The situation described in the following letters continues to be entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.
Unless you have further questions, there are only a couple more topics that I wanted to set out for you. Of course, if you have questions, the door is always open.
So what I wanted to do in this letter is set out a few things concerning our identity in Christ. Then in my next letter, I can try to summarize all that we have talked about.
The issue of identity is both a foundational issue and a capstone issue. In one sense, I could have begun with this . . . but I really prefer to end with it. If you see the value of this as a capstone, then that means it is already part of your foundation.
Whenever we ask ourselves an identity question, we are asking “who are we?” Because of how we are created, this is question that we must ask, and we desperately need compelling answers. The reason this is so is because God did not create us to be lone individualists. We were all created to belong.
Sin has fractured the way we belong, but it has not touched our need to belong. What this means is that when we are out of fellowship with God, all our other “belongings” become idolatrous and destructive. When we belong to God, our other lesser identities sort themselves out in a reasonable way. They assume their appropriate places among our natural affections. Loving God is the first great commandment. Loving our neighbor is necessary, but it comes after.
So what we need to learn how to do is “stack” our affections, loyalties, and commitments. The first two are the critical ones. If they are ordered rightly, then you will have a massive head start in ordering everything else right. These first two identities are these. You must first own and accept your identity as one who is created. We are all of us creatures.
The Creator God is sovereign over all things, and it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. He is the uncreated sources of all, and we are contingent beings. This means that we need not have existed. Our presence here was not necessary. God could have decided to make someone else instead of me.
As created beings, our first parents disregarded their need to obey their Creator, and so they disregarded His prohibition of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As a consequence, they fell into all the fragmentation of sin, and we fell together with them. Because God promised redemption almost right away (Gen. 3:15), this set up a great antithesis that runs down through history. The human race is actually two races—the seed of serpent, and the seed of the woman. And so this brings up the second great question of identity. Are we of the race of Adam, or are we participants in the new way of being human, the way that is set before us in Christ? All of us begin as fallen human beings in Adam. We are by nature objects of wrath. We are the seed of the serpent. In the gospel, God offers us the opportunity to be transplanted into Christ, into the second human race.
So these are the first two great opportunities to identify—and we approach the first through the second. In other words, we identify as creatures by believing the gospel of Christ and becoming redeemed creatures. But because we live in a world full of other stuff, whether we are redeemed or not, we find a host of other identities downstream. These are downstream from our relationship with God, and downstream from our relationship with the Second Adam, with Jesus Christ. Let us call them lesser identities.
The first set of lesser identities is made up of certain creational realities. For example, in the very nature of things we find ourselves to be male or female. We are white, black, or Asian. We are sons, brothers, husbands, fathers . . . or daughters, sisters, wives, mothers. We grow up speaking one language and not another one.
After this, we then find a host of identities that are created, but they are fashioned or created by us. It appears to me that God wants us to do this kind of thing, but the things themselves are not established in Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible require us, for example, to be Seahawks fans, or members of a ham radio club, or someone who wears a Vietnam Vet cap everywhere. Doing such things is certainly lawful, but I trust you see the trap. The further we get away from the higher order identities, and the more we “get into” the lesser order identities, the easier it is for us to succumb to the temptations of idolatry. The higher up we are on the line of created things, the more dangerous the idolatry is.
Let me explain. Idolatry is the attempt to get from a finite thing what only the infinite can provide. This means idolatry is possible all the way down the line. The more noble a created thing is, the more dangerous it becomes as an idol. The devil fell from a great height, and so became the worst of creatures. Woman was the crown of creation, which is why feminism is such a terrible idol. God created the ethnic variations of men as a great glory, which is why racism is such a devouring idol.Idolatry is the attempt to get from a finite thing what only the infinite can provide.
When people become idolaters in relation to their hobbies and clubs and experiences, the spiritual danger to them remains real, but the enterprise rapidly becomes silly. It may be spiritually hazardous for a man to be consumed with playing chess, but he is unlikely to start any wars that way.
The one exception from this category would be the creation of a fundamental identity out of an experience. If it is just an experience, it shares the silliness of other idols in this category.
But what if it is a traumatic experience? I have in mind the creation of an identity as a victim, which is what you are. Now as a matter of historical fact, you were abused by your father. This means that you are in fact a victim. But there is great spiritual peril in embracing this as your foundational identity. “Who are you?” the question comes. I am urging you to watch out if the first answer that comes to mind is “I am a survivor.” Now of course, I am not in the least objecting to the surviving. Nor am I trying to throw shade on the reality of your victimization.
What I am saying is that these are identifications that will, if they are placed in a primary position, challenge and seek to overthrow your other more important loyalties. And when they are done with doing that, they will turn and devour you.
You are created by God, and precious to Him. You were re-created in Christ, and are a precious daughter of God through Him. This will anchor you like nothing else possibly can. When you are secure in the fact that God is your Father, and that Christ is your Savior, this will enable you to understand and sort out some of your other downstream identities that have unfortunately been fractured through the sins of your father.
Your father is your biological father, and in the ordinary course of things, he and your mother would have played a more important role in how you identified yourself than is possible now. But remember that no created authority is absolute. Anything that is not God, which aspires to the place of God, must be resisted and thrown down. This is why your resistance to your father was such a good thing. We must always obey God rather than men.
As we discussed earlier when talking about forgiveness, we have no way of knowing if that relationship can ever be restored, or partially restored. We do know that it cannot be restored apart from genuine repentance on the part of your father—and not just mouthing certain words that sound like they might be repentance.
But we do know that your restoration is not dependent upon him. If you are in a right relationship with God, and if you are forgiven in Christ, then you have an identity that is unassailable.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).
When Paul says that no creature can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus, this would include your father. It also includes those who would entice you to embrace the identity of victim. It is true that you are someone who was abused. But the danger point comes when people start to insist that this is the defining feature of your whole life, saying that this is who you are.
No, it is not. You were redeemed with “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). You were purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and as a consequence, you have been made precious. That is who you are, and that is who you will be forever and ever.
Cordially in Christ,