Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What Do You Let Steal Your Identity?

We recently had a ladies conference at our church and this is a transcript of my message! The theme was: Identity In Christ. To listen to my message click here. 
What titles or identities do you crave? Do you want to be known as a woman who has self-control? Is smart? Thin? Pretty? How about an excellent homemaker? Independent? Popular? Funny? We all crave different identities.

My hope is that through this post the list of identities you crave will dramatically change.
Our sense of identity will determine so much about our lives. It determines if we feel a sense of belonging or a sense of loneliness. A sense of purpose or a sense of uselessness. A sense of hope or a sense of despair. Who we think we are determines so much and it is vital that as Christian women we have a Christ centered, biblical perspective of our identity.

(2 Cor. 5:17) "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

(1 Peter 2:9) "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." 

( Gal. 2:20) "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

So just looking at those 3 verses alone I was able to gather 9 ways that God identifies us as believers.  I have 9 blanks for you on your insert to fill in.

He says we are

#1. A new creation
#2. Chosen
#3. Royalty
#4. Holy
#5. His own possession
#6. Called out of darkness
#7. Crucified with Christ
#8. Living by faith
#9. Loved

Look over that short list. It should make us all very thankful! Looking over those nine identities should bring us all a sense of joy and gratitude for who God says we truly are in Him! If you are in Christ, these are just some of the marvelous ways God describes you. 

The world on the other hand, wants to rob us of these beautiful descriptions! The world wants to give us counterfeit identities that make us feel important at first but then later only leave us more unsatisfied and longing for more. In other words, the world and your enemy want to practice identity theft on you. Let me read this secular description of identity theft: “identity theft is the deliberate use of someone else's identity, usually as a method to gain a financial advantage or other benefits in the other person's name. The person whose identity has been assumed may suffer adverse consequences. Identity theft occurs when someone uses another's personally identifying information without their permission.”

Now let's look at this from a spiritual perspective: Spiritual identity theft is the deliberate use of a Christian’s identity to zap them of all joy and peace that they are supposed to have in Christ. This causes great pain and confusion in the Christian’s life. They wander around often unaware that their identity has even been stolen and unaware that in fact they often gave it away. Spiritual identity theft is all too common in a Christian woman’s life.
I have provided for you six warnings, that if you heed them, they will help you to fight against spiritual identity theft. Warning number 1: Don’t let your past take your identity. So many Christian women feel bound to their past. They play the same records over and over again. “I was abused. I was a child of a drunk. I was the daughter of a single mom. I had an abortion. I did drugs.” Whatever their pasts are they meditate on them and are unable to move past them because in a sense they are claiming their pasts as their identity rather than who Christ says they are. They are allowing their past to commit identity theft. Picture a butterfly flying around and all day it’s sad because it USED to be a caterpillar. Everyday his little butterfly friends are telling him: “Yeah, but you’re not a caterpillar anymore! We’ve been changed! We’re new creations now! We are something completely different. Rejoice! that old has gone behold the new has come!” And then imagine he ignores his friends and continues to mope around not experiencing the joy he is meant to have as a butterfly because he repeats over and over, “I used to be a caterpillar. I used to be a caterpillar. It was so terrible when I was a caterpillar.” Now wouldn’t you feel sorry for that butterfly? Wouldn’t you think what in the world butterfly?! get it through your head! You’re not a caterpillar anymore! In fact you are something totally new and different.” Now I know that is a super cheesy analogy but I like it anyway. Too many of us are butterflies mourning over the caterpillar that we once were. Many of us who God declares are new creations are spending our whole life moping and mourning because of what we WERE or because of what WAS. If our identity in Christ were based on our pasts we would all have some lame identities. But praise God! Our identity in Christ is based on Him and not our pasts. Your identity in Christ is based on Him and not you. The same goes for His love for you. His love for you is never based on you. His love for you is based on who you are IN HIM. His love for you is based on what He accomplished not on what you accomplished or are accomplishing. If you struggle with letting your past become your identity I would recommend 2 Cor. 5:17 become one of your memory verses that you can say outloud and use to help take your thoughts captive, reminding yourself that it doesn’t matter who you say you are, it matters who your Creator says you are, and He says, if you are in Him you are a new creation.

Warning number 2: Don’t let your weaknesses steal your identity. Ok, but you don’t really know me Katie. I sure don’t feel like a new creation. I hate myself. I hate my weaknesses. My struggles. I never change. Does that sound familiar? We all hate our struggles and weaknesses. Turn with me to 2 Cor. 12:7. We will read through verse 10.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Let’s break this down a bit. Verse 7 says: "To keep me from becoming conceited.” Believe it or not we are all capable of becoming conceited. Praise God for our weaknesses because they remind us we have nothing to be conceited about. Praise God that He knew we would become so puffed up with ourselves if we did not have weaknesses or struggles to remind us of how fragile and helpless we really are! This is why Paul can say he will boast all the more gladly in his weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon him instead of the power of Paul. We all need the power of Christ to rest upon us, not the power of self.

