The Temptation of Christ and the Personality's Core Desires

We live in a contrived reality constructed upon our own personal lie. When we live in a world created from a lie, we must develop an identity based on a lie as well. A long tradition of spiritual writers have called this identity the false self. I define the false self as the part of us that has forgotten God loves us. It’s the part of us that doesn’t believe we are God’s beloved children. Thomas Keating, a Benedictine Monk and Abbot, describes the false self’sthree basic needs as —power/control, esteem/affection and safety/security[i]. Every need of the false self can be found in one of these areas. Each of us, being unique with unique stories have different felt “needs.” But we all have a false self and this self, this “identity,” will have needs or hungers. It will want to be affirmed, in control, or secure.

These three basic needs relate directly to the primary desires of each Enneagram triad. The Enneagram can be divided into the heart, head and gut. The heart triad (types 2,3,4) is motivated by a deep need for esteem/affection. The gut triad (8,9,1) requires power/control, and head triad (5,6,7) seeks safety and security.

Interestingly, Jesus Christ himself battled the false self in the desert 2000 years ago (See Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). On that day, Satan came to Jesus saying, “if you are really the son of God…” The narrative points to the reality of the false self, and in this way Satan can be seen as a personification of the false self. After all, Satan is the great deceiver, liar, and thief of joy—he is evil and brokenness manifested into a being within a narrative structure. When we think of Satan in this way it helps us understand a deeper truth, namely that when we participate in false narratives of our own, we—like in C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce—are the ones who slowly move away from God and the deep truth of our belovedness.

Satan goes on to tempt Jesus saying, “Command that these stones become bread.” If you can manipulate stones by turning it into bread, then you have remarkable power and control. Jesus, of course, is both fully God and man. He does not yield, so Satan tempts him again saying, “If you are really the son of God, throw yourself down from the temple. The angels will save you.” Satan is essentially putting Jesus reputation to the test—“What do the angels think of you? Do they love you? Will they save you?” Satan is testing Jesus need for esteem/affection. Finally, Satan shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he says to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” If you are a security-oriented person, you know all too well it is our possessions (tangible and intangible) that give us a sense of security. Satan is offering Jesus all the possessions of the world in an effort to see if he really believes the world is constructed in such a way that God promises. Are you truly God’s beloved? Has God truly woven love, safety and control into the fabric of the universe?[ii]

In essence, Jesus faced every basic human temptation in one day in the desert. On that day he refused the cheap and easy urge of cheap love, control and safety. And in so doing, Jesus was begging each of us as if to say, “Don’t give in to the cut-rate compulsions of your false self. Remember you are God’s beloved sons and daughters. That is your true identity and that is where true affection, power and safety are found.” However, before we can remember the truth we have to identify the lie.

[i]Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation (London: Continuum, 2012).

[ii]Henri Nouwen,“The Life of the Beloved” YouTube video