Tag Archives: identity

Love Your Neighbor

Grace 101

Until I know myself, I cannot know others.  Until I value myself, I cannot value others.

It is interesting that Jesus told us to love others as we love ourselves.  In fact, it was the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He told us to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It seems important for us to notice that Jesus valued us.  He didn’t just demand that we take care of others.  He expected that our love and kindness to others would flow out of our identity.

Let me repeat that:  Our love and kindness to others should flow out of our identity.

What if it doesn’t?  What if it comes out of a sense of duty or some misguided attempt to gain points with God through service?  A great deal of “love and kindness” is not natural.  Much of it comes because it is demanded or expected.  This is what we hear in so many sermons and pep talks.  “Get out there and bless others.  You’ll get yours in the life to come.”  “Jesus commands you to do good, particularly to those in poor nations where the gospel is not widely preached.”

So dutiful and obedient moms and dads pack up their families and move to the mission field.  They connect with others who “serve” by giving money and they leave their homes and jobs and extended families.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not against missions and evangelism.  I believe some are called by God to go and do these things.  But when Christian service, even the most sacrificial, comes out of a sense of responsibility instead of identity, things can become pretty difficult.

I have heard so many stories of people who are in great pain on the mission field, or in the church, or in some program the church promoted—because they felt coerced or shamed into service.  Some were outright manipulated.  Many were deceived about the amount of support they would get.  So they struggle apart from their support structures and without adequate means to do well.  And they become angry, afraid, and bitter.

I am reading about a blogger who lied about her needs in order to get people to give her money.  People are upset.  Some gave very generous amounts.  But it is interesting to see how people deal with the fraud.  It seems to me that those who gave out of their identity, because they are giving people who love to help others, are just shrugging their shoulders and moving on.  They are not crushed and will give again.  Others, who gave because they were tricked and manipulated, are not so easily soothed.  Some want their money back.  Some are talking about legal action.  Now, I am not suggesting that one group is somehow better.  I am simply observing a general pattern.  When kindness flows from identity, that identity does not suffer when abused.

You see, knowing who we are helps us know what to do in so many situations.  Be true to yourself.  Let your action flow out of who you are.  When you understand who you are in Christ, your actions will reflect who He is in you.

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Know Thyself

It’s Narcissist Friday!

 

The issue of identity, which this blog has begun to address, holds a special place in the discussion of narcissism.  The older teachers would say that narcissism is a problem in the “self.”  The youngest child does not see his “self” as distinct from his environment, at least not in the way that develops later.  Thus, mother and father and siblings are all part of “self.”  The world is entirely “self” centered.  The baby is so dependent on the parent or caregiver that there is little psychological distinction between the one who needs and the one who provides.

Of course, that changes.  Eventually, the child understands that the parent is a different person, one with a different agenda.  So the child learns to have needs met through a relationship with others.  The one who needs must somehow communicate and move the one who provides.  Usually, the parent cultivates this relationship with a predictable pattern of cause and effect based on communication.  Mothers, for example, can usually tell the difference between the various types of crying to discern when the baby is in pain or just trying to manipulate and respond differently.  The baby begins to learn how things work at the most basic levels of society.  If I do this, that will happen, the baby reasons.  The relationship between baby and parent is the foundation of life with others.  All of this, in my book, is normal.

But what if the parent does not cultivate that relationship?  What if the pattern is unpredictable or intermittent?  Then the child struggles to establish a “self” in relation to the most important other.  There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that narcissists are often raised in homes where parents are distant, uncaring, or unpredictable.  The child of an alcoholic, for example, never quite knows what to expect from the parent.  In some families discipline is administered almost arbitrarily.  One time the child receives brutal punishment for a minor infraction and the next a serious act is ignored.  Children in these situations find it very difficult to establish a secure sense of “self.”

