Too often we identify ourselves by what we do, what we have, or what we prefer rather than whose we are. In Christ, we have been made new and our identity is found in Him as a child of God, adopted into His family.
Hey everyone, my name is Scott, and I’m one of the pastors here at Blue Oaks. We’ve spent the last few weeks looking at core beliefs that are the most transformational in a Christ-centered life, and today, we’re looking at Identity in Christ.
Everyone has an identity. It’s how we define ourselves based on what we believe about who we are and what our value is. How we determine our identity impacts the way we experience life. Identity is a big deal.
You might feel an immediate inner tension rising as you hear the word identity because you’ve been told who you were supposed to be since a young age by your parents, your culture, or society as a whole. You’ve heard the voices which say things like you’re ~
Not good enough.
You’re simply not enough.
The words of others have a powerful impact in shaping our identity.
We also form our identities from how we see ourselves.
It could be family-focused: I’m a parent, I’m the baby of the family, or the black sheep of the family.
Or what you do: I’m the CEO or a soccer mom.
Maybe it’s your present circumstance: I’m a student, I’m unemployed, or undocumented.
The past can be an identifier: I’m a cancer survivor, I’m divorced.
You might find yourself in the growing population of those questioning the identity or the social constructs you were brought up in. It’s known as the “deconstruction” of an identity handed to you to find the identity of your choosing. Theorist Erik Erikson coined the term “identity crisis” and believed it was one of the most important conflicts people face in personal development. According to Erikson, an identity crisis is a time of intensive analysis and exploration of different ways of looking at oneself.
Whether it’s negative or positive, external voices or internal struggles, it’s influential on our identity.
Everything we say and do flows from a belief about who we are.
Have you ever tried to change a belief? Beliefs are like habits. They’re deeply ingrained. They require almost no thought. Our minds are designed to be occupied, one idea after another, so when we try to stop thinking or believing something, we create a gap, and our minds want to fill it with something else. The average number of thoughts in a day is 50,000. That’s 2100 per hour. Only 10% of those thoughts are new thoughts each day. 90% are recycled. With a pattern like that, it’s easy to see how false beliefs can become deeply ingrained in our minds and establish what we believe about our identity. We can see why it’s essential that we define a core belief of identity and change false beliefs that we may have bought into.
The first time the concept of “identity” is found in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, is at the very beginning, Genesis 1, which describes the very beginning. It’s the creation narrative.
Genesis 1:26-27 “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our IMAGE, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own IMAGE, in the IMAGE of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Humanity was created in the IMAGE of a Creator. The Hebrew word means likeness or a representation.
In the book In His Image, Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey write,
“The word ‘image’ is familiar to us today, but the meaning of the word has leaked away so that now it (suggests) virtually the opposite of its former meaning of ‘likeness.’ Today, a politician hires an image-maker, a job applicant dresses for image, a corporation seeks the right image. In all these usages, image has come to mean the illusion of what something is presented to be, rather than the essence of what it really is.”
You see, we were created as image-bearers of our creator God, designed with an imprinted identity of God. Here’s a great Latin theological term for it: the Imago Dei. We were created with a nature to consciously display God’s greatness and his beauty and his worth through the unique and varied personalities, talents, and gifts He designed into each of us. Being in God’s image means that we share, though imperfectly and finitely, in God’s attributes of life, personality, truth, wisdom, love, holiness, justice. It’s a spiritual, intellectual, moral likeness to God from whom our very life and breath came. This means that everybody, regardless of their race or ethnicity, has intrinsic value and worth as the Imago Dei.
Now, here’s what interesting. The word is also translated as “idol.” In the book of Genesis, “image” is used of humanity created in God’s image, but in the rest of the Hebrew Bible, it refers to a created idol, something used to worship other gods. The talk of “images” is negative, related to idolatry and false worship. One commentator on the Hebrew language says we should see this juxtaposition as intentional. A point is being made.
The temptation in the Garden of Eden’s story that led to sin becoming part of the human experience was to redefine good and evil based on our hearts’ desire and the voice in our heads rather than on what God said was good and evil. In essence, to seize autonomy from God to be our own god, an idol. We are meant to reflect God, to be God’s image-making God’s character manifest to the world around us. Idolatry inverts our purpose as reflectors of God by creating something that reflects us and our desires as a replacement of the God we should be imaging.
A shift from IMAGE to IDOL.
