This past week we’ve seen the idea of identity made raw in our lives. From the death of Mr. George Floyd to the subsequent marches on behalf of black Americans, the idea of identity (among other things) is front and center.
And it should be. There are systemic problems in our society and institutions that exacerbate the sin of the human heart as it struggles, in the best of times, to love another as it loves itself, especially someone different.
In Mr. Floyd’s case, it was his identity as a black male that made him a suspect and the target of deadly force. If the officer had known Mr. Floyd was a Christian, would it have made a difference? I doubt it. But it made a difference to Mr. Floyd, who, though he had everything taken from him, including his life, had everything already given to him in Jesus.
His Christian faith in no way lessens the pain of his murder or race relations in American, but for us as Christians it reminds us that even if the world seeks to rob us of everything including our lives, and I say this cautiously as a white male, it cannot rob us of Jesus and who we are in Christ.
So, consider yourself and the idea of identity for you and me. How does this relate to us? I recently had a conversation with a seminary classmate of mine who left the ministry. In doing so, he was confronted with the reality of identity. Who was he? Was he worth anything to anyone? Why were potential employers seeing only a pastor and nothing else? Was he of value to anyone?
Have you ever struggled with your identity, worth, or value? Of course! It can start at an early age with struggles at school or feelings of sibling rivalry or favoritism in the family. It happens with how we feel about our bodies and if we meet the subjective standards of the day. It occurs with performance reports at work and even our bank balances. I can keep going and create an incredibly long list of those things (idols!) we put our identity in or seek approval from. And as long as we continue to do this, we will continue to fall short. We will continue to beat ourselves up, or worse, look down upon others with such contempt, the story ends in tragedy like it did for George Floyd.
This past Sunday (Pentecost, May 31st), I had us do an identity exercise. It wasn’t because of Mr. Floyd’s death, though it does make a good connection, but simply because we too often tell ourselves the worst things in the world, we too often believe the worst things in the world about ourselves. We too often look for approval in the wrong things. And that is the universal work of Satan against all people everywhere.
Yes, we are sinners, but we are justified by Christ and are being sanctified by the Spirit, and no, we are not called to be perfect. Instead, we are called to find our identity in Christ, to find our approval in Him–not in the things of the world, not in ideas or movements, not the ways in which the world keeps score or gives likes on social media. Our identity and approval are in Christ and Christ alone.
Now, is skin color important? In a sense, yes! As a child of God created in His image, one can take sanctified pride in one’s heritage and celebrate the good things that come with our family history and ethnicities. Black Americans should be able to celebrate this without fear and we should be able to say loudly and with generosity “black lives matter!”
But think about yourself. Where do you struggle for approval and identity? At work? Are you an adult still seeking the approval of your elderly parent? From a spouse? From others on social media? This list is long, remember? Yet, this deception must be addressed.
Following are short identity and approval affirmations for you and me to tell ourselves and to share with others. Copy these down in your journal or write them on a note card and affix it to your bathroom mirror or car dash. Tell yourself these things about who you are in Jesus. Don’t let the world (or yourself) tell you that you are anything less than who you truly are. You maybe be black or white or brown but you are also in Jesus:
I am enough in Christ.
I am whole, complete in Jesus.
In Jesus, my life is good.
In Jesus, I am loved.
In Jesus, I am approved.
The past, God’s mercy; the future, God’s provision; and the present, God’s love.
My identity is in Jesus and Jesus alone.
I am motivated from gratitude to Jesus.
My credentials, my value is in Jesus.
Outcomes do not determine my worth.
I am person of worth in Jesus.
I am a person of value in Jesus.
Accomplishments and failures do not determine my worth.
Jesus is everything to me; I am everything to him.
Jesus is with me.
Jesus is helping me.
Jesus is guiding me.
Jesus is for me.
What other affirmations will you write? What will you tell yourself about who you are in Jesus? Will you take these phrases and tuck them in card addressed to a friend or neighbor? An exercise like this isn’t done simply for the sake of exercise. Nor is it a new-age attempt at fashioning a new reality out of thin air. Instead, it is a biblical way of identity and worth, a biblical way of telling us the raw truth we need hear no matter who we are.
In Christ with you,