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Identity in Physical Things
Let's face it: physical things are seductive precisely because they are physical. We can feel their texture, see their shape and beauty, and smell their aroma. Biblically, we know that the most important things in life are unseen, yet physical things are stiff competition when it comes to what gets our attention and shapes our living. It's very tempting for all of us to define ourselves by the size of our pile of stuff.
We may not even realize the extent to which we define ourselves by the pleasures of the physical world. The three big ones here are food, sex, and leisure. Some of us are always trolling for the next best restaurant, continually being seduced by the "more and different" draw of sexual temptation, or willing to spend far too much time and money planning and buying a vacation.
Physical appearance can also control and define us. We live in a culture that has institutionalized the practice of being defined by our appearance. Isn't it true that most of us spend far more time in a given week caring for and adorning our bodies than we do nurturing our souls? We're the kind of people who will fret over exactly the right outfit to wear to a service of worship (think about the contradiction there).
The material world provides a powerful and seductive replacement for true identity. A big house isn't just nice to look at and live in; if it's yours, it makes you feel good about yourself. A luxurious car isn't simply a reliable source of transportation; it functions also as an identity marker. Beautiful clothes have the power to make you feel differently about yourself. Physical fitness and beauty make you feel self-confident and alive. A gourmet meal not only fills your stomach, but for that temporary moment, it also makes you feel good about yourself.
Now, let me just say that God is the Creator of all physical things. That means that food, comfort, money, pleasure, and beauty were all created to be good things. They're not evil in and of themselves. But, the Bible also says that "man shall not live by bread alone." That means that we were never constructed to subsist ONLY on the physical. We're spiritual beings who need spiritual sustenance in order to be truly healthy and happy.
In fact, we're wired to "feed" on the Lord himself! He is to be our meat and drink; He is the one who gives us identity and meaning. He alone is able to satisfy our deepest hungers and our most pervasive thirsts. Many people are experiencing an atrophy of the heart from seeking satisfaction where it simply cannot be found.
Below are some reflection questions. You can use them personally, but they're also helpful in a small group or Bible study setting. It's an opportunity to take an accounting, to make honest confession, and to begin walking on a new and better pathway.
- What physical thing(s) do you struggle with most?
- Why is that physical thing(s) so important to you?
- How can you "feed" more on the Lord?
- How can identity in Christ help you view your possessions?
Paul David Tripp