Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
His love endures forever
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story –
Those He redeemed from the hand of the foe,
Those He gathered from the lands,
From east and west, from north and south.
Identity; it is at the heart of how we view ourselves, it forms the basis for our relationships, it is a source of strength or of vulnerability. I believe that we are seeing evidence of a great identity crisis all around us. We are seeing people fracturing themselves as they search to identify with a group of similar people, or a cause they believe in. I also believe that if you dig down deep enough into many of the issues facing people and our culture today, identity is involved in the root of most if not all of them.
What is “Identity”? One of the definitions found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” Another is “sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing.”
How would you define your distinguishing character or personality? How do other people define it about or for you? How do you believe God defines your distinguishing character? I nibbled at the edges of this idea in “The Saddest Question” with the image of a prisoner, bound in chains, in prison, in the dark, utterly hopeless. There was also the image of a Christian as a free-man able to walk by the prisoner. In “The Saddest Question” I was exploring some of the interaction between the prisoner and the Christian, now I would like to delve deeper into the importance of identity, and how Satan uses it as a subtle place of attack.
As I have been digging into these thoughts on identity and our relationship to God I have come to believe that there are four main stages of identity. Not all people transition through all of them, but I do believe they are a good general guide.
The Four Stages of Identity
- The Prisoner
- The POW or the MIA
- The Walking Wounded
- The Overcomers
Our Prisoner is a person who is separated from God, who has not yet acknowledged a need for a savior and accepted the gift of Jesus as the substitute for their deserved punishment. All people who have not called on the name of Jesus to be their Lord and Savior are prisoners. Whether they are actively hostile to God and all things Christian, or are basically “good” people who live moral lives – they are still prisoners, slaves to sin, servants to the great deceiver, Satan.
Satan hates God! Basic enough thought I know, but ponder it for a moment. Satan, who at one time was an angel of light, walking in and out of the throne room of Heaven, became dissatisfied with his identity. He decided that his position wasn’t good enough for him, and he wanted a new identity. He wanted “to be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:12-15). Instead, he was cast out of heaven, to the earth. Ever since that time, Satan has been trying to destroy that which God loves. Look at the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are there in paradise with only one rule; do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan shows up and starts trying to cast doubt on God’s Identity. He did this by casting doubt into Eve’s mind about the goodness of God. God gave a rule for her and Adam’s protection. “Do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” was not a rule to keep fun or good things from them! It was a rule to keep them from the knowledge of Evil and all of the pain, destruction and death that knowledge would bring with it! Crafty old Satan though questioned God’s goodness to Eve, and whispered doubts into her ear.
Jesus called Satan “the father of lies” in John 8:44. Satan uttered the first lies recorded in the Bible, and he has been involved in every lie told since that time. If you will call to mind the image of our prisoner, bound to the walls of the dark prison, no light, no joy, no hope; Satan is the jailer whispering promises and threats into the ear of the prisoner but they are all lies. He will twist anything to warp the prisoner’s ability to understand his true position, which is that he is separated from God and a slave to sin. Sin makes up the links of the chains that bind the prisoner. Satan’s lies can be so convincing though that people can start to believe the links of the chains binding them are going to bring them freedom, and some will actually start to find their identity in their chains and hate anyone speaking a message about freedom from the chains.
We see the evidence of this assault on identity all throughout our culture. Whether it is people defining the whole essence of their existence in a sexual act, or taking glory in how much of a poisonous substance can be poured into their body, or how closely they can come to living the “perfect” American dream life. However Satan dresses the lie up, it is still a link in the chain he is trying to use to destroy that person and have them condemned to hell, eternal destruction. Remember, Satan hates God, and is dedicated to attempting to destroy everything God loves.
Many studies have been done about the psychological torture technique of brainwashing. One of its hallmarks is a very lengthy period of time, where the tormentors physically wear down the victim through sleep deprivation, malnutrition, poisoning, or drugging. Then they will begin the torment of identity assault. “You are evil.” “You are a liar, a thief.” “You have always been pathetic and you always will be.” “Nobody loves you and nobody cares that you are here.” All kinds of lies will be flung at the victim, frequently accompanied by physical assault, all with the intention of creating an overwhelming sense of worthlessness and guilt in the victim. This seems to me to be a very good picture of what life as a prisoner of sin is like.
When Satan tried to be like the Most High he was cast out of Heaven, but isn’t it interesting that being like God was one of the promises he made to Eve.
Genesis 3:4-5 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Just as Satan fell and was cast from heaven, mankind fell and was cast to prison. However, God provided a way out of that prison for all of mankind.
Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The salvation plan is simple, so simple it is sometimes easier to believe the lies than to believe that God could possibly be that good to us. Just as many prisoners would hit a breaking point, where they either start going along with their captors or just die, so too I believe people will hit a breaking point in their spiritual life. They will come to a place where either they turn to Jesus, or turn from Him and start to harden their heart.
The last 3 stages of Identity I have listed, only pertain to people that have called on Jesus as their savior. In my life I have experienced all 3 stages in different areas sometimes in the same day. I believe if we are aware of what is going on in our spiritual life and the progression therein, we can begin to move more fully into the Identity God has declared for us.
Psalm 107:10-16 “Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains, because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most High. So He subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind, for He breaks down the gates of bronze and cuts through the bars of iron.”
In Part 2 coming soon we will look at The POWs and The MIAs.