Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Guess Who? Hiding Who We Are in Christ

Ephesians 5:8b-12

In keeping with our theme of “Identity Theft”, we will, tonight, take a look at why we as Christians may hide who we are.  As with most any topical study, we will be examining and considering a number of different passages from God’s Word, spending more time in Ephesians 5, eventually settling down at Ephesians 5:8b-10 and dig in at that point.  Hiding who we are as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is something that we must consider when talking about our identity in Christ.  It is no secret that many of us do not willingly let others see us for who we are.  Instead, we disguise ourselves, merging with the world around us, and just blending in.

But Jesus has called us to something greater.  He has called you and me to live out who we are no matter where we are during the day—at home, with extended family, at work, at church, in our neighborhoods, or at the store.

Military/Law Enforcement/Hunters
It is no secret that hiding is sometimes a very beneficial thing to do.  It can keep us alive.  Hiding can keep us from being harmed.  Different groups will use Camouflage, which means, “the disguising especially of military equipment or installations with paint, nets, or foliage”.  It also means “concealment by means of disguise”, or “a behavior or ruse designed to deceive or hide”.

The military, law enforcement, and hunters will all utilize camouflage to enable them to escape detection by an enemy or to enable them to close in on their prey without being spotted.  Such are positive uses of hiding our presence.  Of course, there are the negative uses of hiding our presence, and that is what I would like to talk about tonight.

In order to properly address the question before us—why do we hide who we are—we must first ask:  Who are you?  Who do you think you are? 

“You Are”
As with other things in our relationship with the Lord, we tend to take who we are as believers for granted.  From Ephesians we see:
1  1.    He chose us
    2.    He predestined us
    3.    He adopted us
    4.    He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing
    5.    He provided redemption and forgiveness
    6.    He lavished his grace upon us 
    7.    He has given us an inheritance and sealed us

We are grateful for these things,
and thankful that God has seen fit to accomplish these things in our lives.  But there is more.  In doing a cursory search of God’s Word, looking for places in Scripture where it actually addresses believers, and says, you are, I was amazed to find what we as believers actually are. 

Folks, what follows here is your identity.  You are:   
·   under gracesin has no dominion over you Romans 6:14
·   in the spirit Romans 8:9
·   more valuable than many sparrows Matthew 10:31
·   in Christ Jesus 1 Corinthians 1:30
·   God’s fellow workers,
o   his field,
o   his building 1 Corinthians 3:9
·   the body of Christ, and
o   an individual member of it 1 Corinthians 12:27
·   a son of God through faith Galatians 3:26 
·   one in Christ Jesus Galatians 3:28
·   Abraham’s offspring and
o   heirs to the promise Galatians 3:29
·   adopted by God,
o   sons,
o   heirs Galatians 4:5-7
·   fellow citizens with the saints,
o   members of God’s household Ephesians 2:19
·   light in the Lord Ephesians 5:8
·   a servant of Christ the Lord Colossians 3:24
·   a child of the light,
o   a child of the day  1 Thessalonians 5:5
·   a chosen race,
o   a royal priesthood,
o   a holy nation
o   a people for his own possession 1 Peter 2:9
·   God’s people 1 Peter 2:10
·   from God and you
·   have overcome the spirit of the world 1 John 4:4
·   strong, because the word of God abides in you, and you
o   have overcome the evil one 1 John 2:14
·   being saved 1 Corinthians 15:2
·   the salt of the earth Matthew 5:13
·   the light of the world Matthew 5:14

And that is just a cursory search of the Word describing who you already are as a believer!  Friends, God does not exhort us to be or to become these things.  He does not tell us to become salt, light, fellow citizens or sons.  No!  These descriptors do not imply, in the least, any performance on our part.  He tells us we already ARE all these things by virtue of the fact that we have been saved!  

