Morning South Sydney Anglican church. My name is Matt Johnson and this January we are looking at some of the Wisdom Psalms in the Old Testament – so that we start 2024 wisely, rather than foolishly. And the subject of wisdom for today is SELF-IDENTITY. Who are you?
Prayer: Well as we begin today – I want to show you a short video. In 2016 – scientists discovered this was your beginning (Slide 2). Well isn’t that amazing? The moment you were conceived – God let off fireworks to celebrate you beginning to exist as you. The point is – you are no ACCIDENT. You are not just an accident of evolution; nor an accident of two teenagers lust. You are (Psalm 139:14) fearfully and wonderfully made by God. BUT DO YOU REALLY KNOW YOU? Or are you still searching for identity and self-worth in all the wrong places?
A QUICK GOOGLE SEARCH – shows that the whole western world is currently suffering an “identity crisis”. Put in to Google the words “IDENTITY & CRISIS” and you get 32,600,000 results. People are lost. Now until very recently most people got their identity and sense of self from family and community. In the early C20th the famous Austrian philosopher MARTIN BUBER spoke of identity in terms of I-Thou relationships. He argued; the I (or the self) must understand its identity in terms of relationship with others – which he called the “thou”. I am the father of Rachel, I am the friend of Robert. I am a child of God. Martin Buber argued the “I” (which is yourself) can only really know itself in relation to significant others. Psalm 139 agrees (and says) the “I” which is you can only really know itself in relation to the “Thou” which is God. But when the western world rejected the notion of God and family and community relationships started to breakdown – people started looking for identity in things other than people.
This started in the C20th and Martin Buber called this an “I-it” form of identity. People started looking for identity in things and stuff. I am significant because I am a home-owner; I drive a Porsche; I am an engineer. So identity (and self-worth) started to be grounded not in people, but in things. Now this was devastating for our sense of self. But at least our identity was still rooted in objective things (outside self).
But in the 1990’s – largely because stuff was not satisfying (and all the stuff the boomers had – now seemed unattainable); a new strand of identity began to emerge that was even more narcissistic. While Martin Buber spoke of identity in terms of “I-Thou” and “I-it” relationships, I’d say most people now seek identity in a closed “I-I” relationship. My identity is solely defined by myself. I am what I believe I am. Now that means identity is totally subjective. Identity is now subjectively based on how I feel about myself, RATHER than the objective reality of other people or even things. So we now pursue our subjective feelings of identity with surgical, technological and soon genetic modifications – making ourselves more and more transhuman or non-human. CS Lewis wrote a book called the Abolition of Man – where he says “the final triumph of man will be the abolition of our humanity.” But we still expect everyone to endorse our choices even if we’re being foolish. That’s a big problem – because a person who lives in an isolated “I-I” relationship with self is the very definition of a fool.
Proverbs 18:1-2 says (Slide 2). And welcome to our world. We now live in a world that is 1) increasingly isolated, 2) rejects sound judgment and 3) makes foolish decisions based on 4) opinions, rather than objective realities. And then we wonder why we are having an identity crisis?!
Point 1: God knows you Better than you Know Yourself
Show: Ps.139:1-6 (READ)
Explain: Well Psalm 139 is basically says “Listen to God because Gods knows you, better than you know yourself”. God is OMNISCIENT, OMNIPOTENT and OMNIPRESENT. Psalm 139 – plays with all three omni-words of God in different ways to help us have a confident sense of self identity.
Now OMNISCIENT means God is all knowing. There is nothing God does not know about the real you. You may have an identity crisis, but thankfully God knows who you really are. He knows everything about you before you speak or do anything. He knows you because He knit you together in your mother’s womb – to be you. Not the you – you think you are. But the real you that God made you to be. God knows everything there is to know about you (and He has the ability to reveal that to you), which is a lot more than you currently know about yourself…
That then brings us to God’s OMNIPRESENCE which means God is everywhere you go. The second stanza – of Psalm 139 – reminds that there is nowhere we can go where God is not present. If I go up to the heights God is there. If I go to the far side of the sea – God is there. In every possible context that you can imagine yourself – God knows who you should be in that context. So it’s not like you need to be one version of you (in one context) and another version of you in a different context. Gods omnipresence means He can HELP YOU find your true identity in every context…
Then in the third stanza – we get to Gods OMNIPOTENCE. God’s omnipotence is about His power. God’s power – made you and gave you life. Science still stands in awe – of the mystery of life. After two millennia of intentional medical and scientific pursuit – we’ve just discovered fireworks take place at our conception.
