At Gateway Church in South Austin we kicked off our series called “Who I Am.”
We are constantly looking for validation in this world either out loud or within our souls crying out, “Someone, tell me who I am!” Even the most faithful Christ follower is sometimes asking this same question. The only place we get the answers is from the Creator Himself.
Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Kathy and I lived overseas for a year, and when we moved back, we were traveling through Dallas with a lot of our stuff in the trunk of our car, and someone broke in and stole everything. About six months later, we started getting notices from bill collectors saying we hadn’t paid our credit card bills—and they sent a copy of the bill, and it showed that Kathy Burke had charged a couple thousand dollars worth of Bling at an upscale Jewelry store in Dallas on one Credit Card we didn’t know we had. Another Credit Card we’d never applied for showed $1000s of dollars worth of clothing—like a few new wardrobes worth from Neiman Marcus-type stores (Kathy’s more Tarjet than Neimans). Another one claimed Kathy had purchased enough furniture to redo our whole condo several times over. And the most painful part was that we legally Owed the bills to be all Decked Out, Blinged Out with a Home Makeover—but we weren’t feeling payoff, just the cost. We found out this person had Kathy’s Social Security number and kept applying for new cards—so for 2 years we had to enormous amounts of time and energy in Identity Management trying to convince the world of Kathy’s true identity. You know what it took? It took a New Name. Kathy literally had to go change her middle name to her maiden name—she had to get a new name.
All of us have had our Identities lost or stolen along the road of life, but often we don’t even realize. Today we’re starting this series “Who I Am” by talking about Identity Theft—not as in lost or stolen credit cards, but as in lost or stolen Identity—because all of us have lost a sense of True Identity–who you were created to be by your Maker. So we live out of a False Identity—which may actually work for many years, but eventually it comes back to haunt you. And until you recover your lost identity, you may get by, you may survive, but you’ll never really thrive.
It’s hard to see, but the world around us has stolen our God-given True Identity, and there are signs. Do you see any of these signs in your own life? Are you worried about the opinions or approval of others That’s lost Identity. That’s why it threatens our security and causes intense anxiety if we’re not succeeding, or our accomplishments are not recognized. Identity is often why we feel sick inside when the don’t get promoted or rewarded. That’s why we find ourselves lowering our standards to new levels in order to prove our worth, or get someone to love us. Identity is why we feel the need to control our spouses or our kids, because our Identity has somehow been associated with what others think or do. Identity is why we become very defensive and angry when someone implies we might be wrong. Identity is why we can’t let go of some comment we’ve taken personally. These are all signs of Identity Theft. You may be starting to see the signs and even feeling some of the painful cost. In this series, we’re gonna help us all recover more of our True Identity. But here’s what you need to know up front—you and I will never fully know Who we really are until we are face to face with God. So Identity formation is a life-long process of Spiritual Formation. Only God knows Who you are. You and I will always struggle with Identity unless we go to the Source of our Identity for clarity.
God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27 NLT
God says you were created to image—to reflect—the identity of the Creator. There is no one else on earth like you—you are unique. Genesis says God created us in his image—good. God created you that way.
To the prophet Isaiah, “This is what the LORD says–he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid … ” (Isaiah 44:2 NIV). To the prophet Jeremiah he said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart … ” (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV). God knew you—knew your True Identity, your unique fingerprint stamped with God’s image, before you were born. Your identity existed in the Mind of God before your parents ever named you—God knew you—and still Knows who He created you to be.
I coached one of my son’s basketball teams years ago, and there were identical twins on the team—it drove me crazy. I could not tell them apart. I’d say “Cade” and it was “Zack” I’d yell “Zack” and at “Cade.” But do you know, even though their features are so similar—their fingerprints are unique. Of the billions of fingerprints on file around the globe, no two have ever been found identical—not even with twins. Identical twins will have virtually indistinguishable DNA—cause they come from the same Zygote, yet their fingerprints will still be completely unique. I think that’s a physical reminder of a spiritual reality of our Identity—God created each of us unique Spiritual Creatures for a purpose. No two souls are identical for a reason. Like different facets of a diamond reflect different colors of the same light. Each of us were uniquely created to reflect something unique about the image of the Creator, but in a world separated from God—that Original ID gets lost and confused. If we’re just biological accidents—and the most highly evolved, why are so many of us insecure about our identities? What kind of evolutionary mistake would cause humans to lose identity? Lower evolved animals don’t seem to have this problem you don’t see Cats chasing cars from Dog envy. Humans seem to have this unique Identity crisis. It’s a serious issue–Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people. People who have their futures ahead of them take their lives—why? It’s not a simple answer, but Identity loss is often at the root. And here’s how it happens. We are moldable creatures. We like to think of ourselves as independent—but—we’re not. We’re formed and shaped by relationships and messages we receive—from families growing up, from peers on the playground, from teachers and coaches. The more we valued or desired their approval, probably the more their messages shaped us.
Paul reminds us: “I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” (Galatians 1:10 NLT).
