At the end of World War I, there was a large group of soldiers so traumatized by war—so shell-shocked—that they could not remember who they were. They had “lost” their identity. Families of these lost souls assumed that their loved ones were killed in action. Some of them received letters to that effect.

But the allied governments rounded up all these identity-challenged veterans and held an “Identification Day” outside Paris. Families of those unaccounted for gathered in hope as each soldier came to the stage to ask one simple question, “Does anyone know who I am?”

Psychologists say that identity  is “a group of attributes, qualities and values that define how we view ourselves and, perhaps, how we think other people see us.” Identity can be formed from the labels we give ourselves, the roles we fill, and our activities and accomplishments. For example, I might see myself as a man, dad, husband, preacher, graduate, and Christian.

But it is also possible for me to allow others to label me—loser, worthless, sinner, unlovable, untalented, and pathetic. So, there can be serious problems when I get my identity from either myself or others.  I need to know my true identity and that can only come from a trustworthy  source.

We need to stop seeing ourselves as we were and start being who we are.

Do churches have an identity? Sure they do. We have churches we label as liberal, conservative, or “middle-of-the-road”. We have friendly churches, inwardly-focused churches, legalistic churches, serving churches and missional churches.

Is it possible for a church to lose her identity? I believe she can. I know of a congregation in Abilene where, under the guise of wanting to plant a new church, half the elders took half the church (the money half, by the way) and started their own church. They wanted to take the preacher with them, but he wanted no part of it. He resigned and moved on.

The folks left behind struggled. A growing church of 450 suddenly became a church of 200 with no money and no preacher. The congregation experienced a trauma much like the shell-shocked soldier. They lost their identity. Praise God, this church seems to be rebounding. The key to the turnaround? LOVE! They kept loving God, loving each other, and serving the community. Love heals–that’s just a fact.

After Jesus’ baptism, he walked out of the Jordan River and immediately the heavens parted, the Spirit descended, and the voice of God declared his true identity, “This is my Son, whom I love. With him, I am very pleased.”

But immediately, the Spirit leads Jesus to the wilderness to be tested. For forty days, he is all alone. He eats nothing. As he reaches his absolute weakest point, the devil appears. Satan’s challenge is to make Jesus doubt his identity.

Each test begins with the words, “IF you are the Son of God….”

“Are you sure you’re really God’s Son, Jesus? Maybe you misheard. What kind of father leads his son into the desert to starve? IF you are God’s Son, turn these stones to bread and have a bite.” Of course, doing so would not have been an act of faith. It would’ve shown a lack of faith and a fair amount of impatience. But Jesus passed the test. He knew Satan’s words were lies. Jesus focused on God’s truth, “You are my Son!”

What’s YOUR identity? Is it defined by you? Or by others? Or by God?

What about Southern Hills? Do we allow the world or other churches to supply our identity? Or do we listen to God?

Scripture says that “Anyone in Christ is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Old labels from ourselves, others, or Satan no longer apply. We are part of God’s New Creation! He says so! We are his children, members of his household, and joint-heirs with Christ. That’s not a promise for tomorrow, that’s a reality for today. When we came to faith in Christ, God gave us a new identity—an identity we must claim and by which we must live.

Now, accepting God’s identity for us doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect. We are flesh and flesh is flawed. But underneath all our flaws is a radically new heart—a heart placed there by God.

We need to stop seeing ourselves as we were and start being who we are.

“In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Because you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 3:26-27; 4:6-7).

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Jim Hays

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