Why the Spirit Led Jesus into the Wilderness

Why the Spirit Led Jesus into the Wilderness

“We cannot consistently do what we do not believe we are.”

This is one of my favorite quotes by my wife, Wendy. If we try to behave opposite of our identity beliefs, then we will almost always revert back to behaviors consistent with our beliefs about ourselves. 

Jesus was told who He was and was given God’s approval before He started His ministry. “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17). 

Before we try to do anything for God, we need to hear the voice from heaven telling us who we are and that God approves of us. This is the foundation for healthy living and healthy ministry. 

After Jesus heard these words, “(He) was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). It wasn’t enough for Jesus to hear these words of His Father’s affirmation, but He needed to believe them as part of His identity.  Until He knew the truth of who He was for Himself, His ministry would lack the second part of a solid identity foundation – becoming fully convinced that who God called Him was who He really was. God orchestrated a struggle in Jesus’ life so He could defeat three big lies about HIs identity. Like Jesus, we will have times where we face emotional and circumstantial resistance so we can implement Ephesians 6:17. “And take up…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It is called a sword because we are supposed to aggressively use God’s truth to defeat the devil’s lies. 

The devil tried to get Jesus to embrace one or all of these three main identity lies: 

  1. I Am What I Do (the performance-based identity) – “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread” (Matthew 4:3). “Jesus, prove you are someone by doing something significant.” If we wait to do something to believe we are something, we will have difficulty actually ever doing something significant.
  2. I Am What I Have (the possession-based identity) – “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:‘He shall give His angels charge over you’” (Matthew 4:6). “Jesus, prove you are someone by having angels manifest all around you.” If we need a certain car, type of clothing, or a specific physical appearance before we are secure in ourselves, then we will not be fulfilled even if we get those things. 
  3. I Am If I Am Liked (the popularity-based identity)  – “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. and he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9). “Jesus, prove you are someone by how many people like you.” Like Jesus, all of us must believe we are significant even when it seems few, if any, do. 

Jesus was led into the wilderness by God to decimate the lies of His true identity. We all will have a similar experience. Jesus was tempted in His identity and we will be too. Jesus overcame doubts about who He was by declaring the truth of Scripture, and so will we. 

The good news is that Jesus only spent forty days in the wilderness, and not the forty years that the children of Israel did. We too do not need to stay there long if we can recognize our purpose in times of testing. 

As you face your own identity-defining seasons, the Holy Spirit is giving you wisdom and understanding in these verses like never before: 

  •  “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14)
  •  “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11)
  • “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17)
  • “Let the weak say, ‘I am strong’” (Joel 3:10)

For more on topics like this, listen to my podcast by clicking the link below.


Steve Backlund was a senior pastor for seventeen years before joining the team at Bethel Church in Redding, CA in 2008. Steve is a leader developer, joy activist, a revivalist teacher, and as Senior Associate Director, is a key part of the Global Legacy (a ministry of Bethel Church) leadership team. He travels extensively throughout the world encouraging churches and leaders and has authored a number of books.

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