And brothers, I would remind you again that all of these descriptors are FACTS (indicatives), things that are true about our lives, brought about in our lives by God.  They are all “done deals”, and we do nothing and can do nothing to cause them to be true.  These things describe who we are by virtue of the fact that we believe in Jesus!  Not only that, but because we as true believers are “in Christ” (Romans 6), we have everything we need to live for God.  We—don’t—need—any—thing—else!  Our real identity is tied up in, and is dependent upon the Christ!

That begs the question: 
Why in the world would we CHOOSE to hide who we really are??
To attempt to answer that question, I would like to direct your attention to another passage of Scripture, another passage that talks about how we are to walk, based on the truths identified above, based on who we are!! 

The passage of Scripture we will consider this evening in Ephesians 5 will hopefully enable us to focus on an assortment of thieves, identity thieves that can tend to result in us hiding who we truly are.  We are going to discuss the impact those thieves have on our lives, and just how the gospel interfaces with them.  Remember, nothing we do in our own strength will make any impact, any headway, in dealing with this issue.  But God…don’t you just love that?  But God is the gospel in two words…  But God accomplishes his work in us.
Be thinking about this passage as we move along tonight:
8…(you) Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and (you) try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  11Take no part (you are to take no part) in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead (you are to) expose them.  12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.  (Ephesians 5:8b-12 ESV)

Again, it is absolutely essential that we grasp the idea that it is not what we do, but what God does in us that makes us who we are!  We will get more into that as we go along this evening.

So, one of the first questions we must address is this:
What do we have a tendency to do with our identity?
I would submit that we have a tendency to do one/some/all of the following, and this by no means is an exhaustive list:
·   We withdraw
·   We invariably will come up with and focus on idol(s) 
·   We compromise, surrender or blend in with our surroundings
·   And then there is worldliness 

I’m going to briefly discuss these things, and then hone in on the alternative that is available to us.

Withdrawal and Fear
Fear Of What Others May Think
It really is funny at times how much stock we put in what other people may think of us.  My wife describes this tendency as “insecurity”, saying that people will worry about what others think because they are not secure in their true identity, that is, who they really are.  These folks believe what others think constitutes who they really are.  Now, we don’t want to think we are insecure, do we boys?  But worrying, fretting, thinking about what others may think of us is just that: insecurity.  The need to be in control or our fear of the unknown is insecurity.   We close in, put up walls, and plain hide our identities.  We stick our heads in the sand.  Why?  We do that because just like thieves in the real world, we do not want to be identified (though some burglars have left their fingerprints and/or wallets behind at a crime scene).  All joking aside, because we do not want to be identified as Christians in certain areas of our lives, we allow the world to shape us to be like the unbelievers we rub elbows with, and, as a result, we do not stand out as being “different”, and we make no difference when it comes to the advancement of the kingdom.

The concern about what others may think of us is a prime example of a thief that wants to not only hide who we are and to cause us to live fearfully, but steal our joy in the Lord.  This fear will result in our withdrawing from our true identity, which tends to lead to the next thief:  Idolatry.

Why do we take refuge in idols?  We take refuge in idols because we have a yearning for something more.  We think, “there’s gotta be something more out there!” and we start looking for it.  Our family, our jobs, our station in life all can be idols in our lives.  Or, we want to be cool, we want to be liked, and we want to be accepted.  We place so much importance on who we are, our reputation, what we can do, how influential we may be, who we know, our meaning or purpose in life, how “righteous” we may be—the list can go on and on ad nauseum.  Doesn’t matter what it is, it is an idol.  When we cling to those things, we are depending on them in place of dependence on Jesus Christ.  Those things end up constituting the false identity that we present to those around us, and our true identity as believers is compromised or even kicked to the curb.  Martin Luther said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God”.