A big part of regaining our true Identity is letting go of pleasing people—stop worrying about what people think—they don’t know who you are. Only God does.
But we all received messages growing up that shaped and altered the ID card we carry around with us. Some of those messages are True—they reflect reality according to who God created us to be. Some messages were false—they were lies about our identity. Jesus told us how to sort lies from truth: “’You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32 NLT).
But in a world turned from God, we got bombarded with lies, and then live out of those lies with a False ID. All of us were imprinted with messages, some false some true, that formed our ID. Three things influence how these messages imprint us—how early, how often, and how we interpreted them. If we receive messages early on, before we have much ability to discern truth from falsehood, we can be more easily imprinted.
I know a woman who was called names on the playground in 3rd grade by a group of boys, they teased her because of a physical feature that stood out. And from their insecure bullying, she received and took to heart the message “I’m damaged goods. Everyone is saying bad things about me.” And this message so imprinted her Identity, she lived out of it for decades. She eventually withdrew from people, wouldn’t enter into groups because she felt sure everyone was talking bad about her. If you met her, you wouldn’t believe she thought that, because she’s actually very attractive. But false messages early on that imprint us can stay with us for years, until we allow God’s truth to set us free to be me. So how early, and how often we receive messages tends to imprint us more.
Do a little experiment with me. Say the word “Joke” outloud 10x – let’s all do it together, ready…joke, joke, joke…what does a frog do? Croak. What’s the white part of an egg called? Yoke—NO!…the white part is called the egg white. That’s marketing 101, right?
If we hear messages over and over, it influences thinking and behavior. We all want to believe we are not influenced, we make up our own minds, but if that were so, marketers would not spend billions trying to influence us if it didn’t work. Which also means if you received messages over and over—those messages, true or false, had a greater influence on your sense of Identity. And in an evil world, evil is constantly seeding messages that attack your identity. Next week, Carlos is going to look at how Jesus identity got attacked in the same ways our identities get attacked. But we all need to realize “My identity is under attack.” I need to decide—who am I believing about Who I Am? Are you believing your inner thoughts or feelings—how do you know they haven’t been influenced or lied to? Do you ask God about it? Are you believing Mom or Dad or other early messages Do you ask God about it? So messages we received affect our Identity.
And events shaped your identity. Maybe traumatic events, or crisis events, or maybe high point events happened. We all make interpretations (Messages we send ourselves) about these events—our interpretations may be reality-based (according to God’s reality viewpoint of who we are), or they may be interpreted in a way that imprints us with a lie. Evil often uses traumatic events to try to imprint us with a lie about Who We Are. It you suffered great loss, or if you had many setbacks or struggles—you may have interpreted that to mean “I’m unworthy,” or “I’m always going to lose.” “I’m a loser.” Or depending on other influences, you might have interpreted those same events as “I don’t give up–I’m a survivor.” See we can interpret the same event with different messages, some that were true and reinforced the ID God intended, some that were false and created a False ID we’ve chosen to live out of (so we’re not all victims, we must take responsibility for interpretations we still choose to believe). Let’s say I invite you to a party. You know most all of these people, but not very well. As were going to a party together, right as we walk through the door, I tell you “Now something you need to know, everyone in here thinks you’re an idiot. Okay, let’s go in.” If you believe me, what happens at that party when the host doesn’t seem to smile at you and seems to greet me warmer? Well, you know why—she thinks you’re an idiot. What happens first time someone looks at you from across the room? You know what they’re talking about something bad about you—they think you’re an idiot. How about when somebody makes a joke about the region or country you’re from—it’s all about you, you’re sure. They hate you and think you’re an idiot. See the truth might be the opposite–that the host asked me to invite you, and I’m jealous, so I lied to you. The people across the room we’re saying good things about you, and the joke had nothing to do with you—but that lie became the lens through which everything else was viewed.
That’s what our lives are often like—God created us to find joy and meaning and purpose out of a secure Identity that God gives relationally. But we received bad information very early on and then live our lives as if that’s true. Maybe bad info about our looks, or our race, or our sexuality, or our accomplishments or abilities. Maybe so you formed the False ID that says “I must always be right.” And if anyone challenges your ideas, you explode inside—you can’t let it go, because it threatens your False Identity “Who you are.” If you could only get attention for your looks, maybe you have a False ID that reads, “My value is in my looks” – so you live to get people to validate your looks to reinforce your worth. But you’ll struggle in marriage, because how are you going to get others to look? And If you don’t, do you have no worth? It’s a lie—but we live out of these lies and they destroy us.
So How Do You Recover Your Lost ID?
It starts by understanding God’s intentions in Christ. The book of Ephesians has a lot to say about your New Self—your True Self that God wants to grow us into.
Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
Salvation means being set-right with your Creator—it’s not a result of what you do, did, or didn’t do—it’s a gift from God by Grace. Grace means something you didn’t earn or even deserve. God sent Jesus to pay for all our wrongs, so he could be just and still forgive us and take us back—though we don’t deserve it. Why does He do this? Because you are His Masterpiece—did you catch that? God’s unique creation—His work of art. God didn’t make a mistake when He created you—You are a Masterpiece in His eyes! Have you received God’s free gift of reconnection to Creator who made you His Masterpiece? All it takes is to tell him, “God I want what Jesus did to count for me, I want your forgiveness, I want reconnection to my Creator.” When you tell him that you are now “In Christ.” You are New in God’s Eyes and he’s helping you with a New Identity. A Secure ID based on what God says is true about you.
So we’re instructed in Ephesians 4, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV). You were created to be LIKE GOD. God is not lacking anything, God is fully secure—he created us to be like him. But to exchange the old ID for a new ID, we must first learn our true ID according to God. Then resist the lies of the old ID that want us insecure and undermine what God created us to be.
So let’s start this week doing that, then next week we’ll look at how to resist the attacks. I want to give you an assignment based on the first 3 chapters of Ephesians—meditating on Ephesians is a great way to feed and grow your True Identity. So in a reflective attitude—ask yourself—do I see myself as God says He sees me “in Christ.” If you have accepted Christ as your savior and Leader—this is personal, so make it personal. Put personal pronouns in—say it with me in your heart.
This IS Who I Am to God:
I am Blessed
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed ME with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because I am united with Christ” (Ephesians 1:3 NLT). Do you realize that even if others cursed you saying “You’re worthless” or “You’re ugly” “You’re an idiot” that’s not true. In Christ—You are blessed. God has blessed you with all you need—every spiritual blessing you’ll ever need for eternity, now you just need to live from what God’s blessed you with. Can you say the truth “I am blessed by God.” Say it in your heart.
I Am Loved
“Even before he made the world, God loved us … ” (Ephesians 1:4 NLT). He loved YOU first. Do you realize that you are lovable, you are important, cherished…as is. I’m crazy in love with my granddaughters—they haven’t done anything for me, not even washed my car. Yet I love them because they’re mine! God was crazy in love with you before he created you—why? Because You are HIS—His idea, His uniqueness. His image. Can you say “I am loved.” Others may not see how lovable and worthy of love you are—I am because God says I am. Say that “I’m worthy of love. I am loved by God.”
I Am Chosen
“God loved US and chose US in Christ … ” (Ephesians 1:4 NLT). We all want to feel chosen, special, worthy of being “picked” or “wanted” or “desired.” Remember how scary it was to think you might be the last chosen for the game at recess? Many of us try to prove we are worthy of being wanted, desired, chosen—but you ARE Chosen already. God chose you—you belong to Him. And he chose you because you are perfect in His eyes. Even though there are No Perfect People on earth—You are perfect to God who sees you “in Christ” as He created you to be.
I Am Holy and without Fault
This is hard to swallow, I know. Because I’m not without fault. We mess up all the time. Yet “in Christ” God doesn’t see us as failures or sinners when we sin, he sees us holy and blameless. “God loved ME and chose ME in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” That’s WHO you are—Holy, which just means “set apart.” You are set apart by God. And because God has paid for all our sins and failures, he can look at us as blameless (not because we did nothing wrong—we did, we do—but because it’s been paid for in full.) He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. Eph 1:7 So now we walk “set apart” to God, so we can grow up in the Identity, the wholeness, the inner strength—and we will sin and fail less and less as we grow up in our True Identity. Can you say “I am Holy.” “I am Forgiven” “I am Blameless in God’s Eyes.” That’s Who You are in Christ.
I am God’s Child
“God decided in advance to adopt US into his own family by bringing US to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT). Do you realize you are a son of a King, the daughter of Royalty? That makes you Royalty too—doesn’t it? You’re living in a foreign country that does not recognize your King, but one day all will realize that your Daddy is the King of all Presidents, Kings, Rulers—amazing. That’s Who YOU ARE! Royalty. Can you say that “I am Royalty.” “I am God’s own child.”
I Am Wise
“He has showered his kindness on US, along with all wisdom and understanding” (Ephesians 1:8 NIV). I have all Wisdom and Understanding available to me. You may have spent your life fighting to prove you were smart, or you weren’t dumb—none of that matters. What the world things doesn’t matter. In Christ, you are Wise. Wisdom is knowing the right things to do at the right time, and in the end, it’s all that matters—and In Christ, You ARE Wise because God’s Spirit is in you to shower you with God’s wisdom as You stay connected and relying on His Spirit. There’s more in Ephesians chapters 1-3 that I want to encourage you to go meditate on this week.
I Am His Artwork
Ephesians 2 says You are His Masterpiece as we read before. You are beautiful, you are unique, you are of great worth and value to God, the Master Artist who created you. This is just the start. Do you believe these things God says about your True Identity? Do you experience them giving you peace, security, a sense of worth and value—meditate on Ephesians 1-3 this week. My prayer is that we learn to root our Identity’s first in Christ—only then will I really know “Who I am.”