Identity Crisis – Bethel Church and Ministries

Identity Crisis

 

This past weekend, Pastor Steve preached on our duty as Christians to obey the governance that God himself created and placed in authority over humanity. He taught how these are not easy considerations and have a number of implications that affect our daily life. We obey these God-appointed earthly authorities because this obedience is reflective of our primary, heavenly citizenship that is reflected in the here and now of our earthly citizenship. 

During the Civil War in 1863, an individual commented to then President Abraham Lincoln, “the Lord was on the Union side.” Lincoln had a sage response that resounds through the ages and is well worth its weight in consideration for us in modernity. He replied, “I am not at all concerned about that, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” 1

President Lincoln highlighted a very significant series of realities in this concise and theologically sound statement. First, he rightly pays homage to the theological reality that God will always be on the side of what is right and good. All things God allows to occur fall within this essential framework for human life (Romans 8:28). The second reality that demands consideration is that he does not presume that his perspective, or the perspective of the Union, was the right one. He simply stated that he prayerfully strives to lead the nation to be on the side of the Lord. 

How needed this perspective is. As this sits on our collective conscience for a moment, I want to pose this question for our consideration: Are you…am I…are we…prayerful and pursuant of being on the Lord’s side, or do we cling to our version or desire of what the Lord’s side should be? 

God, in his providence and plan, knew that in late summer/early fall of 2020, Bethel Church would be in Romans 13. He knew that humankind would be in the midst of the most globally tumultuous season of modern history with a myriad of opinions on each issue. God knew about the pandemic, mask recommendations/requirements, the challenges they would pose, and of the differing politico-theological opinions that would result from these things. He knew about the school system and other varying cultural authorities that would be making sweeping decisions on behalf of our families, and the divisions this would cause not just in the church, but also in our homes, on the nature of authority. He knew that we, the primarily American audience of this submission, would sit on the precipice of a foundational election season, with many having differing ideologies of what is “right,” much like the man who spoke to President Lincoln. 

In short, God knew we would be in the midst of a theo-cultural identity crisis. 

When one is having an identity crisis, they question their values and beliefs; they re-ask previously established “how” and “why” questions regarding how to go about life. This sometimes results in a search for new meaning, new purpose, new context for something that before seemed established, if not routine, and a pursuit of finding one’s place in what seems like chaos. 2 In an effort to once again work through the crisis to resolution and a firm identity, counseling and other equipping entities work through a series of questions like the following to assist someone in his identity quest: 3

  • What qualities and characteristics define you? How has this changed?
  • If you’re experiencing a major life-change, how have things changed for you? Are you content with these changes? How can you cope with these new things occurring?
  • What are your values? Is anything working in opposition to them?
  • What are your interests, passions, and hobbies? Are you doing what you like to do, and if not, why not? 
  • What grounds you? What helps you cope when you’re struggling?
  • What’s important to you regarding your values, purpose in life, or sense of identity? Is there anything you feel you can do to improve your sense of self?

These are helpful. But there is one that is of greater significance than the rest, and it provides answers and context for a number of the others. 

“What grounds you?”

For the Christian, the answer to that question is always Jesus Christ. In Jesus, we have the gospel of salvation via God’s calling and enabling by faith through grace. This brings a resulting groundedness from a change in identity, as outlined for us in Ephesians 2:1-7:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

We were once dead and following the course of this world, but now, in God’s mercy and salvation, made alive, raised up, and seated in heaven. Being seated in heaven, something very significant occurs. Our identity and our citizenship change. Our primary identity and citizenship–association is no longer Earthling, American, or Hoosier. As the Apostle Peter outlines in 1 Peter 2:9-11, we are [in bold]

“…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim[ers of] the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles…”

We are God’s people. As Paul specifically references in Philippians 3:20, we are citizens of heaven. Identity: Christian. And while we remain Earthling, American, or Hoosier in our current physical location, we are citizens of a kingdom that we have not yet fully attained. We become sojourners and aliens now dwelling in a place that is not our ultimate destiny. This means our mindsets and our conduct should reflect our ultimate citizenship, not our temporary location. 

