Where is your identity? What do you think of when you think “me”?
If you have to describe yourself, where do you start?
What would crush you the most if you were to lose it?
Most people define themselves by their “stuff”. In fact, I can scarcely name anyone I’ve met who isn’t the house, the car, the money, something. None of these people would admit that they are all about those things, but there can be no doubt that it is “for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:45). The stuff coming out of your mouth, the stuff your mind always leans towards talking about, is who you think you are. If you always talk about the Dallas Cowboys it’s because you don’t really have a life of your own; you live vicariously through them. You are a Cowboy’s fan. As such you can easily relate to other Cowboy’s fans. They are like you, and you belong to them because they share the same identity you do.
If you’re always talking about how good your grades are or what you know, it’s because you think of yourself as being smart. It’s who you are; not just a character attribute, but something that defines you to yourself, something that gives your existence value.
If you kiss your car goodnight and wash it twice a day, it’s because there is something wrong with your head; your car is more than what it should be, a tool to move you from point A to point B; it has become a living thing, a part of your psyche and very literally, part of you. If it gets scratched by a careless passerby, you flip out not because they scratched your car, but because they scratched YOU. The car is an extension of your ego.
Do you really think two retired people NEED a 10,000 square foot house with 12 bathrooms? Of course not; but after living in squalor in their childhood and hating the man who had more money and power than them, after feeling inferior for the bulk of their lives they feel GOOD about building a BIGGER house than the person they hated; it means they are a success. They have status to prove it.
These concepts expand to cover everything we get attached to; comic book collections, strength, knowledge of trivia, speed, boats, fishing and everything else. We literally lose ourselves in our jobs, our lives, and our hobbies, and forget that we even exist. In some ways, we no longer do; we literally become the job, the children, the model of the titanic made out of toothpicks. But that should never happen.
Luke 12:15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
Every thing – every single one – I just mentioned is a violation of the tenth commandment. One of the lesser understood commandments. Those things are all based in covetousness; stuff that you have, and that you cling to far beyond its intrinsic value. And it isn’t limited to those who have a lot of nice things; bums living in cardboard boxes can be as possessive of their worthless scraps of clothing and cigarette butt collections as the most grasping scrooge around.
But what happens to us when those things we love so dearly are taken away? When the stock broker loses his millions and has to face adjusting to a lifestyle that half the population already has and another quarter WISHES they had, he can’t handle it and jumps out a window. He’d rather end his life than live it as a different person.
Because he wasn’t a person. He was a walking hundred dollar bill. And when that bill became worth twelve cents, there was nothing left of it worth saving in his mind. Athletes who start to fail, models who get ugly, anyone who loses the thing that defines themselves and gives them self-worth, face depression, nervous breakdowns, and some even drink or drug themselves to death. Why? What makes those worthless things so valuable to them that their lives are not worth living without it?
We are all born naked and broke, more or less equal. Some have better homes, richer places in life, but in the long run it doesn’t really matter. Everyone has to have a purpose. Something that makes them able to answer the question “why are you alive?” Most people try to avoid answering, or even asking the question, directly, but everyone answers it one way or another. Some people convince themselves that by being smarter than some people, they’re better than those people. And it’s pretty easy, since when one person is good at something, others start telling him how good he is; the rabble always wants a hero to worship, and so they tell him he is awesome and so, naturally he believes it since we all want to believe that anyway. It’s like Socrates put it:
“When a man cannot measure, and a great many others who cannot measure declare that he is [ten feet] tall, can he help believing what they say?” (The Republic – Plato)
Some are stronger. Some can sing. Some can run faster or put a certain kind of ball through a certain apparatus better than other people. Without fail, these people believe, often consciously but always subconsciously, that they are superior to other people. We all fall on some rung of life’s ladder. We all have some skills that are somewhat better than average, and so we focus on those skills and disregard the places where we are below average. And we use these skills as leverage to get better jobs, better mates, more power, more respect, whatever it is that we think is most valuable and attainable.
1 Corinthians 4:7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
But we received these things without asking or in any way meriting them, so it’s hardly fair to judge ourselves by size, height, color or anything else any more than it would be if a dozen people drew a card at random from a deck. “Woohoo, I drew the ace, I’m awesome! Go me!” – but it is a basic part of human nature that we all do.