Imagine you had no weaknesses or struggles. Your power would be found in yourself. Instead of letting your struggles and weaknesses become your identity, make them propel you into worship of Christ. Recognize that they are able to turn you away from yourself and toward Him. Never let your weaknesses do the opposite and turn you away from Christ while focusing on yourself. You are not defined by your weaknesses and struggles. They are simply there to remind you that when you are weak you are strong because your weaknesses force you to draw from His strength.

I will close this warning with a quote from the gospel coalition: The bedrock of our rejoicing isn’t the goodness of our day, but the goodness of our God. It’s him strengthening me that allows me to abound. Not me being strong enough to no longer need him.”  Warning number 3: Don’t let your strengths take your identity. This one is tricky isn’t it? What are you praised for in your life? Your weaknesses? Do people go on and on about how much you gossip or how much you interrupt and never stop talking or what a glutton you are or your anger problem. No. People praise you about your strengths. This makes it very easy unfortunately to have our strengths become our identity. This makes it very easy to cling to our strengths and make them our all and all. Whatever strengths you have they are strictly there to glorify Him and not you. Remember when I read from 1 Peter 2: 9 “ a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him”? Looks like our strengths don’t even belong to us. Looks like they’re His. Looks like they are only there to help proclaim His excellencies, not ours.

Whatever strengths you do have they are meant to build up His reputation and not yours. Don’t let your strengths steal your identity. Instead remind yourself that you are not your own possession and your strengths are meant to point others to Him and not you.
Warning number 4: Don’t let comparison steal your identity. Comparison is often the thief of joy isn’t it? I do want to say at the onset of this lesson though that sometimes I think comparison can actually be used to push us in the right direction and not the wrong direction. I don’t think it is ALWAYS a bad thing. Let me explain, there have been some very godly women I have compared myself to and it has pushed me toward Christ and away from myself. It has actually increased my security in my identity in Christ. It has compelled me to want to be more like them because it seems they have a better grasp on who they are in Christ than I do. That form of comparison though is not what I am warning you against.

Comparison in most womens’ lives destroys their identity. God has a specific plan and purpose for YOUR LIFE that looks different from His plan for others’ lives.

One of my heros of the faith is Joni Earekson Tada. That woman has chosen to not compare her life to others. Joni was in a diving accident as a teenager and has been paralyzed from the neck down ever since. She is 66 years old now. So for about 50 years I am sure this dear woman has had to battle the temptation of comparison. I am sure comparison has wanted to steal her identity numerous times. She has chosen HOWEVER to find her identity in Christ alone and thereby not worry about how God has chosen to plan other people’s lives. She doesn’t spend time comparing instead she spends time giving praise to her Maker.

Listen to these beautiful words from her. “The nice thing is God understands the art of pruning. In John 15:2 it says that the Lord "cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will bear even more fruit.” Sometimes God seems merciless with His pruning shears and, like Job, we often feel like the Lord's sharp shears have clipped our lives so close to the root that we don't see how anything could ever grow back. I should know this. I broke my neck when I was just a teenager and, believe me, dealing with quadriplegia at so young an age was very hard. God really clipped my life close to the root. But God's purpose in pruning us back couldn't be more virtuous, more noble, for if we are bearing fruit in His kingdom, He'll prune us so that we can be even more fruitful. God is an expert with His shears and He is looking for believers who are happy to yield to the cutting edge of those clippers, and when you do, hope returns. New life pokes up from the stump and joy reappears.

Praise God for this woman’s submissive heart to Him and His pruning. We cannot be living in the detrimental practice of comparison and submitted to God at the same time. We can’t be so consumed with how the Lord chooses to prune or not prune others’ lives and have confidence in His plans for our lives. We cannot be submitted to His pruning and whining that we don’t have what others have. When we choose to avoid comparing our lot with the lot that God has given others we will find the vibrant confidence Joni speaks of. Our identity in Christ can never be found if we are living a life filled with comparison. Warning number 5: Don’t let YOUR plans for your life steal your identity: We all have BIG plans for ourselves don’t we? In five years my life will look like…. Fill in the blank. In 20 years I will be….. When I get married to the love my life we will have this many kids and live on property and grow our own food and have no debt and NEVER fight and my husband and I will partner together to train up our children in the way they should go and they will DEFINITELY go that way and everyone will talk well of us and want to be us and…

OH. MY!! But we do this. We wrap our identity up in this make believe world we have created for ourselves or this world we think we so justly deserve and then when God doesn’t deliver we are very disappointed and often angry. We have all these dreams and plans and forget that His plan is probably WAAAAAY different.

Do you think Joni had a different plan for her life?