Tullian Tchividjian (“cha-vi-jin” rhymes with religion) wrote:

“Idolatry is simply trying to build our identity on something besides God.  An idol is anything—hear that, an-y-thing—that usurps the proper place of God in our lives.  An idol is anything or anyone that you conclude, in your heart, you must have in order for your life to be meaningful, valuable, secure, exciting, or free.”[1]

I would argue that the biggest idol we may wind up worshipping is self.  Yeah, worshipping ourselves.  You may say, “wait a minute—how can I worship myself?”  Unfortunately, the number of ways we can do this are many.  For example, we think we can earn God’s favor, we think our performance is what makes us “holy”, we think abiding by a bunch of man-made rules sets us apart, we think others will think more highly of us if we are “more righteous”

None of these sets us apart, but these ways of thinking will set us up!  This narcissistic approach will set us up for failure, discouragement, and despair, and eventual surrender, particularly when the realization hits home that we cannot ever perform perfectly—and believe me, it will.
These idols will tend to lead to the next set of thieves:
·   Compromise
·   Surrender
·   Blending In

Compromise, Surrender and Blending In
Brothers, I am here to assure you that if we compromise, if we surrender and if we blend in with the world around us, the chances of untold damage coming to our lives increases exponentially.  I mean, think about it.  When we capitulate, and choose to live according to the world’s standards, we sacrifice who we really are, and this phony baloney guy shows up in our place.  Mr. Phony Baloney opts to become like the culture around him, and will end up doing things he normally would completely shun—that is, falling for the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life, the same temptations Jesus faced in Matthew 4.  Mr. Phony Baloney will, because he presents no differently than an unbeliever, give in to the flirtations of the young gal at the office, and even worse.  A little later, I will share some of my own experiences, where God enabled me to throw “Mr. Phony Baloney” under the bus, and what resulted from that.

Just remember, we are surrounded by those who would have no problem compromising in order to get what they want, or in order to avoid any ridicule.  Those same people have no problem trying to draw you and me in to doing the very same thing.

That brings us to the next thief that is after our identity—Worldliness.

Buying into what the unbelievers around us place the most value on is nothing short of worldliness—an outright betrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Now, when I talk about worldliness, I am not thinking of the typical taboos some Christians and/or denominations may tend to heap upon the believer—drinking, movies, card playing, dancing and the like.  

No, worldliness is a systematic or ethical attitude that stands in complete opposition to God.  It is accepting, as one’s own, the presuppositions of the world’s understanding of what is true and right.  Now we all know that “the world” does not accept any definition of what is true and right—to the world, “everything is relative”, up to the individual.  Worldliness is a clear rejection of the Word of God (Jesus) and the Wisdom or Revelation of God (the Bible).

Iain Murray put it this way (and listen closely as I read):
Worldliness is departing from God.  It is a man-centered way of thinking; it proposes objectives which demand no radical breach with man’s fallen nature; it judges the importance of things by the present and material results; it weighs success by numbers; it covets human esteem and wants no unpopularity; it knows no truth for which it is worth suffering; it declines to be a ‘fool for Christ’s sake’.”[2]

Worldliness results from man’s fallen nature.  It is no accident—it is Satan’s use of the idols we talked about earlier, which he employs to maintain dominion over men.  It is characterized by being in control of our destiny apart from the guidance of the Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Guys, we must be watchful.

The Manifestation of the Identity Thieves
So how do these thieves—withdrawal, fear, compromise, surrender, idolatry and worldliness manifest themselves in the life of the believer?

Through sin, of course; when you think of a thief, think: s-i-n.   Sin is well defined by Paul as “works of the flesh”.  And what sin does Paul point to in Ephesians 5? 
·   Sexual immorality
·   Impurity
·   Covetousness
·   Filthiness
·   Foolish talk
·   Crude joking
·   Deception

Paul provided an even better example of the manifestation of the identity thieves in Galatians: 
19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV)

Why do we participate in such activities?  We must remember that, “Sinning is the fruit of the problem, unbelief is the root of the problem."[3]   These sins are the result of unbelief on our part.  We don’t believe we don’t have to participate in these activities.  We don’t believe God will deliver us.  We don’t believe Christ has won the victory.

