The last three months, we discussed the fact that when we wish to connect with or identify with someone, we do so because we believe there is something to be gained from the association. They have a power we don’t have, and subconsciously (or perhaps consciously), we deduce that we can have that power if we are connected to them. Once we conclude there’s something to be gained, we begin to look for ways to connect with them.
We’ve been studying the passage in Matthew 16 when Jesus and Simon Peter were discussing identity. Jesus had asked His disciples who they considered Him to be. Simon responded, “You’re the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Surely Jesus’ reply astounded Simon. “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 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” (17-18). Not only was Jesus implying that Peter belonged to His father, but also that His father was going to shape his life. Furthermore, the entire church, the true church of Christ, would be shaped by the power of His Father’s revealing work.
Like Christ, it should be obvious to others who our father is: the living God. When we read the gospels, we can’t help but notice who controlled Jesus’ life: the word and will of His father. Jesus’ source of identity was the living God. He declared more than once that He and the Father were identified with each other (John 10:30; John 14:9). Jesus never spoke on His own initiative (John 12:49; 14:10; 16:13) nor acted without perfect conformity to the will of His father (John 5:30; 8:28). Jesus’ life here on earth was entirely shaped by the life of His father because He was the source of identity and power for the Son.
During those heated conversations between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus used this third principle of identity. Who shaped the lives of the Pharisees? Their father, the Devil! Because they were identified with him and he was their source of power, they could not and would not identify with Jesus and His father. Jesus understood the root of their actions and words—the source of their identity.
When it comes to life, we are all shaped by those with whom we wish to identify. Here’s how it happens. In an effort to gain some personal benefit that we think will fill us, we desire to connect with a person or group. However, perhaps without realizing it, we go through a process of transformation. The next thing we do is find out what is required of us to make the connection by observing the individual or learning the expectations of the leaders of the group. Then we either imitate those with whom we wish to identify or we change our actions and words to gain their approval based on their values.
There is an alternate identity dynamic that shapes our lives that may take place. Some people have such bitterness toward an individual or group that in reaction, they determine they will do nothing that closely identifies them with that individual or group. They don’t want anyone to think they are associated; therefore without realizing it, their lives are being shaped by someone with whom they are offended or embittered.
In either example above, their lives are being shaped by this third identity principle being worked out in their lives. Let’s look at some examples.
A deacon and his wife were troubled about their son, Eric, age 12. Recently, he had displayed attitudes of disrespect and unusual, almost addictive, interest in a particular electronic game. They discovered Eric’s obsession one evening when they knocked to enter his bedroom and the door was locked. Eric opened the door after repeated demands. His loving, concerned parents sought an explanation for why the door was locked. After a few lame excuses and hemming and hawing around, Eric finally revealed the cause: he was engrossed in an electronic game of which he knew they wouldn’t approve.
This event prompted an important discussion about their relationship and recent events in Eric’s life. What had happened in his life that fostered the recent deterioration in respect? Where did he get the game? Why didn’t he ask them about the game? Had they done something to damage their relationship? Did Eric think God was pleased with the game that involved immodestly dressed characters and violence?
For Eric, becoming good at the popular electronic game was his avenue to connect with the most popular kid in his class, Jerry, as well as all of Jerry’s friends. It wasn’t the only way he tried to fit in with Jerry’s world. He adopted Jerry’s attitude toward authority (thus the disrespect to parents), began using crude and filthy language, developed an appetite for pornography, acquired new clothing styles, and imitated a host of other qualities and activities he had observed in Jerry—EVEN THOUGH HE KNEW THEY WERE WRONG. The deacon and his wife had only seen the tip of the iceberg that evening when they happened upon Eric’s locked bedroom door.
The problem Eric and his parents were facing illustrates the third identity principle that combines the first two principles. Once we pick a source with which or whom to identity, we let it shape our lives! Other illustrations come to mind. Consider the effect of the military, gangs, fraternities and sororities, or a boyfriend or girlfriend. Do you remember when you first thought your husband or wife was someone to whom you wished to be connected? What a power they held over your life!