That shift has led to systems of thought like Moral Relativism, that there is no creator and creation, no sacred order, in the language of philosophy, to align your mind and body to, no design or intent in the universe from a loving Creator God who created you for a loving, personal relationship with Him. It’s just survival of the fittest. It’s been said that moral relativism is the first step toward a kind of moral anarchy, as each person is free to decide good and evil for themselves. Many now live by a “moral code” that, in a simplified way, basically says follow your heart. Your inner intuitions, feelings, and desires will guide you to a happy life. You do you, be true to yourself.
The problem with following your heart is the assumption that your heart is an accurate and trustworthy barometer of truth apart from God’s image.
Is it any surprise that the culture, the kingdom of this world, and our spiritual enemy, wants to distort your identity? No! You have an enemy that is actively working against you. I’m not talking about the neighbor you can’t get along with, the co-worker that seems out to get you. Do not be looking at your spouse or partner right now. Not who I’m referring to. It’s not the “other” political party, the Illuminati, or some conspiracy theory.
The Bible refers to our enemy as the “adversary” or the “accuser.” The most common name we know or hear is Satan. He shows up on page two of human history and begins twisting God’s truth into a lie, and he hasn’t stopped since. He’s the inspiration for the shift from IMAGE to IDOL in our hearts.
This is why it’s so important to understand and know the foundation of our identity. The foundation is not philosophical, sociological, relative, or even religious.
The foundation of identity is innate in our design by a loving, personal creator God.
John, who was one of the first followers of Jesus, wrote an account of Jesus’ life so that we would believe in Jesus as the Son of God, and as a result, discover the fullness of life in Him.
Listen to how he begins his book. John 1:1-5 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Jumping over thousands of years of human history, John takes us back to the beginning we read in Genesis, to our beginning. He echoes words from the creation story. He says the “Word” was present with God from the start. The “Word” was God. An identity of this “Word” begins to be revealed. HE was involved in the creative act, bringing life. And that life is a light that shines in the darkness of a world that shifted from IMAGE to IDOL. A light has come to reclaim the loss of IDENTITY.
John continues in chapter 1 to tell us that the “Word” became flesh, lived, and walked among us, full of grace and truth. The “Word” is Jesus. He is the light that exposes the darkness of the idol a broken, sinful human nature has made of itself and restores our IDENTITY IN HIM.
John tells us that John 1:12-13 “…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.”
Birth is a beginning, and John shows us that the story of the shift from Identity to Idol is now the story of a new creation, a rebirth, and renewal of our identity as “children of God.”
The Apostle Paul, who, apart from Jesus, is probably the most influential early church leader, would later use the phrase IN CHRIST. The most common way Christ-followers in the New Testament are referred to is not as “Christians.” By far, the most common phrase is people who are IN CHRIST. When you decide to follow Jesus, you are united with Him; you are one with Him.
Listen to some of what Paul says in different letters he wrote concerning our reNEWed identity IN CHRIST…
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is IN CHRIST, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”
In another, Galatians 3:26-28 “So IN CHRIST JESUS you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized INTO CHRIST have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one IN CHRIST JESUS.”
One more. 2 Timothy 1:9 “He has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us IN CHRIST JESUS before the BEGINNING of time…”
Now, this should give us a fantastic amount of confidence in living a Christ-centered life. It’s lived IN CHRIST! Throughout the New Testament, we see that our union with Jesus means that who we really are, our most authentic IDENTITY, is IN CHRIST. Listen, you will never be more your true self than when you are pursuing Jesus and leaning into a Christ-centered life.
So, how does laying the foundation of our IDENTITY IN CHRIST impact and influence the internal dialogue so familiar to us? We’ll look at that next.
The transformation to our IDENTITY IN CHRIST results from actively engaging our minds to recognize and reject false beliefs and replace them with truth. The Apostle Paul encourages us to Romans 12:2 “…not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” We have to discover the false beliefs deep inside us, the ones we may not even be aware of. That’s where the work is, and it can be challenging work.
Psychologists have identified three questions that influence our identity, three internal struggles, and I want us to look at each as they relate to our IDENTITY IN CHRIST.
The first question is, AM I LOVED?
Everyone has a desire to be loved. Research has shown it could be considered one of our most basic needs. And by loved, I don’t mean exclusively romantic love. Everyone has an innate desire to feel loved by someone. But the shift from image to idol corrupted the experience of love. It became far too elusive or abusive. It became more about the love of self, which ironically, in the absence of being loved, becomes elusive also. Left with the lack of love, the loss of love, or the failure of love, you’ve been left with the question, “am I loveable?” Does anyone care, honestly, authentically care about me and love me?