As a Christian, the only identity crisis we still have is the one we bring on ourselves when we step outside of the mentality of our exclusive, primary, heavenly citizenship. We create the very identity crisis that plagues us because we have our citizenship(s) in the wrong order, and it affects how we live our lives. 

All of this yields yet another significant question, and series of needed answers, that will result in my challenge to you moving forward as we consider Romans 13 and beyond. 

The question is this: how do those who declare their identity as a citizen of heaven or “Identity: Christian” conduct themselves? 

For answers, we turn to God’s manual of Scripture and its application. 

  • Practice Colossians 3:12-14: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones [note the heavenly citizenship], holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

    As you evaluate, reflect on how you conduct yourself privately and publicly; think about the things you post as well as the way you speak to and about others – is it holy, humble, bearing with them, and forgiving? Are you putting on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony?

    If not, the application of your citizenship is in the wrong order, or you may not be acting as a citizen of heaven at all. You may be creating or perpetuating the very identity crisis you desire to overcome.
  • Practice Titus 2- 3. In Titus 2, Paul is encouraging Titus, a pastor/elder and the recipient of the letter, to teach and adhere to sound doctrine. He encourages Titus, and thereby us, to know the gospel of Jesus in a plethora of life application, such as renouncing ungodliness, being self-controlled, and living an upright life. In chapter 3, Paul continues this trend. In verses 3-4, Paul again contrasts our earthly citizenship against that of our Christian identity, in addition to a specific series of applications. He notes of those: 
    • Titus 3:1-2: “Remind them [the church] to be submissive to [earthly] rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”
    • Titus 3:9: “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

While it is easy here to let the Bible speak for itself, I am going to modernize this just a bit and make a series of recommendation points for us to walk away with:

  • Be submissive to God’s appointed governing authorities, only yielding when governing authorities ask the Christian to sin. That is the line in the sand. Until then, the Christian is to respectfully adhere to God’s appointed human leaders. 
  • Avoid quarreling. We don’t need to pick fights in person or on social media. 
  • Be courteous and gentle. Show respect. Too much dialogue is breaking down, even between Christians, because they stop being respectful to one another. This is one of those areas that causes identity crisis for the believer, as too often we start to look like the world rather than represent heaven in our written and spoken word. 
  • Avoid foolish controversies. Friends…this is of such importance that Paul writes essentially the same thing to Titus twice in a mere 9 verses. Unless you are being asked to sin, which is God’s metric, creating a controversy where it does not otherwise exist or quarreling where it is not necessary for the cause of the gospel is to insight foolishness. Pointedly, our “liberties” are second to biblical statutes. We cannot confuse these realities. To do this is to create a theological-philosophical identity crisis in us, where our theology and our politics become wrongly intertwined, and subsequently misapplied. 

I believe a very simple summary could be made this way: before speaking or posting, ask yourself this: “what citizenship is on my mind?” or “what kingdom/identity am I representing right now?” 

We live in charged times. In this heightened state of human tension, it is increasingly easy to think like an Earthling, American, or Hoosier. It is easy to channel the thoughts of the man speaking to President Lincoln in 1863 and believe “the Lord [is] on [my] side.” My strongest encouragement to you is to consistently and fervently have the mindset, speech, and conduct of your primary identity: Christian—one who is a citizen of heaven. To pursue, as Lincoln did, a lifestyle of striving to be on the side of the Lord. We do this by spending time with God; reading his Word and growing in our knowledge of who God says we are and do what God says we must do. This will prevent you personally and us corporately from having an unnecessary identity crisis and enable us to live confidently and purposefully in this sojourning land until God calls us home. 

References

References
1 William J. Federer quoting Abraham Lincoln, “America’s God & Country: Encyclopedia of Quotes,” (St. Louis, Mo., Amerisearch Inc., 1999), 387-388.
2 “What’s an Identity Crisis and Could You Be Having One?” https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/identity-crisis#causes.
3 Ibid.