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Posted in: Growth, Know God

02.07.23 ( Jeff Vines )


(excerpt from the sermon)

Sermon Series: The Talk

The definition of identity is the state or fact of remaining the same one under varying aspects or conditions. The Latin word is identitas, which means again and again. So by definition, identity is, at its core, unchanging. You are who you are under all circumstances. Identity refers to essence, not feelings or emotions or even actions. Those change. But your identity forever remains the same. Now the reason that’s important is because, during puberty, teenagers especially struggle with their identity. And they always have been and they always will. Who am I really? Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is my meaning? What is my identity? Who am I? I had a young girl, 15 years old, that approached me and said, “Pastor Jeff, I just don’t understand God.” And she's weeping and crying because she has same-sex attractions. She says to me, “Why would God make me this way and then not allow me to be who I am?” So being gay is no longer what I'm attracted to or what I desire or what I do. Now it’s who I am.

In the conversation around sexuality, there’s been a great shift occurring in this generation and it’s gone from what I am, to who I am. And this has radically distorted our view of personhood. So the question is: Does what I do truly define who I am? Now, it is true that who I am will indeed greatly influence how I live. There’s no doubt about that. And it most definitely should. However, I often do or feel things that do not define me. For instance, if I were to ask you, “Who is Jeff?” Some of you might say, “You’re a pastor.” Well, being a pastor is something that I do, but that’s not my identity. “Well, you’re a golfer.” Golfing is something that I do. I love the game of golf. I’m attracted to the game of golf, but it’s something I do. It’s not who I am. “Jeff, you’re a husband.” Well again, husband is something that I do, a role that I play. Father, again, is not who I am. It’s a role that I play. How about this? Heterosexual? Heterosexual is not who I am. It’s what I do. It’s what I feel, but it’s not who I am. Essence, identity is unchanging.

So the greater problem is that if I have a flawed view of who I am, then I’ll also have a flawed personal ethic because who I am will determine how I live. And there’s this close relationship between essence, my identity that’s unchanging, and ethics. The two inform each other. Who I am in essence will greatly impact what I do and do not do. So if I have a flawed view of my identity, who I really am, then I’m going to have a flawed personal ethic. Now let me give you a quote from Christopher Yuan. Christopher Yuan is a Harvard graduate, an incredible mind. He wrote a book called Holy Sexuality. He is gay and he is also a Christian. This is what he says in his book, “When I came out in my early twenties, I believed the only way to live authentically as a gay man was to fully embrace that identity. Being gay was who I was. As a matter of fact, my whole world was gay. Almost everyone I knew was gay. All my friends were gay. My neighbors were gay. My apartment manager was gay. My barber was gay. My house cleaner was gay. My bookkeeper was gay. My car salesman was gay. I worked out at a gay gym and bought groceries at a gay Kroger. Sexuality was the core of who I was, and everything and everyone around me affirmed that. And if I’m gay truly mean that that’s who I am, it would be utterly cruel for someone to condemn me for simply being myself.” And yet he said this, “Yet, we know that we are created in God’s image. Thus, rejecting our inherent essence and replacing it simply with what we feel or what we do is in reality an attempted coup d’ ‘etat against our creator. We don’t need to find our identity; our identity is given by God. But why is this not apparent to everyone? What causes our gay loved ones to be so easily misled? Why does my gay Christian friend identify more with being gay than being Christian? Where and when did this incorrect perspective originate? How did ‘what I do and what I feel’ become who I am?” Or, to put it another way, he says, “how did, ‘This is how I am’ become ‘This is who I am?’” So here’s Christopher Yuan who has same sex attraction, who dives deep into that world, and then one day realizes, “Wait a minute, the Bible teaches me that my identity is not a gay man. That’s what I do, but who I am is something entirely different.” To answer the question, “How I am,” is something that could take hours and hours to trace through the historical catalyzation of a generation that we now live in.