If Eric’s parents understood these first three principles, they would know why he was doing what he was doing—Eric was trying to identify with someone at school. Bedrooms of teens can be quite revealing! The pictures on the walls, the music listened to, the social media platforms they access, and the clothes in the closet can tell a story. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce with whom or what the teen is identifying. Their lives reveal it. The same is true for adults!
Boomer (not his real name) was a relatively new addition to a fellowship that had been studying these identity principles. One Sunday morning, in walked Boomer without his trademark ponytail. The pastor had never known him without it, and he was shocked by Boomer’s neatly trimmed haircut. Out of the belief that changes like that need to be led by the Holy Spirit and not social pressure, the minister questioned him as to why he cut his hair. The pastor was hoping it wasn’t because someone had put a guilt trip on him with the goal of getting him to conform to a self-righteous standard.
Boomer told the pastor the Holy Spirit had applied the first three identity principles to his life. He had never realized that the reason he had long hair in the first place was because he wished to identify with the rebellion of the 70’s. Boomer told the pastor how he had grown long hair as a statement that he wasn’t a part of the old establishment. As he grew older, matured, and came to Christ, he had separated from the rebellious youth culture. In fact, he was ashamed of it! During the previous meeting, the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that his long hair was a matter of rebellious pride. He grew it long in order to connect with a sub-culture with which he no longer wished to be identified. Boomer knew in his heart God was asking him to cut his hair as a testimony he belonged to Him. Although he had worn his hair long for 20 years, he wanted to do it! Boomer had already settled the issue that his life was going to be shaped by his relationship with Jesus Christ. He just hadn’t made the connection yet in this area of his life.
By the way, for those of you who have long hair, I’m not suggesting from this illustration that all men having long hair are rebellious and proud. I’m merely giving an example of how this third principle may be used to produce sanctification and a greater identity with Jesus Christ. For Boomer, one application was his hair length. For you and your children, it may be something else. The questions are these:
1. Why do you do what you do?
2. Who shapes your life?
3. What do you do today that began because you wanted to identify with someone years ago?
4. In what ways did the people on your list shape your life? In what way are you allowing Jesus Christ to shape your life if you belong to Him?
It’s true for everyone, isn’t it? I hope you’ll continue the discussion about identity in your family time this week by asking the questions above.
When you think about the list of people or groups with whom you wished to identify and consider what you desired to gain from them, what effect did they have on your life? Like Eric, were you introduced to people who were bad influences and introduced you to destructive attitudes, activities, and habit patterns? Do you still participate in some of those activities today without realizing where the root lies?
I hope you’ll take a moment to write down what thoughts or questions have come to mind as you have read or listened to this blog? There are more application questions in the book available at www.spiritofelijah.com. This is an excerpt from Walking Worthy As a Son of God – The Walking Worthy Series, Volume 1. Available in print and ebook format.
Spiritofelijah.com has the privilege of hosting a resource page for my friend and mentor, Jerry White, Jr. He and his wife, Gerrie, have had a tremendous impact on our lives since we were 29 years old. Although he has a webpage (adisciplesnotebook.org) where video resources are available, his books are only available on our website. I invite you to visit http://www.spiritofelijah.com/jerrywhite and become familiar with the spiritual riches God has given to the body of Christ through Jerry. Here is a brief description of what is available.
The Live to Love Adventure is a Friday-Saturday event which invites and equips God’s people to live to love with Jesus for the rest of their lives. The goal of the 10 part series is to grow intimacy with the indwelling Jesus Christ by learning how to be His disciple in a relationship with the Holy Spirit. Jesus launched a live to love movement when He commissioned His disciples to go make disciples who would love the world with Him. I would consider it an honor and privilege to present the Live to Love Adventure at your church or organization. Promotional videos and resources are available at www.livetolovewithjesus.com. You may contact me at [email protected].
At livetolovewithjesus.com there is also a streaming video of the Live to Love Adventure which you can use personally or in your small group, family Bible time, or as a discipleship tool.