If you a follower of Jesus, you find your identity in being made in God’s image and being adopted as a child of God. As a Christian, this identity sets you apart from those who haven’t yet found Jesus. However, there is an enemy of the soul intent on stealing this identity from Christ followers. Has your identity as a follower of Jesus been stolen?
This is the last in a series of four posts addressing this issue of spiritual identity theft. The first post was an introduction to this problem. The second post defined the first half of your identity as a follower of Jesus – God made you in His image. The third dives into the other half of you identity — God adopted you as His child, and even more, made you His heir. This final post will give you three ways to steal back your true identity.
Identity: A Generational Problem
Generation Z is our current youth generation. They were born between 1997 and 2012 (making them between 10-25 years old). There are 68 million members of Gen Z and they make up 25% of the American population.
Gen Z is the first truly ethnically diverse generation (those who are white make up less than 50% of the Gen Z population), so diversity of all kinds isn’t just accepted but celebrated. Also known as ‘digital natives’, Gen Z has only known a connected world with the internet at their finger tips.
They are children of Gen X and Millennials who are increasingly cynical (can I believe in truth?) and relativistic (there is no truth, so live your truth), which has led them to be identified as ‘nones’. They claim no religious affiliation — 16% identify as agnostic or atheist.
These things are all true of Gen Z, and it makes identity THE issue the facing them as Christians. But this is more than just a youth problem. Their world is a picture of the world we all currently live in — Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, Gen Z. Add all the things together defining Gen Z, and the world we live in challenges each of us to find and claim our identity…apart from God.
Jesus first. Everything else second.
When I put precedence in areas which aren’t primary I allow my Enemy to steal my identity. It happens when I see myself as a white, male, heterosexual, husband and father, who pastor’s a church. Or if I believe myself to first and foremost be an American who is a member of Cross Points Church. I am a Chief’s and Sporting Kansas City fan.
But I’m a follower of Jesus. Those things might be true, but they no longer define me. I don’t hang my hat on those things. They are secondary to being made in God’s image and being adopted as God’s child and heir.
Our mandate is to identify in Jesus. As Paul says,
“For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.” -Galatians 3:26-27 NLT
If I claim Christianity, then when people look at me they should see Jesus.
3 Ways to Steal Back Your Identity
So it is imperative we either regain our identity or maintain it. If you find yourself struggling to portray Jesus first in your life, steal back your identity with these three tips.
Identity Tip #1: Empty yourself of any non-Christ identities.
We are unashamedly a soccer family. Each of our kids played soccer for a period of time. Our oldest through her freshman year of high school. Our second through early elementary school. My oldest son just wrapped up his senior year of high school soccer, and my younger son his freshman year (as a varsity player!).
My older son is a really good player. As an elementary-aged kid, our goal for him was to make and play high school soccer if he wanted. However, as he entered middle school, it became clear his ceiling was higher than that. We asked a few unbiased people, and they told us Division 1 soccer was not out of the question (the highest level of college soccer). This became my expected path for him.
But about a year ago, part way through his junior year, I had a loud thought — the voice of God speaking to me. It went something like this, “What if Chilton doesn’t play college soccer?” I had told him on multiple occasions, I didn’t care if he played college soccer. I wanted what he wanted.
But can I be honest? The truth was I hoped he played soccer in college. I didn’t want it to end for him. I didn’t want it to end for me.
So the ‘loud question’ was a knife to my heart. His soccer career was becoming my identity. For both his best and mine, I needed to ‘empty myself’ of that dream.
Jesus sets our example
Paul used this language in his letter to the Philippians. He says:
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” -Philippians 2:4-8 ESV
Jesus, of all people, had a reason to full of himself. He was God. Yet, Jesus dropped this attitude and became like you and me. It changed the world. When I drop any identity that doesn’t reflect Jesus I may not change the entire world, but I can change my world.
Wouldn’t you know it, but this summer my son came to us saying he didn’t think college soccer was his future. It still hurt, but because I chose to empty myself of that identity, I was able to fully support and encourage him in the choices he was making in his life.
- What identity are you putting in front of Jesus?
- What do you need to empty yourself of?
Identity Tip #2: Be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Before Jesus death and resurrection, at the Last Supper, he promised to send the Holy Spirit (John 14). Jesus called Him the “Comforter” or “Advocate”. Then after his resurrection, Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1). He told them that the Holy Spirit would give them power.
Within a few days, the Spirit did come and fill that small group of followers who were praying in a hidden room. The Holy Spirit came and filled them. He gave them power. The Holy Spirit became an advocate for them here on earth. He comforted them in difficult and scary times.
We need comfort, an advocate and power.
You need power to wear the identity of Jesus. We need an advocate to swim against the stream (sometimes a raging river) of the world. You need a comforter because wearing Jesus’ identity isn’t always easy. Paul tells the Ephesians church this:
“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit,” -Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT
A couple of things to note from this passage. We need wisdom to face the world we live in, which Paul labels as “evil”. We need to act and speak thoughtfully to the world around us. How do we do this? Be filled with the Holy Spirit. He’s our source of power. He’s our advocate.
One final note on being filled with the Spirit. When Paul challenges the Ephesians to be filled with the Holy Spirit, his language indicates the Holy Spirit should fill and refill us continuously. If I was filled in 1993, it is not enough. I need re-filled today, then again tomorrow and the next day. It’s easy too…just ask.
- Have you been filled with the Holy Spirit today?
- Go ahead. Ask.
Identity Tip #3: Embrace God’s Word — Scripture.
I love the book of Genesis. It teaches us so much about God and ourselves.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” -Genesis 1:1-3 NLT
God’s Word changes things…instantly. Our identity can be restored, instantly, when we soak in and embrace Scripture in our lives. Paul writes this to his protege, Timothy, as he pastors a church away from Paul.
“But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:14-17 NLT
So notice the language used to describe Scripture. It’s inspired by God – over thousands of years and by dozens of hands. Scripture teaches me. It corrects me. The Word of God prepares me. Hebrews says that Scripture exposes my inmost thoughts and motives (Hebrews 4:12). All of this is useful to align my identity with Christ.
But be aware of this. You must bow your will to the word of God. Your feelings, thoughts, and emotions will betray you.
I’ve written more about how to immerse yourself in Scripture, and I recently preached on how to use God’s Word to heal your heart.
- Are you embracing and immersing yourself in Scripture?
- Are you bowing to the Word of God above all else?
Endure to the End
In conclusion, look at this short verse in Matthew. Jesus tells his disciples about the end of times. He uses a lot of scary, apocalyptic language which I don’t like to think or talk about. However, in the middle of this talk, Jesus says,
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” -Matthew 24:13 ESV
I want you to endure, and your identity is core to remaining true to Jesus to the end. As a follower of Jesus, your identity is defined by being made in the image of God and being adopted as a child of God. Don’t let this be stolen from you. Hold tight to it. Steal it back from your enemy.
Empty yourself of non-Christ identities. Be filled with the Holy Spirit (and then again). Embrace and immerse yourself in the Bible. Remember you are made in God’s image, and you are adopted as God’s child and heir.
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