We need to remember if any of these things characterize our lives, we have effectively hidden, concealed, or buried our identity in Christ. When a believer gives in to one of these sins, he is allowing his identity to be stolen.  He proves to be all of the things mentioned earlier—one who withdraws, fears, compromises, surrenders, worships idols, and is worldly.  When believers hide who they are, it is because they give in and they participate “…in the unfruitful works of darkness”, the “works of the flesh” (sin).

My purpose in providing the lists for you is not to heap guilt upon you; it is not to make you feel like a failure, or to depress you, causing you to think, “what’s the use?”  No, we are looking at these things simply because they are the things in our lives that will cause us to hide who we are in Christ.  But just like Paul, I do not want to leave you without any recourse, without any hope.  Paul’s counsel in this regard is in Ephesians 5:7 

7Therefore do not become partners (sharers with them, or associate) with them…  (Ephesians 5:7 ESV)

First of all, the way Paul writes this, he is not telling his readers to stop being partners with the sons of disobedience.  Instead, he assumes that those to whom he is writing are not partners and have not been partners with the sons of disobedience since the time they were saved.  What he is saying is, “given all I have said thus far, do not share in their activities!  Do not return to those things!  Do not be aligned with them, do not be the same as them, do not behave like them, do not be their equal!  Do not let your life change, fluctuate, or be similar to theirs!!  There is to be no uniformity between your life and theirs!” 

This instruction is worded as something we are to continually and habitually obey.  It is a life long commitment to which God is calling us here.  Is this something we take on ourselves?  Am I saying the onus is on us to accomplish this?  No, of course not!  God always provides the grace necessary to carry out his commands!  It is HE that is at work in us, “both to will and to work for his good pleasure”.[4]   “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”[5]

The Alternative
Ephesians 5:8b-12
8…Walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.  (Ephesians 5:8b-12 ESV)

I have come to appreciate the fact that when Paul issues what’s called an imperative, that is, a command such as he does here, he first states the indicative that will allow the believer to obey the command.  So for example, here in v. 8a, Paul says “…you are light in the Lord.”  That is the indicative, a statement of fact that something has occurred, that that something is true, always will be true, and will not change.  Then Paul charges us to “walk as children of light”—that is the imperative, the command.  Because of the truth that we are light in the Lord, we are thereby enabled by God to carry out the command to walk as children of light.  Again, it’s not on us!  God causes it to be so!  Isn’t that so freeing???

So again, Paul is telling us that because we are light, our behavior, our way of living, is to be something that continually and habitually reflects this fact—and that is walking as children of light.  The light referenced here is an extremely bright light over which darkness has no power or effect—think Christ over evil.  The darkness that surrounds us in this life is OVERCOME because we are light!

He then tells us that because we are light, his instruction to each of us to “consistently test, examine or prove what is pleasing to the Lord” is something we will do, by his grace.   The word “try” is the same word Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians 5, where he wrote:  21but test everything; hold fast what is good

Then in v. 11, Paul tells us we have been called to a lifetime of commitment to avoid participation in the unproductive, fruitless deeds of darkness—sin.  Why?  It is because the end of those things is death (Romans 6).  Rather, as we obey the command to expose the evil around us with the light of our lives lived for God, we wind up rebuking and convicting those who do engage in such behavior.  It is our behavior—as light—that causes the darkness to be overcome.  Again, why?  Because it is disgraceful to even talk about or discuss their secret behavior.  And why is it secret?  Their behavior is secret because of the shame that is involved, the fear of being caught or found out.  Why do you think so much that is sinful occurs at night?  It is because there is a lesser chance of being caught or found out.

Look at 2 Corinthians 4
1Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.  2But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.   3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.        (2 Corinthians 4:1-6 ESV)

Well, there you go.   Paul is telling us that we have been entrusted as ministers of the New Covenant, and that it is a singular action that took place at a particular point in the past—being entrusted with the ministry—an action that we had nothing to do with but was caused by an outside source (God), and, of course, is a done deal that cannot be changed—all because of his mercy.  Not only that, but we do not lose heart because it will not change.  Continuing, Paul encourages us to not behave as some were behaving—engaging in disgraceful and underhanded ways, trying to be all sly and using God’s word to their personal benefit—but instead to allow our lives to manifest truthful speech, and the power of God, with the weapons of righteousness in our right hand and in our left.