And we’ve just discovered how to take the raw materials of sperm and ovum and do IVF. But without God giving us the RAW MATERIALS of sperm and ovum – we still can’t produce life. It is a power we don’t possess. So your very existence (even if you were born from IVF) is still the supernatural, miraculous work of God. Scientists didn’t give you life. God gave you life. And from that moment – when you went from being nothing, to being the uniquely, genetically coded “you” (that has a soul) – 1) God has known you, 2) been interested in you and 3) loved you. What’s more, any disabilities you carry or physical or cognitive issues you face – God oversaw them all – when he made you. They aren’t deficiencies of God’s power. They are still expressions of Gods power (that you need to come to appreciate) to understand – the unique, intentionally designed person that is you. YOUR HANDICAP may be perceived as a deficiency by the world, but God gave it to you either as a blessing FOR YOU or a blessing FOR OTHERS or as an opportunity FOR GOD TO REVEAL HIS POWER.
Apply: Now you may NOT LIKE who God made you. But is that a problem with God or with you? You may wish God made you normal because you just want to fit in and be loved. But God made you better than normal. He made you UNIQUE and part of the beauty of this world is your UNIQUENESS. You need to grasp that whatever weaknesses you perceive in yourself – Gods grace is still sufficient for you – to live a glorious, wonderful, blessed life (2Cor.12:9-10). THE PROBLEM is not in how God made you. THE PROBLEM is in how you perceive you. But thankfully, the all-knowing God has given us Scripture so that we can know ourselves properly.
But at first this freaks us out.
Point 2: Gods Revelation of Self is Terrifying (at first)
Show: Ps.139:7-12 (READ)
Explain: Why is David looking for a place to hide from God? In verse 7 the Psalm says; “Where can I flee from your presence?” In verse 11 David says; Surely the darkness will hide me…
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden – people have been 1) hiding from God and 2) hiding from each other. It has to do with SHAME. But it is also an expression of FEAR. Adam and Eve hid their private parts from each other behind flimsy fig leaves because of their fears. In a world where trust was lost – (but people were different from each other) we all became scared to really be ourselves because other people might mock us, ridicule our unique bits or take advantage of us. SO WE ARE FOREVER hiding (especially our most vulnerable and unique parts) from other people. Then, because of our fears we end up doing things that are not true to who God made us. This then produces shame and guilt and confusion and our identity becomes completely lost.
We can’t trust ourselves because guilt and shame tells us we aren’t always true, even to ourselves. Guilt and shame is self-condemnation. What’s more, we can’t trust others because they sometimes hurt us and condemn us too. So we then conclude we can’t trust God either. AND SOMETIMES we become so good at hiding from others, that we actually lose ourselves completely. This is the sad story of life.
But we desperately want A) to know self and B) have an identity. So sometimes we even deceive ourselves and we come out of the closet – declaring we have now found our true identity. For some coming out of the closet and supposedly finding themselves can be graduating from university as a doctor. I’ve found my true identity – I am a doctor. I am now worthy of status and respect.
For others – it can be expressed in divorce. My true self is stifled in a loveless marriage – so I’m coming out of the closet – as a free and single woman. For others it is declaring ourselves gay or transgender. But sadly, none of these coming outs – satisfy for very long. And quite often those who declare they have FOUND THEIR TRUE IDENTITY – are the biggest fakes in all the world – hiding in the most gaudy outfits. Sometimes it’s just easier to pretend to be something we’re not, than face who we really are and the terrible things that have been done to us. BUT THE GOOD NEWS is that you can stop running. You can stop hiding.
Illustrate: In 1890, (an Englishman) named Francis Thompson, wrote a famous poem called “THE HOUND OF HEAVEN”. Many believe it was inspired by Psalm 139. (Slide 8). Notice the end – all things betray thee, that betray me. Thompson reminds us “all things will betray you, if you betray God.” Even you will betray you – if you keep running from God. But if you stop running (and you start listening) you might discover Gods revelation of you – is not terrifying, but incredibly precious…
Point 3: Gods Revelation of Self is Truly Precious
Show: Ps.139:13-18 (READ)
Explain: I want you to DO SOMETHING. I want you to read to yourself right now verses 13-14. Please, silently right now – read verses 13 & 14. (PAUSE) Now read it again. (PAUSE). Tell me – do you actually believe that you are fearfully and wonderfully made? All Gods works are wonderful and you are one of Gods works. Tell me – did you not find something incredibly precious in those words? God whispering; “I love you”.
In your life – too many people have treated you like rubbish. Too many people have told you – you are a slightly evolved monkey, so you acted like a monkey. Others told you – you are useless, so you’ve acted and treated yourself like your useless. These are things of NURTURE, not nature. Life’s lessons shape who we become. I know that some people feel like; God made them gay or God made them transgender. But it’s simply not true. There is no scientific or genetic evidence to support that claim. There is a little bit of evidence that homosexual conduct does shape the neural pathways in people’s brains. But that is true of us all. What we do shapes how our brain works. It’s called the PLASTICITY of the brain.