So, “how I am” became “who I am” somewhere around the mid 1800s, when atheism was gaining steam and psychiatrists and philosophers such as Sigmund Freud and others inverted biblical truth (that had been accepted for 1800 years) and said that identity is determined by what you feel and how you behave rather than by who you truly are in essence. Identity is subjective, therefore it can change, which is a violation of the very meaning of the word identity. Identity, we were told, is subjective, how you feel from day to day. Not objective, not objectively established. Identity is determined by what you feel rather than who you really are.

Enter the era of existentialism where experience becomes God. We shoved God out and now, to take His place, we’ve said that experience alone determines what is real or what is true. And because sex and sexuality has been elevated to the ultimate experience in our culture, in a sex craze world, now we attach our identity, even our essence to sexual emotions and attractions and feelings. So that if I feel a certain way, I must be a certain way. Now, logically, this makes no sense because identity is the state or fact of remaining the same as under varying aspects or conditions. My emotions and my feelings are always changing. Does that mean my identity is changing? No.

The other problem is that Christ followers, well-meaning Christ followers and parents, teachers, and students have also been tainted by existentialism. Where it was once “solo scripture,” the Bible and the Bible alone determines my identity and my actions. Now it is “solo experience.” Experience alone is God. Feelings, not scripture, determine my identity. Not only that, but it determines what is real, what is true. So that what I feel is who I really am. As we look over these issues over the next few weeks, everything you read about, all the issues we’re going to be discussing – transgender, gay, lesbian, all of it – assumes an anthropology that is not biblical. I don’t say that in hatred. I promise you. I say that in love. What I feel and what I do, we are told, determines who I am. That is not a biblical concept.

Here, then, is what the Bible does teach us:

The word of God tells us experience does not supersede essence. True identity is not what I do, how I am, or how I feel. True identity is related to who I really am. My identity then, unchanging, is determined by God. And we as Christ followers say that ultimately you discover that in Jesus Christ. But we cannot understand sexuality unless we first understand theological anthropology. John Calvin said, “Man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he first looks upon God's face.” What does that mean? It means you will never know your true identity until you understand how God sees you. Okay, now we're getting somewhere. Okay, Jeff, how does God see me? Here is what the Bible says and it’s clear, no confusion here, no distortion.

The Bible says:

1. That we’re all created in the image of God.

2. That our image has been distorted by the fall.

3. God is in the process of restoring all those who will come to Him by faith.

That’s the story of the gospel. Creation, fall, redemption. This is basic stuff. This is our story. In other words, when it comes to identity, who you are, who I am, all of us, Christian, non-Christian, our identity begins by understanding that we have been created in the image of God and yet we’ve been tainted by the reality of sin. So because we’re in the image of God, we have infinite worth and value and meaning. And God loves every last one of us because we’ve been created in His image. But we also have desires within us that have been tainted by the sin that is in all of us. And we are all sinners, all of us.

Now let me show you Genesis one.

Genesis 1:27 says this, “So God created mankind in His own image,” notice the next line, “in the image of God He created them.” That sounds repetitive to me. “Male and female, He created them.” This is related to Genesis 5:1 and Genesis 9:6. Man as a whole, male and female, are described as being made in the image of God, the imago Dei. This means that God has given us divine characteristics. And although we’ve been tainted by sin, we have human qualities that are reflections of God’s attributes. Our capacity to love and to forgive and to show compassion and empathy for others. Now, we’re not perfect in all of those categories, but we still have those in us. Our ability to feel, to desire intimacy and love. All of those are a result of being created in the image of God, and reflect the image of God. This is the reason that after God created the natural world, He looked at it and He said, “this is good.” But after He created male and female, He said, “this is very good.”

And the reason is that nothing else was created in the image of God, just us, just male and female.

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About the Author
Pastor Jeff Vines is the Lead Pastor of ONE&ALL Church. He spent twenty years on the mission field (Zimbabwe, New Zealand) planting churches and training leaders. Jeff is the author of Dinner with SKEPTICS: Defending God in a World that Makes No Sense (2008, 2011) and Unbroken: 8 Enduring Promises God Will Keep (2012). Jeff and his wife, Robin, have been married over 30 years and enjoy life with their kids Delaney & Sian, their daughter-in-law Jessica and sweet grandchildren Ada, Owen, & Layla.

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