2 Corinthians 10:12 … they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
But some whom God calls figure all this out, at least in principle. They realize that what we have, what we can do, and who we know is worthless in the grand scheme of things. In the eyes of any superior being, our petty struggles over money, power, and fame are of as much importance as we attach to birds fighting over a shiny pebble. And in the eyes of anyone trying to become a superior being, these things should be the same.
Luke 16:15 … for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
But that leaves a void behind. It is fundamentally human to attach an identity to ourselves. We must have one. Some belonging or possession that makes us unique and valuable. So we become “one of the people of God”. As we find others who believe like us, we collectively become “the Church of God”. And gradually, ever so slowly, we lose our identity in this group. We cease to use the words “I believe…” and use the word “We believe…” – and not too long after that, the phrase “the Church believes…” and at some point are completely lost in this group which by now has grown quite large. We are safe here. It is a home. And a happy one in most cases. We know who we are.
But then that church starts to have problems. Doctrinal disputes over this and that. Some members don’t like the strictness of the Bible, or being told they have to change, they’re comfortable and don’t really want to do this or that. They’d rather talk about how great God is than about how to become like God. More worship, less correction.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
This prophecy had happened by the time the epistles of John were written; it happened again to every church God has raised up since then. Usually it lasts about a generation, just like it did in the days of Joshua (Judges 2:7), and then it starts to break down. And this home you found, this place that defined who you are, is no longer good enough for you. You’re forced to choose between the beliefs that led you to this church in the first place, and the church as it is today which has changed – slightly at first, but gradually more and more boldly – the truth it once believed.
So now you have an identity crisis; do you stay with the church and be comfortable and happy; or do you stay with your beliefs and be alone and isolated and… worthless? Remember, this church was your identity. It gave you a reason to live. A purpose. A place to belong. Without it, who are you? Just another homeless spiritual vagabond?
That’s always been the answer people have found. But that has always been wrong. For the mistake that was made was the very first move; it was a natural mistake, a forgivable mistake, and probably a mistake God intended for us all to make once – but a mistake regardless. The church should never have become your identity in the first place.
You are not the church! You are you! But who is that? Back to that first question again, if not in money, if not in power, or in family, or in fame, or even in a church, we MUST have an identity; we must be someone of VALUE, someone who has MEANING. And how can we do that?
To begin with, that identity needs to be about us. Not about a spouse who can die; not about a church that can forsake you. Not about children that will grow up and leave, or about riches that perish, or fame that flees or beauty that fades; not even about God, Himself! It is OUR identity. It needs to be uniquely US.
So WHO SHOULD YOU BE?
When you think of “I”, what should come to mind. Something that isn’t a church, isn’t something about how good you can do something or how much you know, something that isn’t about what you have or what you’ve experienced… what else is left? Only one thing.
Who you are. The one thing that God intends to attempt to salvage from your present existence. Your spirit. The nature of that spirit is who you are. Now before you run off and draw the wrong conclusions from that, let me make clear just what I mean. I don’t mean to say that “I am a happy person” is what your identity should be. I am not talking about moods. Or attitudes. Or anything else. I’m talking about your conscience. I’m talking about the trustworthiness of your nature. That is your identity. That is who you are. If that is not good, I don’t care if you have more money than Bill Gates and can take Hulk Hogan in a fair fight, you are a worthless human being as you are. That may change when your nature changes, but until then, on any meaningful scale, your identity – you – are of as much value as the penniless stock broker right before he jumps.
Matthew 6:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
But while many quote this verse, they think that it is about doing good works; and that isn’t it at all, for no matter how many good works you’ve done, it won’t matter if you commit a single sin a second before dying.
Ezekiel 18:24 But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.
Every good thing you have ever done will be wiped away at the second of a new sin. So laying up treasures in heaven isn’t about the good things you’ve done. Nor is it about the power of God you may have; the disciples were rejoicing in this (and who wouldn’t, when demons departed and men were healed under your hands!), and Jesus told them NOT to rejoice in that;
Luke 10:20 Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.
If you are obedient to God, your names are written in heaven, and God says you SHOULD rejoice in that; your identity SHOULD be wrapped around that. But that is a bit vague still; what exactly does He mean we should be rejoicing over? What should we glory in?
Jeremiah 9:24 But let him that glorieth glory in THIS, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.
