EPIC Part 5 - Identiy Theft

 

In this message you will learn: You are not defined by what you've done. 

If you have ever been a victim of Identity Theft, it is not like the movie. In fact it is not funny at all. It's a serious problem in the world we live in.  Statistically - There's a new victim of identity theft every two seconds.

The #1 consumer complaint in the world is identity theft. Has anyone in here ever had your identity stolen? Ugh. I am so sorry. It must just be a awful experience.

I am fortunate not to have been the victim of this kind of identity theft. We have had fraudulent activity on our checking accounts. That is an unsettling experience. It has actually happened to Lisa and me on checking accounts at 2 different banks (and I’d be happy to tell you offline which bank handled it perfectly for us, and which bank I will never do business with again.) I can only imagine the helpless feeling of full-blown identity theft.

It seems like a modern problem, but Identity Theft has been going on since the very beginning. Since Genesis chapter 3, really, when the serpent lied to Eve and she ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then gave some to Adam, and he ate it too. The serpent took what God had actually said, and twisted it into something else. Essentially what happened in that instant is that a lie that was believed as truth affected them as if it were true.  Adam and Eve’s identities were stolen when the enemy whispered in their ears, lies, which they believed as true. Each of us has suffered their fate ever since. Identity theft It's a huge problem. The same thief who spoke and deceived Adam and Eve wants to keep you and me from finding and living the life that every one of us is longing for. A life of forgiveness, freedom, and fulfillment that is only truly experienced, when we know and believe, what God the Father says about us.

You may have heard me tell this story before, but it is one that will always stick with me. A 1st Century Rabbi, had finished his teaching for the day and was walking home in the dark. He was deep in thought, and missed the turn to go in the direction of his house. Without realizing it, he followed the path to a Roman outpost, where soldiers were standing guard. The Rabbi was startled to hear a voice he didn't recognize say these words: "Who are you, and what are you doing here?"

The Rabbi knew that the mark of a good student is not in the answers he gives, but in the questions he asks. So in good rabbinic fashion, he answered the question, with a question. He responded, "How much do you get paid?"

The soldier replied, "2 denarii a day." The Rabbi replied, "I'll double your wage, if you'll stand outside my house and ask me that question every day.”

The Roman soldier’s question was a question of Identification. Who Goes There? The Rabbi turned the question into a question of Identity. In the most raw sense of the question, Who are you?

I’ve been asked this question or one like it many times. Who are you? Admittedly, in my adult life, I have had a tendency to associate who I am with what I do. Maybe you’ve thought of yourself in the same way. I’m a pastor, or I’m a salesman. I’m a teacher, or I’m a mom and wife, or I’m a business owner. Fill in the blank. I have hung my identity on my occupation for a long time. I would be lying if I said it was easy to separate who I am from what I do. 

Maybe your identity is wrapped up in what you used to do. I used to be an athlete, or I used to  be a musician. I used to be an artist. Maybe your identity is that of like Uncle Rico… “Back in ’82, I could throw a pigskin a quarter mile.” 

Or maybe there is something different entirely, unique to you, where you derive your identity. A character trait, a habit, an addiction, an experience, a wound of some sort that has convinced you that you are who that thing makes you to be.

When my identity is wrapped up in what I do or what I used to do, or some other wound in my heart, rather than who I REALLY am, who I am in Christ, I feel… less than. Do you ever feel “less than?” This feeling of “less than” is nothing more than the voice of a very real enemy, who wants nothing more than for me to believe that I am less than I should be. That I am less than the expectations. That I am less than my potential. That I am less than worthy of anything good, let alone anything great.

This enemy is working day in and day out to rob me of my true identity. To rob me of what God the Father says about me. To rob me of WHO God the Father says I am. The enemy, Satan, is an identity thief. 

All of us have likely experienced this voice that suggests to us that something in our life is missing. That we are “less than.” Even if you grew up in church, like I did, you might still might hear that voice nagging that something is still missing. Telling you that you are not good enough, that you haven’t done enough, that your best just isn’t going to cut it. Or on the other end of the spectrum,  that you’ve done too much, that you’re too far gone. In the midst of this thing we do called religion, in the midst of this thing that we do called life, something still seems to be missing. 

And we think, if we could just stop feeling “less than,” then we could be content in who we are. If we could just stop feeling “less than,” then we could make a difference in the lives of others. If we could just stop feeling “less than,” then Jesus would be pleased with us, and we might finally know what it means to have peace with God. 

In the messages of this series Pastor Clay and last week, Jody, have said that we were created for something more than what we're experiencing. Deep inside most of us know that. 

So far in this series we have talked about things like the difference between living forgiven and living free. We’ve talked about the larger story that we find ourselves living in. We’ve talked about the heart of a man, the heart of a woman, and the core desires that we each have.

Today we want to talk about your story, and how you answer the question of identity, “Who are you? You’ll hear us say this over and over, because it is true. Your story is safe here.

If you don’t remember anything else I say today, I want you to remember this: a lie believed as truth will affect you as if it were true. 

This morning we’re going to read what may be a familiar passage of scripture; you may know it as the parable of the lost son, or the prodigal son. The story of the lost son is the 3rd of 3 stories Jesus told to make a point. Jesus uses 3 stories because the Jewish Law said that “on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” Deuteronomy 19:15.

The beginning of the chapter sets up the parables for us. 

Luke 15

1Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. 2This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!

