Know Your Identity
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
How do you introduce yourself? Beyond your name, how do you describe yourself to others? For the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his life was sent reeling when he was arrested and thrown into prison by the Nazis. His freedom was completely gone. His life upended. His future was uncertain. It felt as if everything was taken away from him. His identity was shaken to the core. One day he asked the question:
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house…
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once?
This really is the modern question. Who am I?
I know it sounds strange that we should go in search of ourselves. Step back and think about this question and you will see how shocking it is. What other creatures are not quite sure who they are? It is as if we have lost our very selves. How can that be? But, this is where we live. Why is it so important to get right? Christian writer Jackie Hill Perry said:
How you identify yourself will shape how you navigate life. Jackie Hill Perry
How did we get to where we are now? We do not know who we are. We must design our own lives. It used to be that you had almost no choice whatsoever in who you were or even what your vocation was.
Pastor Tim Keller explained by telling the story of his grandfather. When he was a teenager growing up in Naples, Italy, he told his father that he didn’t want to be a potter. But there was a problem: his father was a potter. His grandfather was a potter. His great grandfather was a potter. In truth, there were only three options for him. He could be a potter, he could join the military, or he could become a priest. When the boy asked why, the father replied, “Our family makes pottery. It’s who we are. Nobody is going to give you another job because that’s what our family does.” If he’d tried to go to a different community, they’d say to him, “What are you doing over here? You are from over there. That’s who you are. Go back.” So in response…he moved to America. Then he could pretty much do what he wanted.
The good news is we can make these choices today. We have the freedom to be whoever we want to be and to do what we want to do with our lives. But, hold on a moment–it’s not all good news. Polish sociologist Zygmut Bauman explains:
Traditional communities are rivers, while modern societies are oceans. A river has a direction and carries you along with the current, just as traditional societies direct their members in a particular way. In modern societies there is no current; we can choose to go any direction, no direction, or to shift direction with every change of winds. – Zygmut Bauman
Now, this sounds freeing and wonderful, but most people have come to experience it as crushing. Without taking any directions from our family or society, we feel the immense burden of crafting our identity on our own. We have to be unique. Self-made. This makes us anxious, especially when we are told we will find all the answers inside us. We must find a unique story, a special identity that at once stands out and also fits in—we just can’t do it.
The result is we try to define ourselves through the things we have in our lives. Maybe through our accomplishments or through who we know. If we succeed in some measure, we end up with identities that are both shallow and flimsy.
That’s the problem.
So, our lives feel thin, like we have very little meaning at all. We wonder if we matter at all. Our identities are fragile. We easily feel threatened in who we are, and what we believe. We are easily influenced by the changing winds because we do not have a solid place to stand. Yet, this is not how God created us. And, not the place God has given us. Listen to this song by King David.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. Psalm 8:3-4
Yes, David has come to know who he is in relation to God. He knows he is made in the image of God. He knows that God has given him glory and honor. Now, today, we ask how we can be free and have a settled, stable identity.
The core to becoming disciples is receiving and living in a new identity. One given to us by God when we come to him. Jesus fundamentally changes who we are. This new identity becomes the defining thing about us. The guiding reality of our lives. Where Jesus places his identity is what I want to look at with you today. Why do we need this identity? How can we have it?
Receiving Our New Identity in Christ
Now, we take our next step in our study of discipleship in the gospel of John. We are learning what it means to follow Jesus. Today we see how Jesus sees himself. His identity. We get the answer to how he was able to do all he did. We might wonder, how did he remain faithful? How did he stay on mission? How did he endure rejection, criticism and opposition?
How did Jesus do it?
Our text begins with a question from the apostle Philip:
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? John 14:8-10
Jesus uses Philip‘s question to reveal the truth about himself. How has he been able to live a life of resilience, strength, courage, and goodness? He can do this because his identity is secure. Can you see what Jesus has done? Here is a new sort of identity. Jesus doesn’t say that he is all that he can be. He doesn’t show a self-made identity built on his accomplishments. He doesn’t speak of himself at all. Instead, we see Jesus locating his identity in the Father. He says, “If you want to see the Father, look at me. I am in him, he in me.”
The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…. John 14:10-11
He knows who he is because of his connection to his Father.
Think about the way identity works. We cannot have a solid identity unless it is fixed to something that can be trusted. Something that cannot be threatened or taken away. For example, if you have placed your identity and your worth in your career, what will happen when it tanks or when you retire or can no longer do your work?
You are only as secure as the place where you locate or ground your identity.
This is how Jesus could weather criticism and even plots against him. It is how he could face the cross. He knew who he was. He was in the Father. Nothing could touch that. He had this assurance from the beginning. At his baptism, we are told that the heavens opened, and the Father said to Jesus the Son:
This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Matthew 3:17
Jesus lived in this love. He knew his mission. His purpose. He was secure in the Father. He was not shattered when his disciples fled from him. He was not afraid when the religious leaders plotted to have him killed. He never felt he had to defend himself. His identity was secure in the Father.
Why we need to have our identity in Christ.
