I have often said that our enemy’s favorite territory is on the extremes. It is in this area that he is most effective. He doesn’t mind zealous believers if their zealousness leads them to judgment and condemnation, such as what we see today playing out in churches over abortion and sexuality. Those who believe women have a fundamental right to have an abortion if they so choose often are dismissive of those who are “pro-life.” And those who believe abortion is murder often react hatefully toward others in the “pro-choice” crowd. Similarly, those who clamor for justice and fairness for the LGBTQ community are often judgmental and condemning of Christians who believe that those lifestyles are sinful; yet those who refuse to accept anything other than a heterosexual lifestyle as normal often are hateful and disparaging toward those who embrace any other lifestyle. And our enemy is quite pleased even though these folks take totally opposite stances, because what he wants to encourage is hate and condemnation and they exist equally on both extremes.
Another area where the devil is quite effective in exploiting an extreme view is in our understanding of our value as individual human beings. This is played out daily in our society in social media, homes, classrooms, and counseling centers. The practice of promoting self-esteem has been in vogue since the 1970’s, that the way people, particularly children, will value themselves is to find ways to make them feel good about themselves. So the extreme that has developed along these lines, and with a huge assist from social media, is narcissism, that everything in life should revolve around the individual. It is wrong to offend someone with your beliefs, because he or she has the right not to be offended. It is wrong to be corrected by someone else, because “it is my life and you have no right to tell me what to do!” There is no literal truth, because “my truth is my truth.”
At the other end of this, is the self-loathing and the longing for acceptance and validity. We still find the narcissistic strand here, but in a different form. The focus is still self-directed, but rather than seeing ourselves as so valuable not to be questioned on anything we say or do, we see ourselves as worthless and in need of constant encouragement and validation. We seek out friends for that purpose. The A-types may seek successful careers to assuage their fears of being seen as worthless. In the very extreme, some people harm themselves through eating disorders, addictions, and suicide because they feel they are unvalued.
Again, the enemy is quite content with people living in either extreme. He is happy to see the arrogance of people who think they are special and deserve to be treated accordingly. And he is happy with those who think they are nothing and worthless, and who constantly pursue validation or give up trying. In both, he is able to hold people in bondage and keep them blinded to reality.
What is that reality, you may ask? It is that each of us is both something and nothing at the same time, and we will find freedom in holding those views in balance. We are something because we are created by the God of the Universe, the Creator of all things. As David notes,
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)
And as John declares,
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:12-13)
In other words, each of us is unique and special. We are of exquisite value to the Lord. This is why he went to such lengths to provide the way for us to be reconciled to him through Jesus:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
Thus, it is crucial that we each embrace our value in the Lord’s eyes. He has given us the right to become his children, if we choose to accept it.
However, it is also just as important to recognize that we are nothing compared to God. Everything that we are and everything that we have or accomplish ultimately comes from him. You may object by claiming you were the one who did the studying and hard work to get where you are now. You were the one who honed your skills. I will counter with this question: Who gave you the ability to do such things? Who created your body and your brain? Did you provide them for yourself?
You may also look at yourself as a pretty good person, but compared to what or to whom? Perhaps you stack up well against your peers, co-workers, or neighbors, but what about to God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth? When compared to him, we each are nothing, but sinners totally dependent on his mercy and grace to avoid what we each deserve.
Do you see how this is supposed to work? When we embrace that we are both something and nothing at the same time, we have the proper perspective through which the Lord can work in us and through us. However, if we gravitate toward one or the other, we quickly enter onto the devil’s turf and he will begin to gain control over us.
The Apostle Paul is the perfect example of this. In his old life as a zealous Pharisee, he thought he was something. He went about persecuting Christians and decrying their faith in Jesus. In fact, he had taken the road to Damascus to put more believers in jail when the Lord stopped him in his tracks. His encounter with Jesus humbled him. The great and feared Pharisee lay on the ground trembling and blind. And instead of walking into the city of Damascus in power and with authority, he was led by the hand into a house where he neither ate nor drank for three days. It was here Paul realized he was nothing.
And later he admitted it when he wrote,
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:21-24)
But at the same time, he recognized his great worth when he answered his own question in the next verse: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25) Throughout his letters, Paul spoke boldly and with authority, but, equally, he spoke of the grace and mercy of God and his need for it.
This is exactly where we need to set our thinking. We are something because of God, but at the same time, we are nothing compared to God. It is the optimal mindset where the devil cannot get a foothold, and we can live in freedom and purpose.
© Jim Musser 2019 All Scripture references are from the New International Version.