It leaves you longing for the unconditional, endless love of your creator God.
Listen to the words of Paul, Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but CHRIST lives IN ME. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who LOVED me and gave himself for me.” Sacrifice is probably the greatest demonstration of love because it costs something. Jesus willingly putting himself on the cross to be crucified for your sin, for my sin is the ultimate demonstration of love.
Paul had unshakeable confidence in the love of God. Listen to what he says,
Romans 8:35, 37-39 “Who shall separate us from the LOVE of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the LOVE of God that is IN CHRIST JESUS our Lord.”
To be loved by God is a more profound indescribable love than we could ever experience with another, whether it be a spouse, your family, or the closest of friends, and He desires for you to know it personally and be confident in it. Stop trying to convince yourself that you are loveable and find rest in the fact that you are loved.
The second question is, AM I SIGNIFICANT?
Steve Jobs, once quoted as saying he wanted “to put a ding in the universe”, when facing his death, confessed, “it’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience…and it just goes away. So, I really want to believe that something survives…” He had begun to wonder that if death was just an “off switch,” where was the significance in life? Philosophers have wrestled through the ages with the question that there has to be more significance to life than a temporary existence. Author and Pastor Tim Keller said it this way, “It is the sense that we are more and life is more than what we can see in the material world.”
The value, meaning, purpose, the significance of our life is designed into our identity. It’s for God’s glory. Paul once again says,
Ephesians 1:11-12 “IN HIM we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope IN CHRIST, might be FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.”
Just a few verses later, he says, Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created IN CHRIST JESUS to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Your significance is found in God’s purpose for your life! His purpose may leave your name in history books, and speakers may quote you in their talks one day. Or you may live out your purpose in obscurity. Each is equally significant in the eyes of God. When we don’t find our significance in Him, and instead, find it in other things that may, can, and sometimes do look very satisfying in the short run, we’re left wondering at the end if that’s all there was.
Lastly, DO I BELONG?
Having a sense of belonging is essential. We are members of families, teams, small groups, political parties, and communities, to name a few. Nearly every aspect of our lives is organized around belonging to something. No matter who you are, something inside you longs to belong. It is no wonder then that not belonging is one of our biggest fears.
Do you remember John’s words from earlier, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”?
Theologian J.I Packer said, “If you want to judge how well someone understands Christianity, find out how much (they) make of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as Father.” Why? Because to be in a family is to belong. Maybe that has not been true for you. Your family of origin was fractured and dysfunctional or abusive. For that, God’s heart breaks because that was never meant to be before the switch from Identity to Idol and brokenness entered into the human experience.
But when you said yes to Jesus and placed your IDENTITY IN CHRIST, you were adopted into God’s family and given a seat at the family table, where family belongs. Paul, once more, says Ephesians 1:4-5 “For he chose us IN HIM before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In LOVE He predestined us for ADOPTION TO SONSHIP through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…”
It’s the claim of God in our lives that we belong to Him and with Him.
I read something this week that puts this to words so beautifully that we do not belong to the things that we often allow to become our identity.
“To the prisoner, it means you do not belong to the bars and chains around you. You belong to God.
To the addicted, it means you do not belong to that thing which you crave. You belong to God.
To the dying, it means you do not belong to this body or to that cancer. You belong to God.
To the patriot, it means you do not belong to this nation. You belong to God.
To the debtor, it means you do not belong to any bank or credit card company. You belong to God.
To the empty and overworked, it means you do not belong to your company. You belong to God.
To the depressed, it means you do not belong to this sadness. You belong to God.
To the abused, it means you do not belong to the person or the memories that hurt you. You belong to God.”
So, as we end, I want to leave you with some questions to consider this week and talk through with someone you trust.
First, What or who are you allowing to define your identity? What are the internal or external voices telling you who you are? What are the voices you’re listening to, and do those voices line up with the image you were created with?
Second, Where have you allowed your identity to switch from Image to Idol? Are you willing to be honest and humble with God and His work in your life to switch it back?
Lastly, What false identity beliefs can you recognize, reject and replace with God’s truth? Does the desire to be loved have you chasing one relationship after another? Is the longing for significance leaving you empty even as you climb the corporate ladder? Have you embraced the truth that the God who created you in His image has claimed you as His own?
Blue Oaks Church