This is the very opposite of us. We have a fragile identity. The smallest slight can send us reeling. We easily feel threatened and become defensive. We have to rack up accomplishments. We take pride in our possessions. We have built our identities on things that aren’t secure. The approval of others. The success of our children. The positions and careers that we have. We can lose them and because this is true, we can never feel completely secure.
As the news came in this week about Madonna, I remember reading a number of years ago an interview with her done by Vanity Fair Magazine. At one point, she became honest about her life. She said:
And all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I’m always struggling with that fear. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting… My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody, I still have to prove that I’m Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.
This is the vulnerability of having built your own identity. You have to keep it going. You must prove yourself. You feel threatened easily. Madonna said her struggle will never end. The result is a defensive and fragile self. Easily injured. Who would she be if she wasn’t interesting? If she wasn’t somebody? From this place, it is difficult to love. And, we aren’t free. Remember, how you identify yourself will shape how you navigate life.
Why don’t we have our identity in Christ?
Now, if what I said is true, why don’t we run to the Father? Why don’t we do as Jesus did?
Here’s why: What we build is all we’ve got. That’s the problem.
How can we let go of the life we have created for ourselves? We can’t imagine living any other way. I think of the man that came to Jesus. He seemed to have everything. Rich. Young. Successful. This guy was a good man. He was religious and faithful. He asked Jesus about finding life.
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:21-22
Jesus wasn’t telling him his wealth was bad. It was because that was his identity. Who would he be without his wealth? Jesus loved him and wanted him free. We are so invested in our self-made identity, so afraid of losing it, that we can’t consider there could be life somewhere else. This is why Jesus said:
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? Matthew 16:25-26
How are we going to walk away from something we have used to feel secure? To establish who we are? We can’t. But, there is more.
We’re not sure the Father is for us.
What might happen if I really went all in with God? If I did follow Jesus? This is where we are stuck. This relationship with the Father is why Jesus came; so that you could have the assurance of the Father’s love for you.
How we can have our identity in Christ.
Jesus faced the loss of this connection to the Father at the cross so that you might know the Father’s love for you so that (1) you could rest in him, (2) have your identity as his child and (3) be secure and really free.
I remember watching the movie Blood Diamond with one of my sons. The movie tells the story of a valuable diamond and how it was resourced… stolen, really. One of the subplots of the story tells about a young boy named Dia, stolen from his family and made into a child soldier by rebels. Though young, he’s been traumatized to be made into a killer himself. All the while, his father, named Solomon, has been searching for him and wanting to bring him home. The day he finds his son, they are caught up in a scene of violence and his son has a gun and is ready to shoot him.
“You are a good boy who loves soccer and school.”
He walks up to Dia. Tears are streaming down his cheeks.
“Your mother loves you so much. She waits by the fire…with your sister N’Yanda and the new baby. And Babu, the wild dog who minds no one but you.”
Tears are now streaming down Dia’s cheeks, too. His dad continues:
“I know they made you do bad things, but you are not a bad boy. I am your father, who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son again.”
Dia puts the gun down, and Solomon hugs him. I think there is a day when because of the cross of Jesus, we realize that we are loved by God and that the only place of security is not in the identities we have made for ourselves but in the Father who loves us.
As a result, the spell is broken. The things we once sought our value in take another place in our lives. We can love. We can thrive because we know that no matter what happens to us, we are secure. Our identity is not changed by the approval or disapproval we receive from others so we can do what is right.
Having more money does not give us greater value. Having the respect of others is great, but we don’t live for that any longer because it does not give us life. God does. As one man given his new identity in Christ explained:
Our Father rewrites our life stories with the ink of the cross. He takes our botched narratives full of self and fills them with Jesus. “My son,” he says, “is now who you are. He is your story, your identity, your everything.” Chad Bird
Now, this teaching here by Jesus is filled with the language about God as your Father because that is what happens. God is no longer remote, but now the one sustaining you and valuing you. You discover how much you matter to him. Listen to Jesus explain it:
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. John 14:12-14
By doing the works he has been doing, you will come to love as Jesus has loved. You’ll serve as he has served. Why? Because you have your life in the Father. You have the freedom of this new identity to give yourself away because you know you are secure.
This is the pathway of discipleship.
It is not so much about getting what we want when we pray, but about the access we have to the Father. It’s about resting in this new relationship that Jesus has provided to us. Of course, your Father hears your prayers. Why does he hear and answer? He loves the Son. The Father will be glorified in the Son. Now, you belong to Jesus. Of course, this is all by faith and by trusting in him. Your identity, who you really are, is found in your loving heavenly Father. But, will we do that or will we remain afraid? You see, doing the works that Jesus did opens up a whole new way of life.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
Because of this new relationship in Christ, as beloved of your Father, a whole new life comes. Now, that day as the German pastor wondering who he was when everything was stripped away, turned his focus to his loving Father. Something happened. He could see beyond the prison to the skies. The creation. He reflected on what Jesus had done for him. How the Father God had loved him and redeemed him. He said:
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!
That’s it. We are His. We are secure in Him. We must see and know this to enjoy being disciples of Jesus. To live the life we are called to, we need the freedom that comes from knowing we are secure. We need to know exactly who we are: loved by God and found in Him.