Today was my last Sunday in Washington. Because I live in the Pacific Northwest and the majority of its campuses are pretty close, I decided to go to Mars Hill upon being invited by a friend of mine. Some of you may not know but Mars Hill Church holds a very special place in my heart. Nearing the end of my junior year I was going through a fairly difficult time in my life. There were a lot of circumstances surrounding my hardships at the time but I knew that the life I was leading was not God-glorifying or an example of Christianity in the slightest.
On Easter Sunday that year, my youth group decided to go to the main Mars Hill Campus in Ballard to worship at the evening service. At the Ballard campus I witnessed hundreds of people giving their lives to Christ, repenting of their sins, and being baptized. I also saw one from our own group be baptized for the first time after making a decision for Christ.
As I watched the people line up to be baptized, I could not help but stand in awe of the mighty and beautiful work my God was doing before my eyes. With every splash of the baptismal water and every pair of hands raised victoriously, I was witnessing new life. I was seeing people make a choice to turn from their old lives of sin and enter boldly into new-found hope and love. As the water dripped down their hair and faces, you could not help but notice the genuine smiles of peace, the looks of complete fulfillment. They had found the answer to every question, they had found the Truth and it had set them free. The Holy Spirit was stirring in my own heart as well and I recommitted my life to Christ standing in my row. From that point I never really looked back. While I have fallen short and made many mistakes, I knew my life was in the hands of Christ and that is where it would stay.
So now you are able to understand my excitement as my sister and I walked through the doors of Mars Hill Bellevue, located in the very heart of the downtown district. Pastor Mark Driscoll was starting a new series on the book of Ephesians and because many of the sermons I watch through podcasts are from Mars Hill, I was looking forward to seeing one live. The sermon did not disappoint.
Pastor Mark just released a new book called Who Do You Think You Are? about the crisis many of us experience when trying to find identity. Because today was the first message in the series, it was an introductory lesson on the identity issues we all face. He explained it very well by the use of an acronym and I'm going to paraphrase from what I have written in my journal:
I - Items: Our material goods and wealth. (Our stuff defines who we are)
D - Duties: Our career, job, responsibilities (Our lives are defined by what we do)
O - Others: Spouse, significant other, family, children (Our lives are defined by how others see us)
L - Longings: Naive Optimism (Our lives are defined by an unjustified future hope)
S - Sufferings: Hardships and pain (Our lives are defined by what we've gone through)
Before going through this list, Pastor Mark made it clear that people would become angry and defensive while going through this list. It is no coincidence that the acronym used is IDOLS. He carefully explained that when identity is found in anything but Christ, our identity lies in nothing less than idols.
Upon hearing this I immediately (much to my dismay) became defensive because of how convicted I was by this statement. Had I really spent so much of my time, energy, and effort trying to establish myself in school, in friend groups, in relationships? Had I really tied my life down to all that I was able to achieve rather than what I have received?
I stand guilty. I stand as guilty as Israel worshiping the Golden Calf in Exodus 32. I stand as guilty as the Prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. I stand as guilty as every group of people the Apostle Paul rebuked in all of his epistles. I was living in daily idolatry, and despite being a follower of Christ for more than four years, I had no idea the toll my idolatrous lifestyle was taking on my soul. I had no idea the scarring damage my personal idols were doing to my heart.
A verse that has spoken even louder to me throughout the past few weeks is found in Romans 1:18-23:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things."
How truly broken and wretched I have been! In my own "striving after wind" and my own "claiming to be wise" I have exchanged the glory of the Almighty, the God that loves me, with an identity found in the idols that can never keep their promises. I have traded the complete and total fulfillment and satisfaction of a Loving and Mighty Savior with that which could not feed me for even a day. When I placed my identity in that which I achieved I was destined to fail, there was no possibility of hope. When I believed the lie, I was held responsible for the results of my deception. When I tried to become something I was never intended to be, there was no possibility of success.
Through prayer and the searching of my own heart I have found the depth to which my idols have plunged. I have found the hidden idolatry that has permeated every aspect of who I am. When I set my worth and identity in what others thought of me, I made them an idol. When I placed my education and future career at the center of my life, I made it an idol. When I placed my hope in an unknown future, I made it an idol. The deceitful lies I believed have been exposed and Christ has brought them to light. Only now can healing truly begin
Our identity is not found in what we have done or what's been done to us. Our identity is found solely in what Christ has done for us. When someone gives their life to Christ, believing in their heart that He is Lord and then repents of their sins, their identity crisis ends. The question "Who am I?" no longer exists. When we are in Christ our identity rests solely in Who Christ is, not who we once were.
A life free of idolatry is what we must strive for. We can only serve one God, and the Almighty God, the Creator, the King of Kings; He is the only One worthy of serving.
Our identity is not something that can be achieved, it must be received from a Holy and Loving God. The identities found in this world, our careers, our relationships, our wealth; they will never provide satisfaction. They will never bring fulfillment.
Find your identity in the Man that never forgot or changed His. He remains constant, eternal, and all-powerful. He loves you, more than you will ever know or understand.