Identity is the mantra of modern culture. If you listen closely, most social issues are being discussed in terms of self-image, self-esteem and individuality. The agenda is clear. My unique identity is all that matters. I get to choose who I want to be! What I say and believe about myself is all that matters! Even the concepts of respect and tolerance have been redefined to encompass personal definitions of identity. You must respect and tolerate who I say I am. While respect and tolerance are good things, this type of identity choosing is not who we were created to be.
If I choose my own identity and define who I am by that, it brings a lot of pressure. I then have to try to live up to my own definition of who I am. Not only that, but I need the reinforcement of others to confirm that who I say I am is really who I am. That often creates a vacuum of identity crisis. Shame and guilt exist when I don’t live up to my own identity choices. That leads to blame and anger for others who don’t seem to agree with my created self-image. It’s stressful trying to live up to the better self we think we should be.
The very first temptation of man in the Bible preyed on this innate desire for a better identity. Adam and Eve had personal, direct relationship with God. They were in charge of all creation, with one exception. Don’t eat from this one tree. The adversary tempted them with a better identity and they fell for it. Humanity has been falling for the same lie ever since.
Genesis 3:3-5 (NLT)
3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”
4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.
5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
Notice the serpent first offered them something they already had. “You won’t die!” There was no death yet. No sin. The temptation? “You will be like God, knowing both good and evil!” The false promise was a better identity. An identity that knows what’s right and wrong. The Hebrew word yada, translated to know, also literally means to make, create or to make oneself. Create a better you was the lie. Make your own right and wrong! That will make you just like God. Choose your own identity!
It didn’t work then and doesn’t work now. Mankind choosing their own right and wrong brought death, disease, hate and murder. Sin is an identity crisis that says I can choose better than God. Who I am is all that matters.
If you listen to much of what is called the Gospel today, it sounds similar. Jesus died so you can be a better YOU! You are special, just like you are and Jesus just makes you better and happier. Do you need more self-esteem, a better self-image and individuality? Jesus is the answer. He’s even your personal Savior! How cool. I get my own personal Jesus to make me a better me! Yet, that’s not what Jesus taught or exampled at all.
Luke 9:23-24 (NET)
23 Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.
24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
Jesus said to follow Him, we must deny self – literally lose our life for His sake, to save our lives. The false Gospel is the original lie. You won’t die! Just be a better you! That’s not Good News. It’s just another identity crisis.
Jesus says, lay down your own incomplete identity and take mine instead. All those self imposed standards you’ve been trying to live up to can be gone! All the shame and blame that comes from self-esteem maintenance is over. Jesus is the only one who has ever offered an identity we don’t have to live up to! He gives us His identity, as a free gift!
That free gift isn’t a lifetime membership card to the better me club. It’s the opportunity to trade all of our failures and incompleteness for a brand new life – a better way of living! All the self-esteem in the world can’t give you that. It can’t be earned or deserved. It’s not a standard we have to live up to. When we believe that Jesus died for us, and that God raised Him from the dead to give us eternal life, we die to self and inherit the very life of Christ. His life becomes our life. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul describes what dying to self is all about.
Galatians 2:20 (NLT)
My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
How does Christ live in us? Faith in Jesus gives us the supernatural ability to be so free from guilt and shame that we can obey His commands. We literally take on His identity. It’s no longer us who live, but Jesus lives in us! Jesus loved others, and so we love others. Jesus served others, and so we serve others. Jesus forgave, and so we forgive. We no longer have to live up to a standard to somehow be accepted. Jesus accepts us as we are, and lives through us upholding His standard. Death to self is death to the pressure and stress of self-esteem. Jesus revealed the only way to become who we were created to be. Death to self is a hard decision to make, but trying to live up to your own self-esteem standards of identity is much harder. So Jesus made it easy for us.
Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)
28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Are you weary from carrying the burden of self-esteem and self-image? Are you tired of trying to become a better you? Real life, real identity can only be found following Jesus. The best you is the one God designed to care more about others than yourself – like Jesus.
Jesus is the only answer to the identity crisis sin brought into the world. Disobedience severed man’s relationship with God. God so loved us, that He sent His only Son as the perfect model of obedience to restore that relationship. Following Jesus by faith gives us His very life. His very obedience. He lives in us and loves through us as we lay down our own life, for His life.
John 14:23 (NLT)
Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.
Laying down our lives to do what Jesus said is the only way to literally become the residence of God. When we have that kind of faith in Jesus, God makes Himself right at home. He loves us so much, He wants to move in.
Now that’s an identity worth choosing.
Find out more about following Jesus here: https://jesus.today.church