It may not always be the parent.  There may be some children who simply interpret any discipline as rejection.  If the “self” is rejected, or in constant danger of being rejected, some find it better to promote a different “self.”  The child’s perspective of who he is may be hidden away, protected, while a better image is lifted up—one which is much less likely to be rejected.

Many people report that they never knew their narcissist.  In fact, the narcissist didn’t even seem to be the same person consistently.  The narcissist knows that the projected image is not real and struggles against the energy it takes to maintain the façade and the need to adapt to the situation.  But the identity of the narcissist will not be revealed, at least the identity the narcissist believes is his own.  He has found a way to avoid rejection.

Identity is key—and not only for the narcissist.  The victim of the narcissist often struggles with feelings of rejection and questions of identity.  Many have looked at their own perspective when they were vulnerable to the narcissist and have realized that they were afraid and lonely and needing affirmation.  The narcissist came to provide all of that, as the means to establishing support for his image.  But, as the relationship progressed, the victim experienced more and more loss of identity until he or she became part of the narcissist.  “Self” was lost in the process.

Identity is so important.  Knowing yourself.  Knowing the truth about who you are.  Being yourself.  These things can help to avoid the manipulations of narcissists and other users and can help to heal the brokenness brought on by these toxic relationships.

We will talk more about this.  The Christian gospel is fundamentally about relationship.  Love God and love others.  But love infers some basic and right understanding of identity.  Unless I know who I am and accept who I am, I cannot share my “self” with others in relationship.

Once again, there is significant overlap between the message of grace and the discussion of narcissism.

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I Am

Grace 101

Did you ever notice how confident Jesus was about His identity?  He doesn’t try to “find Himself” or seek to assert His individuality.  The youngest report we have of Him after His birth is when He was twelve.  At that age He told His parents that He had a call to do His “Father’s business.”  It appears that His identity was secure even then.

And consider how often Jesus uses the phrase, “I am. . .”  “I am the Way.  I am the Door.  I am the Good Shepherd.  I am the Resurrection.”  He understood who He was.

Of course, when Moses asked for the name of God, the Lord told him simply, “I AM.”  That was enough and the Jews called the Lord, “He who is,” from that time on.

The “I am” statement is powerful.  Not only does it communicate our identity to others, it establishes it in our own hearts and minds.  Believers should use it often as we face the accusations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I have shared this somewhere before, but this list of statements from Freedom in Christ Ministries is very good.  I have included the link to their website, which has a lot more information on identity.  You can get this list from them as a printed poster, but just read these through—out loud— regularly to remind yourself who you are now.  (The formatting is better on their site.)

http://www.ficm.org/index.php?command=textwhoamiinchrist

I am accepted…

 

John 1:12 I am God’s child.
John 15:15 As a disciple, I am a friend of   Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:1 I have been justified.
1 Corinthians 6:17 I am united with the Lord, and I   am one with Him in spirit.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 I have been bought with a price   and I belong to God.
1 Corinthians 12:27 I am a member of Christ’s body.
Ephesians 1:3-8 I have been chosen by God and   adopted as His child.
Colossians 1:13-14 I have been redeemed and forgiven   of all my sins.
Colossians 2:9-10 I am complete in Christ.
Hebrews 4:14-16 I have direct access to the throne   of grace through Jesus Christ.
 

 

I am secure…

 

Romans 8:1-2 I am free from condemnation.
Romans 8:28 I am assured that God works for my   good in all circumstances.
Romans 8:31-39 I am free from any condemnation   brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 I have been established, anointed   and sealed by God.
Colossians 3:1-4 I am hidden with Christ in God.
Philippians 1:6 I am confident that God will   complete the good work He started in me.
Philippians 3:20 I am a citizen of heaven.
2 Timothy 1:7 I have not been given a spirit of   fear but of power, love and a sound mind.
1 John 5:18 I am born of God and the evil one   cannot touch me.
 

