Sermon from September 18th, 2016

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“God Is on the Move #2 - Restoring Our True Identity”

1 John 1:1-10; John 8:31-47

By Pastor John Bent

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Sermon Text
Good morning! Welcome to worship!  We are in a sermon series contrasting two world views active in America today. The first is the Biblical world view. The second, a world view that dismisses God – a world view we construct from within ourselves.

The Bible tells us that human beings are created in the image of God. We are more than just meaningless blip in a primordial soup. Psalm 8 says we were created by God and crowned with glory and honor.  Another translation uses the word “dignity”.

Imagine for a moment Adam and Eve standing in the Garden of Eden the morning after God created and commissioned them. The fall has not yet occurred. There is a dignity, a royalty, a beauty about them unlike any other creature God has made.

They are the King and Queen over every king or queen who has ever ruled the earth. And they are your parents. According to the Bible we all come from royal stock! So what happened! Why don’t we see this dignity in the human family today? How did things get so twisted? How did we move from dignity to depravity and how do we get back?

We know the story, when Adam and Eve yielded to the temptation to disobey God and attempt to be their own god; they were cast out of the Garden. But God didn’t banish them just to punish them; he banished them in order to save them. His purpose was to restore the identity, the dignity, the freedom that sin had destroyed.

Let me back up a bit. In the pre-Christian times, your identity came from outside you. You were born into it. You had no choice. If you were a prince or princess, it was your duty to fulfill those obligations no matter how you felt about it. If you were a slave, you had no right to think of yourself as anything more than property.

Christianity radically changed all this. It restored the dignity we lost because of sin. Paul writes in Gal 3. “So 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.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Gal 3:26-29

God creates and it is very good. Sin mutilates and what God created good, becomes deplorable. Sin mutilates our identity. It mutilates us spiritually, emotionally, relationally, even physically. When we reject God, and attempt to create our own identity according to our own desires, we end up mutilating what was once good and perfect.

One of the ways we experience this is in the labels we chose for ourselves and the labels other people put on us. Sometimes these labels come from our parents, sometimes from our peers, sometimes from the culture around us – but in every case these labels interfere with becoming what God created us to be.

In the modern secular world view, our identity is something that we have the “sovereign power” to create for ourselves. We are told to emancipate ourselves from the expectations of others – especially God.  The secular world view tells us that freedom is found being true to ourselves and letting go of trying to be what others want us to be!

There is a certain amount of truth to that. The problem is my heart and my wants and desires are not a reliable guide for discovering who I really am. Sin has mutilated our ability to create our own identity.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9   Left unchecked, these deceitful wants and desires become idols that enslave me rather than set me free.

The second problem with choosing my own identity is this. No matter how emancipated I may claim to be, I’m deeply enmeshed in the culture around me. I want to be accepted. I want to fit in.  Much of what I do in the name of being different isn’t being different at all – it’s fitting in to avoid being left out!   The end result of allowing the world to squeeze me into its mold is the same old slavery I was determined to escape.
It isn’t just this or that political party that is “deplorable”, but according to the Scripture, it’s the whole culture. In our quest to create our own identity apart from God, we have all become deplorable.
The tragic reality of this secular world view is this - the further I drift from the Lord, the more frantic I become to discover who I really am. The more I compromise myself in my attempt to discover who I am the more difficult it becomes to self-generate meaning, satisfaction, happiness, freedom, and healthy community with others. All my attempts to create my own identity apart from my Creator simply become new chains of bondage and depravity.

Example:  The Pharisees in today’s Gospel. Like most of us here today, these were really religious guys. Yet Jesus told them, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31
They were offended. They were proud of their self-generated identity. They saw themselves as sovereign agents of themselves. They responded. “We are children of Abraham! We’ve never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” John 8:33

If you’ve wondered what is meant by historical revision – here it is. They were in complete denial of their slavery in Egypt 1500 years earlier or their captivity in Babylon 500 years earlier or their present occupation by the Roman army.

I remember before Lord got ahold of me, I saw myself as a free and sovereign Lord over myself.  Yet the reality was, I was a slave of my own deplorable nature, I was a slave to seeking the approval of the world around me.  I was in complete denial of reality. If it wasn’t for the fact that Jesus sets prisoners free, I wouldn’t be proclaiming this to you this morning.

Jesus told the Pharisees that day, “I tell you the truth everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” John 8:34 Who’s he talking about?  He’s talking about all of us – every son and daughter of Adam and Eve. He goes on… “A slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:35-36

Free from what?  Trying to earn, merit, or self-generate the dignity I know deep within myself that I was created to possess. Free from the labels the world, the devil, and my own sinful flesh continually try to pin on me.  Free from being pigeon holed and trapped by the mistakes of my past, and the prejudices of others. Free from my own shame and guilt.  Free to become what God created me to be. A child of God, a son or daughter of Adam and Eve. Created and endowed with a birthright of honor, dignity, and glory.

In the secular world view, identity is something we self-generate by looking inward to our own feelings and desires or looking outward for clues from the culture as to what’s acceptable and “in”.  In both places, we find ourselves in conflicted situations.

We have an enemy of our souls whose purpose is to confuse and sow seeds of conflict within us. In today’s secular world view, we are told to pick an identity, see how it works. If it doesn’t you can pick another tomorrow. But our true identity isn’t something we can find on our own. It’s something only God can reveal to us as we seek him. Will we humble ourselves and trust him to do that?

Throughout the ages of the Christian church, God’s people have discovered the real question isn’t “Who am I” but “Whose am I!”  Paul writes “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation – the old (identity) is gone, the new (identity) has come.” 2 Cor 5:17

There is a desire within every human heart to recover the dignity, honor, the glory that belonged to Adam and Eve in the Garden before the fall. That is our birthright. But sin has mutilated this dignity and replaced it with confusion and deplorable depravity.

We are promised by the culture that if we can just get God out of the way, things will get better. But just the opposite is happening. Confusion and mutilation are increasing. Is there hope for people like us?  For a culture like ours?  Absolutely, but not in ourselves!
On the cross Jesus exchanged his dignity, his glory, his righteousness, for our sin and shame. He was mutilated so we could be healed and restored. When we place our trust in him and follow him, God begin becoming what God created us to be.

When Paul wrote, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation – the old (identity) is gone, the new (identity) has come.”  he was speaking from personal experience. There is no greater joy than becoming what God made you to be. Your pride is replaced with humility. Your depravity is replaced with dignity. Your selfishness is replaced with love. Your doubt is replaced with faith. What Jesus promised is true! “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed.”


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