Last month, we began a four-part series on the very important issue of identity. We will unpack four identity principles from Matthew 16:16, where Jesus discussed His identity with His disciples. Jesus initiated the conversation by asking who people said that Jesus was. Then He asked them who they thought He was. Simon Peter was the first to respond, and his answer was recorded so we might know who Jesus is.
It is important to know and understand identity principles because they equip you with tools to understand yourself, your spouse, your children, and why you do what you do (or don’t do what you don’t do). Your identity determines how you respond to people and situations, why you develop the relationships you develop, and what values you have. When a child’s identity is secure, he or she has built-in protection from the world’s destructive appeals. The primary goal of this series is to secure your identity in Jesus Christ and to help you know what it means to walk by the Holy Spirit. Knowing with certainty that you belong to and are connected with Jesus Christ is foundational to living consistently filled with the Holy Spirit and living to love with Jesus.
In the first lesson, I hope you made a list of people with whom you wanted to connect with as a teenager and as an adult. Why is it that you wanted to connect with them? The answer reveals the second identity principle.
Before we look at this principle in life, let’s notice the relationship of identity and power revealed in an encounter between Simon Peter and Jesus. In Matthew 16, Jesus talked with Simon Peter about this issue of identity. Jesus asked Simon who he thought He was. Simon replied that he believed Jesus was the Son of the living God, the Messiah. On the basis of Simon’s response, Jesus gave Simon a new name (identity), Peter, meaning Rock. He also informed Peter that this revelation of Jesus’ identity was an indication not of natural intellect or understanding, but of revelation from Jesus’ father! We might say that Jesus was informing Peter that he was now connected to or belonged to His father in heaven.
This new connection was a powerful connection. In fact, Jesus said, it was how His church was going to be built—the powerful connection between His heavenly father and the members of His church. This power comes through the revelation regarding Jesus’ identity. It’s a power that even the gates of hell cannot withstand. Jesus told Peter:
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:18-19).
It is helpful for our understanding to see that Jesus’ connection and belonging to His father was the source of His power. After being tempted by the devil, we read, “And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14). Where did that power come from? From His father! Jesus was recorded by the Apostle John, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17). Jesus didn’t do anything on His own initiative, but drew His words and strength from His father. “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 14:10). Jesus’ display of power testifies to His identity as the Son of the living God.
What do our actions display? They testify to our source(s) of identity. You don’t want to connect with someone unless he offers you something you treasure or hope for. This is human nature. It is the power to fill or to provide significance or perceived happiness that attracts you. The reason you want to be identified with a person, group, or organization is the perceived gain you think is associated. Let’s look at some examples.
Example 1: Let’s imagine a 15-year-old girl who pursues a friendship (a connection) with a popular, good-looking boy because with that association comes popularity, significance, or the power to influence people.
Example 2: Another example might be a fatherless, inner-city youth who joins a gang because he thinks it opens the door for him to girls, money, and influence (power). In a sense, the gang also becomes a surrogate father and family, making him feel significant.
Example 3: Each Fall, on many college campuses, fraternities and sororities seek to lure incoming freshmen into their clubs. Each organization seeks to convince the freshmen of the advantages of being associated with them. The students will join the fraternity or sorority he or she thinks will provide the most benefit. Identity is about power.
Example 4: Matt was sixteen and insecure about the way he looked, so when he first met Sue, a beautiful and gifted pastor’s daughter, he was attracted to her. If he was associated with Sue, the rest of the guys would really think he was something. He had to be to get a beautiful girl like Sue to be with him! He realized also that his social status would increase with her by his side. If she belonged to him and he to her, he wouldn’t feel so insecure and insignificant. She offered him the power of significance, acceptance, and self-assurance.
Example 5: Stephen was overcome with guilt because of hidden private sin. His relationship with his wife was suffering because of it and spiritually he was empty. However, Stephen was quite successful in business and had significant financial resources. In an effort to deal with his inadequacies and guilt, he decided to build a relationship with the senior pastor of his church. He first got the attention of his pastor with very generous contributions to the church and then began to take the pastor to dinner on a regular basis. As the relationship grew, Stephen didn’t feel quite so guilty about his sin and didn’t realize he was still spiritually empty. He had filled the void with a relationship with someone who he thought was what he wanted to be like. Therefore he felt that he was achieving some spiritual growth and significance. Stephen became a deacon in his church and was honored because he was associated with the senior pastor. What power did the pastor offer to Stephen? As a result of the relationship, Stephen received social acceptance, significance, and personal affirmation.
Each of these life examples reveals Identity Principle Two: Identity has to do with power. You connect with people or belong to organizations because they provide something you need or desire. The following exercises are purposefully designed to help you grasp why you and the members of your family are identified with certain people, organizations, and, ultimately, Jesus Christ.
In the first lesson, you made a list of the people and groups with whom you wanted to connect when you were between the ages of 14-16 and now as an adult. Now take those same names and ask yourself, “What did I think I would gain if I connected with that person?” What did you stand to gain by knowing and connecting with them? I hope you’ll write down your answer and then lead your family to do the same thing.
It is also helpful to look at this principle from another angle. There are people in your life who have sought to be associated or identified with you because you are a blessing to them. Below, note the names of people in your life who are connected with you and the blessing you are to them.
What have you learned about yourself in this lesson? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. Ask Him what He sees in light of the verses in this second identity principle. Write down what comes to mind. Interact with Jesus on a personal level. When you look to someone instead of God as your source of identity, He considers that idol worship. If you have turned from trusting in those relationships and what they offer and have turned to trusting in God through Jesus Christ, then you have much for which to give thanks! Have you ever expressed your repentance and sorrow for having sought power from another source than God? Thank Him for being your source of power and for revealing Himself to you.
I encourage you to remind yourself of who you are in Christ. If you memorize this, you’ll be able to renew your mind more effectively as to your identity in Christ.
Do the men of your church need to be equipped with the tools for life? Consider the impact on the families of the church if the men were settled in their identity in Christ, understood the power of integrity, were filled with the Spirit of Elijah, and were equipped to love like Jesus loves. These tools for life can be provided through a weekend men’s retreat. Then the men can follow up by using the Equipping Men series in church education classes or men’s groups. I hope you’ll pass on this information to the person who is responsible for planning men’s retreats at your church. I can be contacted at [email protected].