 

I am significant…

 

John 15:5 I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the   true vine, and a channel of His life.
John 15:16 I have been chosen and appointed   to bear fruit.
1 Corinthians 3:16 I am God’s temple.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 I am a minister of reconciliation   for God.
Ephesians 2:6 I am seated with Jesus Christ in   the heavenly realm.
Ephesians 2:10 I am God’s workmanship.
Ephesians 3:12 I may approach God with freedom   and confidence.
Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through   Christ, who strengthens me.

 

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What we are vs What we do

Do you see the opportunity for deception in the idea that we are what we do?  Let’s look at just a few of the lies that come out of this idea.

First, this suggests that the lost could save themselves by changing their actions.  Think about that.  Legalist preachers often call those who have never come to Christ to change their behavior.  That’s the way they will be accepted.  The gay man has to stop being gay and then he will be welcome to come to Jesus.  The couple living together without being married have to separate before they can come to Jesus.  I had a pastor tell me very bluntly one day that he believed people should get their lives straightened out before they came to Christ.  But the whole point is that we can’t do that.  If we fix one sin, we overlook another.  We would never be clean enough.

Here’s another one: even those who do come to Christ will never have assurance of salvation because they will never measure up to what they are supposed to be.  Any sin would be enough to disqualify them.  If telling a lie makes a person a liar and liars are excluded from Heaven, then we had better never tell a lie.  Anyone who does is in trouble.  But we are still learning that sin is unnecessary in our lives.  We still think according to the flesh most often and we still react the way we used to.  So the legalists have to create a whole system of confession and repentance and penance just to give us a little hope.

If I am what I do, then the work of Christ is unnecessary and unfruitful.  Nothing has changed in my life.  If I am still judged by my works, good or bad, then I am just as lost and just as much without hope as I was before.  What good is salvation that lasts a moment after confession and then is lost because of a wrong thought?

You see, because this is what is taught, much of the church today has no assurance, no hope, no joy.  They still see themselves as sinners.  They might proclaim that they are saved by grace, but they also feel unsaved by their works.  And they pass that feeling on to others.

I know that some people are uncomfortable with anyone saying that he or she is no longer a sinner because of Jesus.  There is a context to that statement.  It does not mean that we never do anything sinful.  It means that we are no longer sinners.  We are saints, according to the Scripture.  Why are we no longer sinners?  Because Jesus is our life and our righteousness.  Sinner is what we were.  Saint is what we are.

What we do (even if it is sin) is not what we are.

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Failing

Some of the hardest times for us are those times when someone sits in judgment of our work.  Whether it is from a teacher, a mother-in-law, a boss, or whoever, it is hard for us to listen to criticism.  It seems that no matter what we tell ourselves, these people are sitting in judgment of us as people.

You know what I mean.  Somehow a negative comment about a presentation becomes, in our hearts, a negative comment about the person.  When someone criticizes a messy house, the homemaker feels it as a personal wound.  When the boss says the job could have been done better, the employee believes that his job is in danger.  If he loses the job, he will be a failure as a husband and father and man.  You can come up with your own illustrations, I am sure.

But why do we do that?  Why do we assign negative comments about our work to ourselves as people?  Why don’t we just shrug our shoulders and try to do better next time?  Probably because we were trained to think that our work is who we are.  When we made our beds, we were good children.  When we spilled our milk, we were told that we were careless.   We learned that “stupid is as stupid does.”

We learned the opposite also.  We learned that good little boys and girls do what they are told.  They clean themselves and their surroundings.  They do their chores and keep their promises and know when to be quiet.  Orderly children are good children.

So, when we hear judgment or criticism, we receive it into our hearts.  Most of us are not able to simply take it and use it to better our actions.  We have to go through the process of talking ourselves out of feeling rejected and worthless.  Poor quality work makes us poor quality people, we think.  Failure makes us failures, we think.Failing

But that’s a lie!

This week we are going to look at the idea of failure and judgment and identity.  Check back tomorrow!

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