We should glory that we UNDERSTAND truth; and KNOW God. But that, although closer, is still vague; for many think they know God. Many have their identities wrapped up in the knowledge of a false God. And again, this is an external thing; rejoicing that we have a name written in a book is little better than rejoicing that our house is in Palm Springs. Glorying that we know God is little better than glorying that we met Ronald Reagan; if it’s not done strictly in the sense God meant it here, it’s no better than namedropping. It doesn’t tell us who we ARE. It tells us who we KNOW, and what we HAVE. But how do we apply these to who we ARE?
No one knows God except those who obey Him (Matthew 7:23). No one obeys Him except those who keep the ten commandments (1 John 2:4). And no one truly keeps the ten commandments without obeying the spirit of the ten commandments; the ten commandments as it applies not only to our actions, but to our thoughts as well (John 4:24, Hebrews 8:10).
And no one can keep the laws of God in their heart without cleaning their conscience, for the conscience is what fights those laws. To obey God, the conscience must be altered; changed towards what God thinks. Gradually rewritten to be a copy of the spirit of God, so that what God’s spirit would do in a given situation is what your spirit would do. Laying up treasures in heaven isn’t about what you’ve done; what you’ve done, in this context, is meaningless. Laying up treasures in heaven is about the good things you ARE.
You aren’t what you’ve done. You are what you would do. How you would respond right now to being slapped, stolen from, propositioned or killed is what matters. You ARE the person who responds to that; how you respond is who you are. It is an identity, not of stuff, or of people, or even of works, but an identity of righteousness.
An identity which can never be tarnished, which no man can force you to give up, and which can never fail you. An identity which will not be disturbed by loss of a friend, money, kids, not shaken by the collapse of a church, a kingdom, or the destruction of the universe. For wherever and whenever you appear, you will be you. A person who is righteous. A person who is trustworthy. A person who has a clean conscience.
Your identity should rest unshakable in the fact that you can say to yourself with certainty that you would never knowingly do a wrong to any. That makes you a valuable citizen. That gives you more self-worth than the Rockefeller billions. No prize fighter can compete with you, because no matter what happens, you will win.
And now let’s illustrate with a case in point; King David. His identity was properly placed. He didn’t care about his kingdom, though God had given it to him and his life had gone into building it; when Absalom was invading Jerusalem, David evacuated the city peacefully. When the Zadok the high priest, and the other priests of God went to follow him out with the ark of the covenant, David stopped them:
2 Samuel 15:25-26 And the king said unto Zadok, Carry back the ark of God into the city: if I shall find favour in the eyes of the LORD, he will bring me again, and shew me both it, and his habitation: But if he thus say, I have no delight in thee; behold, here am I, let him do to me as seemeth good unto him.
Had David been as grasping and greedy about his nice house and kingdom and possessions as anyone I know, David would have fought tooth and nail to hold the city. He could easily have won and God probably would have even backed him up. But he didn’t. David didn’t care about the kingdom; he loved it and took care of it, but David wasn’t the kingdom. He was David. He talks about Himself quite a bit in the Psalms, and there we can see just where David’s identity truly lay.
Psalms 119:14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.
When David talked to people, it wasn’t to rejoice that the Braves beat the Cubs; it was to rejoice in God’s teachings. To express the things God had taught him about what makes life better. This was more valuable to David than all the money there was.
Verses 97,101-102 O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. … I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me.
Notice how David describes himself; he is a person who thinks about the law all the time. He is a person who has avoided walking down any wrong path so that he could obey God. He is a person who has not left God’s judgments. David is telling us who he IS – and who WE should be.
Verses 112, 167-168 I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end. … My soul hath kept thy testimonies; and I love them exceedingly. I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee.
David is a person who loves God’s law. Bottom line. When David thinks of himself, you’ll never find it mentioned that he thinks of himself as an Israelite, or as King, or as having his identity in any place but in the fact that he is a keeper of the law of God. A man who would not knowingly harm a soul. A just man whom God can make perfect.
David’s identity was that he had, with God’s help, molded his conscience into a copy of the conscience of God.
This could not be taken from David by Saul, or by Absalom, nor even by God Himself. Something so personal and unchangeable, something everyone has equal opportunity to do and which age and suffering can never tarnish. This was David. Is it you?