Turn with me to Luke Chapter 1 starting in verse 38 we read Mary’s response to the angel when he tells her that she will be a pregnant virgin. Then Mary said. Um no sorry Gabe, that’s definitely not in my plans. Do you have any idea what that means for me? Joseph and I aren’t even married yet! This is going to ruin my reputation and his and forever change my plans for my life! Thanks but no thanks.” No that’s not what she said. She said: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”

Now let me ask you, do you think Mary was ready for this? Do you think it was ever in her plans or dreams to become a pregnant virgin and be mocked and ridiculed by many? Do you think she maybe had other plans for her and Joseph? Do you think she was afraid? And yet, look at her response how does she refer to herself?: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” I love how the NLT puts it: ““I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” THIS is the response we should have to our Lord when He takes OUR plans for our lives and changes them… even dramatically… Mary’s identity never changed, she always saw herself as a maidservant of the Lord. She knew she was not her own. She understood her identity.

Is that your identity? Do you identify yourself as His maidservant ready to do His will? When we find our identity in Him rather than in all our dreams and plans and the way we THINK things should be we will truly find our identity in Christ AND we will live a life filled with joy and thanksgiving rather than bitterness and ingratitude.

Here is a wonderful quote by John Piper: “Occasionally weep deeply over the life you had hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.” I particularly love that last part! Embrace the life you have!

Too many of us are having an identity crisis because we spend so much time trying to identify with a life that isn’t ours… that we may have hoped for but that isn’t reality… embrace reality. Be like Joni Earkson Tada. Or Helen Keller who was born with the ability to see and hear and at 19 months old, she contracted an illness and it left her both deaf and blind. She lived a lovely life not consumed with how she wished her life would be and here is one of my favorite quotes of hers: “So much has been given to me, I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.” Are you doing that? Are you so wrapped up in what has been give to you that you have no time to ponder what has been denied? Don’t let YOUR plans for your life steal your identity. Embrace His plans. Embrace the life you have.

Warning number 6: Don’t let your emotions take your identity. This is definitely one I think we can all relate to. Our emotions and feelings often have way too much sway over who we think we are. We let our feelings determine our identity instead the Word of God determining our identity. Listen to this quote by DG Hart: We should understand that the subjective depends on the objective. Right emotions depend on, and derive from, sound doctrine.” Right emotions depend on and derive from sound doctrine. If you know who you are in Christ, if your doctrine is correct on your identity you can use it to influence and direct your feelings and emotions rather than having your identity rest on how you are feeling. Here’s what some may struggle with though in regards to this. Many of you have been Christians for a long time. You have known you are loved, holy, chosen, called out of darkness, a new creation but rather than having those truths run your life you let emotions run your life. Rather than taking that head knowledge and living out daily as truth you store it away and say “yeah, I know all of that.” But you don’t. Your life proves you don’t really know that.  

When our feelings determine who we are we are sure to find ourselves in a mess. We are sure to have a wrong view of our identity in Christ. Elisabeth Elliot said: “We float on feelings that will carry us where we were never meant to go; we bubble with emotional experiences that we often take for spiritual ones; and we are puffed up with pride. Instead of seriousness, there is foolishness. Instead of gravity, flippancy. Sentimentality takes the place of theology. Our reference point will never serve to keep our feet on solid rock, for our reference point, until we answer God’s call, is merely ourselves.”

Don’t let your emotions be your reference point. Don’t let them steal your identity. One of my favorite little sermon clips on youtube is of a wonderful preacher named Allistair Begg. He shared how he went to a different church on vacation one time and when the worship leader got up before the church he shouted: “How do you FEEL?!” Allistair said to himself: “How do I feel?! I feel crummy! Don’t ask me that question! Ask me what I know! Ask me what I know about God! Ask me what I know about His Word!”

We must quit asking ourselves how we feel and start asking ourselves "what do I know?” This is why the Word of God is so paramount in our lives. Reading it daily and listening to it daily, will continue to strengthen your identity in Christ and diminish your identity in how you are feeling.

The enemy wants to commit identity theft on you and have it wrapped up in your past, your weaknesses, your strengths, your propensity to compare, the big plans you have your life and your emotions. But God wants your identity wrapped up in who He says you are.

Jen Wilkin said: “We are what we behold.” Do you believe that? If you behold His Word daily, not just in reading but in your heart and mind, you will become more of what it describes you to be. If however you behold the lies that circulate in this world through media or even the lies of your own thoughts and feelings, you will buy into those lies more and more. Behold your God. Behold who He says you are. Don’t look at your circumstances. Stop looking at what you wish would have been or what might be. Stop looking at others. Stop looking at how strong you are or how weak you are. Stop looking at your past and how you are feeling. Look at Him. Behold Him. Remember who He is. He is the Alpha and OMega. The King of kings. He is your Creator. The Almighty One who will never leave you or forsake you. He is the Author of life and Sovereign over all things. He is good. All knowing. He is love. It is in this God that you are to find your true identity.

Hebrews 12:1-2 let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, llooking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Look to Him. Read His Word to find out who He is and you will find out who you really are.