Who do you think you are?
If I asked you that question – or simply asked you to describe yourself – what would you say?
I don't want to be presumptuous, but I'm guessing that not many of us would include things like 'child of God', 'citizen of heaven', 'Jesus' friend', 'God's workmanship', 'royal priest' or 'a saint'.
While those things are all biblical descriptions of a Christian they seem too outdated, quirky and strange don't they?
I'd be expecting to hear things like your occupation, marital status, achievements etc – the sort of information we trot out when we are introduced to new people at a party.
And yet if we spent more time meditating on what God says about us, what He says about our identity, perhaps our answers would be different.
We are bombarded by messages from our culture – all around us the media is using billboards, video, magazines – even the news – to urge us to strive for success, beauty and perfection. Is that what our identity should be based on? I don't think it is, and it is sad that we get so caught up in it.
Sad, but somewhat inevitable.
Because that is the message we are listening to day in day out. And we just don't seem to be listening to God's message that much. I was recently editing a set of Bible study notes that were originally written over a decade ago, but a statistic leapt out at me. I suspect it is still the same – or even worse – today.
The statistic stated that, among those surveyed (all 'committed Christians') 75% read a newspaper every day but only 25% read their Bible each day.
I have to say that shocked me. I'm not one for legalistic approaches to faith, but surely if we wish to grow, want to learn more about the God that we worship and also want to combat a lot of the messages our culture is constantly feeding us, then shouldn't we be taking the time to see what God says in the Bible?
Do you think that what you 'feed' yourself reveals what you think about yourself – and, in fact, how much you value God too? It is certainly true that we spend time on the things we value most.
If we fed ourselves on what God says about us I believe we would be more secure and sure footed about who we are. God tells us He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3), that we are adopted into His family – He always planned it to be that way! (Ephesians 1:5) and that nothing we do can separate us from His love (Romans 8:32–39).
Why don't we spend more time meditating on what scripture says about us, and equipping ourselves with what God says He has given us? Well, firstly, I think it seems almost alien to read out, memorise and meditate on scripture that openly challenges our beliefs about ourselves.
I also think it can almost feel a little like the 'name it claim it' camp, you know, the approach that is always overly positive and victorious, never allowing any negativity out of our mouths. In an effort to stay away from that, we may have gone too far the other way and grown unaccustomed to positively declaring truths over ourselves.
I can certainly relate to that. Over the years I've found loud, demonstrative Christians who've declared things over situations my family have been going through to be uncomfortable and, at times, downright insensitive. I know this is an area I need to grow in, because those encounters caused me to 'throw the baby out with the bath water'.
When I first encountered the 'Who I am in Christ' list from the Freedom in Christ course, for instance, and was encouraged to stick it on the fridge and read it out loud each morning, I cringed. It felt like brain washing and I had to talk to myself very severely and challenge such feelings.
Everything on that list is truth, biblical truth that I believe in as a Christian. All I was being asked to do was read it out and perhaps learn some of it. It was, in fact, a useful tool that would help me in subsequent years, especially in those moments that I felt low, insecure or worthless. So I chose to bite the bullet and do it, even though it felt strange to begin with.
Sometimes what God asks us to do seems either too overwhelming – or too simple. Read out a few verses? Meditate on them? Learn them? How is that going to help?
If we don't see instant results we cave in and stop trying. And then we moan that God isn't helping us. But, as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:3 'His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.'
We need to take captive every thought so it is important that we actively consider what we spend time thinking about. As Romans 12:2 says: 'Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.'
I love how The Message version phrases this:
'Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.'
I don't think this verse is saying that everything about culture is wrong – just that we need to ensure our focus is on the right thing (the right person). There are some great Christians within the media, and other culture-shapers, but it is important for us to recognise that the majority of those who contribute to the messages our society gives out do not have seeking God's heart at the centre of all they do.
So can I ask you – what feeds your identity? How many hours do you spend looking at other people's Facebook statuses, looking at how amazing their life seems to be, or reading glossy mags looking at 'perfect bodies'?
How much time do you spend having your identity fed by truth?
Where do you look to find out who you really are?
Can I suggest that there isn't a better place to look than the Bible...