One of the fastest growing crimes today is that of identity theft. Identity theft is the deliberate use of someone else’s identity, usually as a method to gain a financial advantage or obtain credit and other benefits in the other person’s name, and perhaps to the other person’s disadvantage or loss (Wikipedia). When a person has their identity stolen, there is no end to the harm the person who stole it can do.
Similarly, the Bible tells us soon after God created the first man and woman, they had their identities stolen. Satan tempted Eve to believe that she would not really be fulfilled unless she rejected God’s prohibition not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and ate of the forbidden fruit. She believed him and ate and gave it to her husband as well. Immediately, they both knew that they had been deceived and that their true identities as creatures made in the image and likeness of God were hijacked. Mankind left the Garden, not only having lost the knowledge of God, but of themselves as well.
The sad commentary is not only did Adam and Eve suffer a loss of identity; the entire human race did as well due to our connection to our first parents. The Bible immediately tells us how Cain struck down his brother Abel because God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. Instead of dealing with God about his rejection, Cain lashes out at his brother. And that is the sad history of the human race. People made in the image and likenesses of God are struggling to discover who they are. Having lost their hold on God from whom alone true identity is derived, they seek to discover it the only way they know how—by comparing themselves to others.
The world seeks to persuade us that we will only find our true identity in something external. While watching television the other night, in just an hour’s time, I was told I needed a certain soap to be cool, a certain car to be with it, and two babes on my arms to be a man. Women watching were told that to be feminine, they had to expose their bodies and sport a certain look. Other commercials told me my life wouldn’t be complete without purchasing the latest gadget. That’s how the world reinforces our insecurity; by telling us that only in this way can we really discover our true identity.
But the Bible teaches true identity is only derived from within— in a relationship with God. Only as we are rooted and grounded in God’s love for us in Christ can we form an identity that defines who we are, apart from anything external. In simple terms, only as we inwardly perceive who God has made us to be can we live out our true identity.
The ultimate example of one who knew his true identity is the One the Father sent into the world. Into this insecure world came Jesus, not only to redeem us from our sins, but also to give us a new identity.
One way to understand the difference between God’s way and the world’s way of achieving our identity is by observing the contrast between Jesus and his disciples during Passion Week. A few days before our Lord sat down to eat his final meal with them, they (the disciples), sensing that the kingdom was coming, were jockeying for position. Right before he entered the city, James and John made a power play for the chief positions (to sit at the right and left hand of the Messiah). Sent by the Master to the Upper Room to prepare the Passover, they had a full-blown argument as to which of them was the greatest.
Reading these accounts, it is evident these disciples have no earthly idea who they are. Because they are struggling with their identity, they try to find it the only way the world knows to do—by comparing themselves to others. It’s the notion that if I have more than you, if I know more than you, if I have more recognition than you, than naturally I’m greater. And the sad truth is, these disciples are not alone. Most of us continue to seek to form our identity by comparing ourselves to others.
In contrast, we see the Son of God in the Upper Room performing the lowly task of washing men’s feet (including the one who would betray him). Notice how John introduces it. Jesus is about to face the pain and humiliation of the cross, Judas is at the table as the one who would betray him, and the disciples don’t have a clue what is going on as they compare themselves to the others. Yet Jesus seems unmoved by this, knowing exactly who he is, where he had come from, and where he was going. In other words, he is perfectly secure in his Father in the midst of the chaos.