The religious leaders (we’ll call them the establishment) hated Jesus for associating with the known sinners of society. The Pharisees were separatist, and advocated a doctrine of salvation through segregation. For Jesus to be a rabbi, and to associate with sinners made the other teachers look bad, in their estimation.

In response to their disapproval, Jesus tells 3 parables, because on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.

We get the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son

11 To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons.12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

I’ve heard people teach the this was the son’s way of telling the father, I wish you were dead. I haven’t found any evidence that this is the case. It was an unusual request by the younger son, but not altogether unheard of in the ancient world. Normally, sons would inherit their father’s estate upon his death, but there was a provision in the ancient Jewish law for a son to request the gift of his inheritance during his father’s lifetime.

The law also had certain instructions regarding inheritance. Deuteronomy 21 required that the elder son receive twice as much as the rest of the sons. Since there were only two sons in this story, the younger son would receive a third of the total property of the father.

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 

14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

 

Jesus makes it clear that the man descended to the lowest status of society. In the rabbinic laws that governed employment, to be a swine-herder was considered the same as being cursed. The son’s work brought him into daily contact with animals that the Old Testament had declared to be unclean, which meant that under Jewish law he would not be permitted to observe the Sabbath day, because he himself was unclean. He was forced for all practical purposes to renounce his Judaism. His life was at the lowest point a Jew could reach. This was… rock bottom.

 

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you,

 

Jesus was aware that there are people who are lost, not only in terms of the kingdom of God, but in personal terms: they don’t even know themselves. A person can get so caught up in what is going on that he doesn’t even know who he is any more.

We see that the son comes to his senses. He’s confessing, he's repenting. This is a good thing. But the next leap that he takes is not good and it's not healthy.

19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

He somehow reaches the conclusion that he is no longer a son. Talk about feeling “less than.” The son Now believes that his identity has changed. 

That, friends, is the very clever work of an accomplished Identity Thief. One who is present in this young man's story. He's present in your story and mine too. 

At this moment in the story the enemy is right there to deceive the son, just as he deceived Eve in the Garden. He whispers something like,  “Wait a minute, this is not just about what you've done.  Your identity has changed. You are “less than.” Your father no longer sees you the same way. It doesn't matter what you want anymore. It doesn't matter what you desire. The dreams of your life are insignificant because this part of your story will define you for the rest of your life. You are no longer worthy to be called a son. You blew it.”

What happens  when a lie is believed as truth? It will affect you as if it were true. A lie believed as truth will affect you as if it were true.

The lost son believed the lie of the enemy that said he was “less than.” He believed the lie of the enemy that his identity had changed.

The truth is (AND THIS IS SO IMPORTANT) that your identity in Christ never changes. You are God’s son. You are a daughter of the King.

Its not even that you are STILL a son or STILL a daughter; you are! Nothing can separate you from the love of Jesus. (Romans 8:38) Your status as beloved sons and beloved daughters of the Father, does not change based upon your behavior.

CONFESSION: I have such a hard time believing that because for so long I too have struggled with the reality of grace. I have operated under this religious pattern that as long as I do everything on the approved list and I don’t do anything on the not-approved list, I have right standing with God. If by some chance I cross the line and do something on the non-approved list, my position changes for the worse, until I can confess and be forgiven. Then the whole cycle starts over again. And it is wrong. Hear me today! That mindset, that heart set is wrong. That is not how the love of God works for me or for you, or for anyone on the planet.

Your identity in Christ is not defined by what you've done. Your identity in Christ is defined by what Jesus has done, and your willingness to trust in him alone, receiving his   undeserved favor, and living in the relationship with him that he intended for you from before there was time. 

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 

The robe and the ring and the sandals; these aren't symbols of forgiveness. These are symbols of restoration. The father refutes and directly address what his son has just said. “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” It simply is not true. 

This is this is a beautiful image of God's heart for every single one of us. It is a beautiful illustration of why he sent his Son Jesus. So that we could be restored. Everything that God created was shattered in the garden of Eden. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice; who died the death that we deserve because of our sin, that would bring restoration to all who believe. 

There's so much hope in talking about restoration. This son who goes and runs wild never loses his status as beloved son. He may have lost his way and yes, he needs to be forgiven. But he also needs to be restored. That's our story too.

Jesus told this parable and the other two like it, to prove a point to the Pharisees: He came to seek and save those who were lost (Luke 19:10). I am so glad he did.

Listen to what Galatians 2:20-21 says about who you are in Christ:

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

 

If you have trusted in him alone for peace with God, and have committed to a relationship with him by grace through faith, The old self is gone. Now, Christ lives in you.

 

As we wrap up today, I want us to take a look at four statements based on scripture, that will help us answer the question of identity. Who are you?

 

1.   I am forgiven of my sin because Jesus died for Instead of me. 

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8) 

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. (1 Corinthians 15:3)

 

2.   I am free from the power of sin because I died with Jesus. (1 Peter 2:24; John 8:36)

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 1 Peter 2:24

So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:36

 

3.   I am fulfilled in this life because Jesus lives in me. (Philippians 1:20–21)

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.

 

4.   By faith I will allow Jesus to live through me. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

14 But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.

 

Do not be a victim of identity theft. When the enemy tries to get you to believe his lies, you tell him the truth. I am forgiven, free, fulfilled, and by faith, Jesus lives through me.

No longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God. May we walk in the confidence of the Holy Spirit, knowing that we who are in Christ are no longer slaves to fear, but we are children of God.