So please understand that when a person says “I’m gay” or “I’m transgender” there is nothing OBJECTIVE to support that claim. It is simply a SUBJECTIVE feeling created by 1) the things that have been done to them in life or 2) the choices they have made in life. NOW DON’T BE MISTAKEN the feelings can FEEL VERY, VERY REAL and we live in a world where everyone is telling us to trust our feelings. But the Bible says; “the heart is deceptive above all else.” (Jer.17:9). We can’t trust our feelings. But thankfully, God made us all in His image (which means we are all fundamentally the same) so we can regain our truest, fullest, most satisfied sense of self – by trusting Jesus and trusting the Bible. God is in the business of redeeming your soul, which is your identity.
Now as we begin to look for our true identity in God, rather than self – God begins by giving us great assurances of His love. Now King David (who wrote this Psalm) only knew of Gods REVELATION OF LOVE 1) in creation and 2) in the Old Covenant with Israel. But as Christians we now also have God’s revelation of love in Jesus. (GOSPEL) Despite all our failures – God loves us so much that He didn’t just give us life, He also came into the world to give His life for ours. That’s how much God loves you. He didn’t just give you life. He gave up His own life to save you. As Jesus died on the cross – God was taking all the consequences of your sin – upon Himself – so that you can be saved. A) Jesus took the punishment for your sins and B) Jesus did this because he loves you. So the Bible says if you put your trust in Jesus (and get real about the things done to you in life and real about the things you’ve done in life) – God will REDEEM your identity, He will BLESS you and He will GIVE you eternal life (beyond the grave). This assurance of love and life – begins to give you the security – to start being true to yourself.
In the security of God’s love – you start being more true to yourself and you stop hiding quite as much. Instead of running from all the skeletons in the closet (or letting them define you) you trust God to help you and you start dealing with the mess. And the more you deal with the mess (applying Gods word to your life) the more a true sense of self, identity and worth begins to emerge . You find your “I” in Gods “Thou”. And as blessings begin to emerge – Gods words become more and more precious to you – because you see they are light and life…
Point 4: Gods Revelation of Self leads to Eternal Life
Show: Ps.139:19-24 (READ)
Explain: Well the better you understand yourself in relation to God, the more you end up loving what God loves and hating what God hates. You start to become like God – because God’s image in you is being redeemed. So David finishes this Psalm by acknowledging that in his self-discovery (or God discovery) there are now some things he really hates and finds offensive in the world. What’s more, David also invites God to examine his own heart – to see if anything offensive still lurks within Him. David is subjecting his own feelings (and the deep things of his heart) to Gods examination because he knows his own heart is very deceptive.
The famous Russian author and historian – Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes; (Slide 10); The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.
The reason we are so prone to self-deception (including about our own identity and worth) is that evil runs through every heart (and by nature evil is deceptive). It steals our identity, it kills our humanity and it destroys us completely. But as we stand in Gods presence in a close “I-Thou” relationship – the light of life – begins to reveal the wickedness in the world and in ourselves more and more clearly.
Today – 1) Many academics are still telling people they are just by-products of a big bang (when they know this theory is now untenable). That’s evil? 2) Doctors are still perverting children’s identity with puberty blockers and unnecessary surgery – even though studies now prove this increases the likelihood of suicide in the child’s life. That’s evil and indefensible.
3) And our own tax-dollars now kill innocent babies in the womb – even in the third trimester. We no longer try to hide behind the idea – that it’s not really human until it reaches a certain stage in the womb. We know a baby in the first, second and third trimester is a real person and we kill it anyway. That is pure evil, and it should rouse something within us. These verses in Psalm 139 – about HATING the wicked – stirred the most heated debate in our staff meeting this week. We are often told in churches to hate the sin, but love the sinner. But David says he hates the wicked – because they have become bloodthirsty and hate God.
Now I want to be very careful in what I say (because I think I would really need a whole sermon just to explore these words of hate properly). But the Bible is clear there are some things that God HATES. There are some things that are an ABOMINATION to Him. But we now live in a society where hateful things are celebrated, legal and increasingly protected. So how do we continue to hate the things God hates – without becoming indifferent on the one hand OR crossing the line of taking justice into our own hands – on the other. IF I SAW a baby being murdered in the street or a doctor mutilating a little boy in the church – I would do whatever was necessary to stop that wickedness. But at the same time – I know “vengeance is mine” says the Lord. “I will repay.” So increasingly, I find myself praying; “Come, Lord Jesus Come,” because I don’t have clear answers. But I know that if we no longer lament what God laments and we no longer hate what God hates – do we still really love people for whom Christ died OR is our Christian identity being perverted?
As I finish, let me ask what has Gods Spirit showed you today – about you? What is the application? Do you really know your identity as a child of God? Are you allowing God (and his Word) to shape your identity? And finally, what more can you do in 2024 to be true to God and true to your God-given identity in an increasingly wicked and lost world?