We use all sorts of activities and attributes to define ourselves.
Runner. Writer. Foodie. Christian. Jesus freak. Agnostic. Democrat. Libertarian. Baller. Coffee snob. Reader. Dad. Mom. Reluctant father-in-law. Our social media bios are filled with descriptors like these.
Now, let’s be honest. Just because I list something on my bio doesn’t mean that it’s true. I can call myself a singer because I sing along with the radio as I ride in my truck, but any one who has heard me sing knows that my voice is not exactly pleasant to the ears. But regardless if the self-proclaimed titles or adjectives that appear on our Twitter and Facebook profiles are accurate, they still clue us in on the things that compose our self-identity. They tell the world who we are, or at least who we wish to be.
But what happens when these things are threatened or taken away from you? When the wife, whose foundation of existence is found in her marriage, finds herself staring divorce right in the eyes? When dad, the one whose sense of worth in measured in his ability to put food on his family’s table, is experiencing the pain and anxiety of unemployment? When the star student finds a “C-” written at the top of her recent exam? How do you respond? Anger at the professor? Hurt pride?
Responding sinfully when our cherished possessions and statuses are threatened shows that they have taken a place of preeminence in our lives. They have become idols, not the kind that sit on an altar in our homes, but ones that find their home in the depths of our heart. They are often good gifts from the Lord that have usurped God’s rightful place and stolen our highest affections. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller explains an idol “is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
Few would readily admit that there are things in our lives that we treasure above God, but we all deal with them. When one of our idols is endangered, we often respond in outrage or with a sense that the core of our existence has been shaken.
The Bible doesn’t forbid feeling sadness over loss or finding satisfaction in a gift from the Lord. It does, however, warn about the danger of finding fulfillment and purpose in any place other than Christ. Your marriage cannot bear the weight of your whole universe. It was never meant to. The joys of marriage are faint echoes of the soul-lifting drumbeat of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Likewise, any academic accolade is a small thing compared to the riches we have received in Jesus. Our idols are rags when the riches of the gospel are clearly seen.
Jesus has freed us from finding our identity in these idols. On the cross, He bore every trace of his people’s guilt and shame, and all of his righteousness has been given to us by the Spirit. This is the core of our existence. We are Christians. By that, I don’t mean a group of people who have similar religious observances and cultural values. I mean those who have been adopted by the Father because of the life, death, and resurrection of the Son.
This identity—our identity— is freeing. We don’t have to tread through life desperately clinching those idols that capture our affections and aspirations. God has already declared in Christ who we are—His children. That divine declaration is far greater than our ever-changing external circumstances. When marriages are going through dark times, God’s declaration, “You are mine!” bursts through the fear and anxiety. When your best doesn’t align with the expectations of your peers, our identity in Christ keeps us from being crushed by the discouragement.
The Son was crushed so that the rebels could become sons and daughters. What a glorious Savior! What a gloriously free life we can live in Him!