya think? At any rate, Jesus is not at his strongest, and if we think about our lives, there are plenty of things that can throw our equilibrium off, that can knock us off our game.


So, the devil comes to Jesus and says to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

And, we are in the heart of False Self power center number 1—the longing for safety, security, and survival. “You’re starving Jesus? If you’re the Son of God, just command this stone to become a loaf of bread, and you’ll never, ever have to be hungry again. Your basic need to survive will be secure. And just think of all those starving the world over. Just think, Jesus, of how you could secure the survival of all of those people.” You see, the False Self doesn’t just tempt us with bad stuff, but often, temptation comes in the form of doing great good.

But Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ Oh devil, my sense of safety and security and survival rests somewhere else.”


Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

And, we have entered False Self power center number 2—the longing for power and control. “All the kingdoms of the world. I can give you all these, all their glory, all this authority. Just think what you could do, Jesus, if you controlled all the kingdoms of the world? World peace at your fingertips.”

Man, the devil is crafty.

But Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ Devil, my power doesn’t come from control, from power over, my authority springs from a different place.”


Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple—the highest point in Jerusalem—saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

And, hello False Self power center number 3—the longing for esteem and affection. This one could also be safety, security, and survival, but there is a subtlety to this temptation that is different that the stones to bread temptation. Here, the devil is challenging Jesus’ sense of importance. “Jesus, if you are really all that important, if you’re really the Son of God, then God will send all the angels to protect you and bear you up so that you won’t even stub your toe. If God really loves you, then you can jump and you’ll be just fine. If God really loves you, nothing bad will happen to you.”

Oh, the devil goes to the heart of our deepest fears. Are we really loved? Does God really love us? Shouldn’t we test that love so that we know it’s true?

But Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Oh devil, I know I am a Beloved, and I don’t need to make God prove it because a love that deep can’t be proved in any way that will make rational sense; a love that deep can only experienced and embraced.”


When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. And Jesus emerged from that wilderness full of the Spirit.


He had faced the three power centers of the False Self—the longing for safety, security, and survival; the longing for power and control; and the longing for esteem and affection—and in each instance, he opted for a deeper power, the unshakeable power that comes when you rest in the True Self who knows it is beloved of God, period, no matter what. The True Self who knows it is always and forever connected to God, who knows it’s impossible to be thrown out of God’s Presence because it lives in union with Presence. It’s like the True Self is the life inside the womb of God—God’s life flowing seamlessly into the True Self which is our DNA. We may forget that we live in that union; we may be asleep to that union; we may lose sight of that union, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. The bond established in baptism is indissoluable—INDISSOLUBLE! It can’t be undone.

So, on this first Sunday of Lent, we need to get crystal clear about who and what are trying to throw us out of Presence. We need to get crystal clear about how these power centers of the False Self—safety, security, and survival; power and control; esteem and affection—we need to get crystal clear about how these show up in our lives, and about how they are tempting us. None of these will bring us what they promise. Our true security, our true power, our true esteem come from one unshakeable source—“You are my Son, you are my Daughter, the Beloved; with you I am well-pleased.”

Tune you ears, sharpen your eyes, awaken your senses to spot those temptations that would whisper, “You’re on shaky ground, you’re weak, you’re not really loved, you’re not good enough, who you do you think you are?” These are the lies of the devil, the one who would try to separate us from our True Self.

And when you go to reject those false claims for the lies that they are, know that Jesus stands right there with you, giving you the strength to stand in the FULLNESS of who you are, giving you the strength to know that your status as a Beloved is not for sale to the highest bidder. You are God’s Beloved; this is your True Self, and it is absolutely secure, always and forever.

And when you are rooted in that identity, the False Self holds no appeal, and the devil doesn’t stand a chance. Amen.


The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC

February 14, 2016