Recently, as we have been studying through Ephesians on Sunday mornings at White Fields, we have been talking about the issue of identity, with a focus on who we as Christians have become in Christ.
Identity is so important, and one of our focuses has been the importance of separating identity from actions. In other words, saying: "you are not defined by your actions." Actions are things that you do, but they do not define who you are.
This is an especially relevant message in the time and culture we live in today. Consider alternative lifestyles which are seeking so much to be legitimized and accepted. Essentially, this is an argument about actions vs. identity - however, many Christians have failed to recognize it as such, and as a result, we have a hard time engaging in conversation about these issues with people who think differently than we do.
The LGBT community, for example, is saying: "This is who we are!", whereas Bible-believing Christians are saying: "No, that's not who you are, that is just what you are doing! But that's not who God made you to be!"
When Christians say things like, "Love the sinner, hate the sin", it makes perfect sense to us, and seems like a kind, person-loving statement, however many people these days reject that statement altogether. Why? Because they don't separate actions from identity.
One of my childhood friends has an uncle who is a very kind and generous man. I have interacted with him on a number of occasions at weddings and family gatherings, and have found him to be a kind and thoughtful person. He is also a practicing homosexual. One day I was having coffee with my friend, and he asked me, "Why do you hate my uncle?" I said, "I don't hate your uncle. I think he's a nice person. I just don't agree with his choices and his actions." My friend responded, "But that is WHO HE IS! That is his identity. You aren't just saying what he does is wrong - you are saying that who he is is wrong!"
Do you see why identity is such a relevant issue these days?
What the Bible does is very unique in that it separates identity from actions. Just because you do something, doesn't mean that that is who you are. Take people who commit crimes, for example. Once someone commits a crime, they can be labelled a criminal. But is that who they are condemned to be forever, just because of some bad decisions they made at one time? Is a woman who compromises morally condemned to live that lifestyle, because their actions revealed their 'true identity'?
Basically, this is what Victor Hugo's classic Les Misérables is all about. A man named Jean Valjean, committed a crime. As a result of one bad decision, he is labelled a criminal - a label which he does everything to escape - only to have Javert, a police inspector, hounding him, constantly telling him that he is a criminal, and that that is his identity, and he can never change. A woman, Fantine, who makes some bad decisions and winds up a single mother, is condemned to the label of adulterous - and told that that is not just what she did, but who she is. Jean Valjean and Fantine fight not to be defined by the actions of their past - whereas others like Javert constantly tell them that the labels of criminal and harlot are their identity.
I recently heard a story of one young man who was told over and over by his peers growing up that he was gay. He said, "After a while I thought, 'well, if this is who I am, then I am fighting a losing battle if I resist it. So I might as well embrace it as my identity. And if this is my identity, then I should probably go ahead and act accordingly. After all, that's who I am." Another story I heard recently was of a young woman, who had been abused and molested. She said, "I felt dirty, and after a while I just accepted that as my identity. And since it was my identity, I just went ahead and embraced that lifestyle and acted upon it."
However, neither of these stories ended there. Both of these people heard the Gospel and came to put their faith in Jesus Christ. And both of them came to the point where they said: "I came to realize that my past actions do not define who I am. What people said about me, what people did to me - that's not who I am." And these people turned away from these lifestyles and became Christians, embracing who God declares them to be in Christ as their true identity.
Who you are is not defined by your past actions. When you turn to Jesus Christ, you find a whole new identity in Him: Loved, Chosen, Clean, Forgiven, Redeemed… The list goes on. May you live in the freedom of knowing who you really are and who you can be in Christ.