There is an identity crisis in God’s church today.
It is causing frustration, guilt and defeat.
We understand the word identity to mean who we are. In other words, one’s identity is made up of personal characteristics that make us different from other people. One who has a strong identity has a clear understanding of one’s purpose and role in life. On the other hand, an identity crisis happens when one experiences emotional confusion and maladjustment because of uncertainty about their identity. Satan’s greatest aim is to cause God’s people to experience an identity crisis, to become unsettled or confused about their role and purpose. On the other hand, God’s people have triumphed when they were sure about their purpose and calling.
TWO GROUPS OF PEOPLE IN HISTORY
From beginning to end, the Bible speaks of two groups of people. They are not the “saved” and “unsaved”, as you might imagine. In fact, the word “unsaved” isn’t even in the Bible and the word “saved” is only used to describe something done to or for a person and is not used to describe the person himself. Interestingly, the terms “children of light,” and “children of God,” or “children of the world” are only used a couple of times. And finally, the label “believer” is only used twice while the term “unbeliever” is used only four times.
Some might be surprised to learn that the most common terms for identifying the two groups of people are “saint” and “sinner.” Saint is used 96 times and refers to one who is morally pure and devoted to the service of God. The term sinner is used 68 times and refers to one who is accounted guilty, an offender, and one who does not conform to God’s standard.
If you want to see an identity crisis, just ask a bunch of Christians if they are saints or sinners?
Two other Biblical labels are: the “righteous” (used 236 times) which refers to one who is innocent or holy, and the “wicked” (used 325 times) which refers to those who are lawless, unprincipled and disobedient.
The apostle Paul certainly didn’t have an identity crisis after his conversion. He knew with whom he identified and he wanted others to have the same confidence. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? . . . [a]nd that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (NIV, 1 Cor. 6:9-11). In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
OUR IDENTITY IN A NUTSHELL
Therefore we should ask ourselves what is the old that is gone and what is the new that has come? If we were once wicked (sinners) before committing our lives to Christ, then what are we now? And if we are still sinners then what has changed?
In fact, Peter calls us out of our identity crisis. In 1 Peter 1:14 we are admonished, “do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” In chapter 2:9 Peter reminds us that we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” and if that isn’t enough, he also explains our purpose “that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.” There you have it, the Christian identity, in a nutshell.
MAINTAINING CONFIDENCE IN OUR NEW IDENTITY
In 2 Peter 1:3-4 we find that incredible promise of a new identity: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
What do these verses mean? On the one hand we are quick to say that Christ came to set us free, to redeem us from sin; that in Christ we are new creatures, partakers of divine nature. Then we turn around and say things like, “don’t feel bad” and “we’re all sinners.” Talk about an identity crisis!
A Christian identity crisis can be manifested in many ways. For example, one way we cause confusion about our identity is when we refer to the church as being a hospital for sinners. I agree with the general concept but my question is, “Who are the staff - the doctors and nurses?”
The members of the church are responsible to bring the sick (sinners) into the hospital (church) and help them get well (make them into saints). When the sinners accept the medicine the saints are dispensing (the gospel), they are healed and become a part of the hospital staff. They in turn go out and bring in others to fill the sickbeds they used to be in.
How many of us would feel comfortable to go to a hospital where all the nurses and doctors were sick in bed or were pulling I.V. bottles behind them?
To be a member of the hospital and remain in a sick bed year after year brings reproach upon the Great Healer, and condemnation on us.
You may say, “This is too harsh, I don’t believe it.” Let me share a little more. Has God given us medicine that is powerful enough to heal us? Has He provided everything we need for life and godliness? Has He made provision not only for healing but also for complete transformation so we can be a new creation? If the answer to these questions is yes and we claim to have this medicine yet remain in the sick bed year after year, the world can draw only one of two conclusions: The medicine is a scam! (This brings reproach upon God); the medicine does work but the staff isn’t taking it (This brings condemnation on us because we are hypocrites).
We tend to live up to our personal expectations as well as those that others place upon us. Therefore and sadly, if we as Christians, describe ourselves as sinners, others will expect us to live like sinners and we probably won’t disappoint them either. Therefore, they will not be convicted of sin and their need of a Saviour.
It follows then, if we take the title of saint then others will expect more out of us and we will be more careful to live up to their expectations. But rather, let’s lay aside man’s expectations and consider that we “are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7) and “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” 1 Corinthians 1:2).
DOES GOD CALL US TO SOMETHING THAT CAN’T BE ACHIEVED?
This identity issue has some end time implications as well. Notice Revelation 13:7: “He [the beast] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation.” Notice, the beast didn’t need to make war on the sinners because they were already on his side.
The very reason Christ laid aside His glory and came to this earth as a man was so we could be transformed from sinners into saints through the power of God’s grace. God’s modern messenger puts it like this: “The obedience of Christ to His Father was the same obedience that is required of man. Man cannot overcome Satan's temptations without divine power to combine with his instrumentality. So with Jesus Christ . . . and in this way He is our example. The Lord Jesus came to our world, not to reveal what a God could do, but what a man could do, through faith in God's power to help in every emergency. Man is, through faith, to be a partaker in the divine nature, and to overcome every temptation wherewith he is beset” (Ellen White, Our High Calling, 48).
KEEPING THE BACK DOOR OPEN
Could it be that we are reluctant to let go of the term sinner because we like to keep that back door open just in case? In false humility we often say, “I don’t doubt what God says, I only doubt my abilities.” This is wrong on two points.
It has nothing to do with our abilities – it has everything to do with our choices – God provides all the resources we need to back up our right choices.
We never doubt ourselves. We only doubt God. We don’t believe He can pull off what He has promised. And even if He could, we’re not sure we really want Him to do so in our lives.
If we truly want God to do what He has promised, we will cling to His teachings regardless of feelings or circumstances. We will often be found on our knees in prayer, pleading for whatever we need in order to remain a saint in our thoughts, words, attitudes and actions.
A saint is not perfect as many interpret perfection. He is constantly learning of new areas of weakness, new things in his life that are offensive to a pure and holy God. But once he knows God’s standard he adopts it as his own. He doesn’t argue with God about it. He surrenders those things that are offensive, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, brings his life into harmony with the new standard of truth.
This righteousness is not something we can boast about as if it were ours. We are simply jars of clay filled with the treasure of Christ. “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).
The real question, friends, is not whether we can be a holy people, but whether we want to be. Today, we may offer excuses for the defects of our character, but in that day when we stand before the throne of God we will be without excuses; for we will see that God had indeed provided everything we needed for life and godliness but we didn’t value it enough to make it ours.
So, let’s stop the identity crisis in the church. Remember, Satan’s greatest victories come by shaking our confidence in our identity and God’s greatest triumphs come when we know our identity and live it