Those who cannot see the gospel because it has been veiled, or hidden from them, are perishing.  As light, we are (there it is again, a done deal) the aroma of Christ,[6] as we look, talk, and act differently, as our lives point to Christ.  We know that the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing[7] and that “they refused to love the truth and so be saved”.[8]

Paul says what we preach is Jesus—period.  Again, 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 

We proclaim Jesus in the same way God said, “let there be light”[9] when he created the heavens and the earth.  This proclamation is such that “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” shines in this very dark, dark world.

My Own Experience
With all that in mind, this is where I wanted to share with you my own experience with rejecting the identity of “Mr. Phony Baloney”.
After my salvation experience, I was somewhat hesitant to talk about the Lord, given the way most of the people I worked with at the Sheriff’s Office were like—believe me, I was different—but at the same time, I really did not attempt to hide the fact that I was a believer in Christ.  All those who knew me and worked with me knew at a minimum that I was “religious” (their term, not mine), and many knew the why of the change in my life.  Even the majority of the crooks on the street knew “Leary was a church-going man”.  I had crazy opportunities to share the gospel—predominately with a captive audience (in the back seat), but eventually with co-workers as well.

And then there were some I worked with who had an outright hatred of me because of my faith in Christ.   I worked during an era when guys on the street would think nothing of fighting the police.  This took place during hard financial times for the County, and there were just too few of us on the street.  It seemed we were always fighting guys that did not want to cooperate with us—they just wouldn’t listen to reason, though we tried to verbally talk them down.  Plus, we were frequently significantly outnumbered.   So during that time, we would be getting ready to hit the street, and one guy was always yelling, “Tommy’s goin’ out and beatin’ heads for Jesus!”  Lots of ridicule and evil words fired my way.   Then I came across Matthew 5:10-12.
10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  11“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

As a result, I became more vocal about my relationship with Christ, both in the locker room and on the street.  I opted to refrain from talking like others I worked with—with each other and to the bad guys on the street.  My beat partners could always count on me in a fight, which was a concern some of them had, and I told them why they could count on me (Romans 13 as well as it was just the right thing to do).  I understand now that because I was light, my primary antagonist’s evil deeds were being exposed, which increased the level of revulsion he felt toward me.

I want to share two quick stories with you that might demonstrate the effectiveness of not hiding who we are.  I am not tooting my own horn—clearly it was not me, but Christ at work in me that made me who I am, who I was at that time.  I share these things hoping the reality of the situations will put more flesh on the bones, rather than talking in the abstract.

·   Public corruption case—County Supervisor
o   Accusation of cussing out a witness
·   Fight in Rodeo, citizen saved my bacon
o   Citizen used his revolver to deter two guys from sneaking up on me during a fight

How Does the Gospel Interface With this Tendency?
Finally, just how does the gospel of grace interface with how we respond, that is, with whether or not we hide who we really are?   By our actions, how we live our lives, we seem to not accept the gospel at times because it is so very unthinkable, radical, and unbelievable.  Why do we do that?

We can be obedient in this because of Christ’s finished work on the cross.  Because he was obedient, we too, can be obedient.  I’m not talking about rules and regulations, but responding to the truth of God’s Word.  If we view obedience as behavior modification, we will not be obedient, but we will fall flat on our faces.  If we view this as our necessary performance to curry favor with God, we are actually living in opposition to the gospel.
You may say, “but Tom, it’s risky to expose who we really are.  It’s hard to do that, and I kind of like being in the shadows—it’s comfortable.  Exposing who I really am will make life too difficult (at work, at home, with extended family, with neighbors), it will make me feel insecure”.   Yeah, that is true.

But, guess what?  It’s not about us!  It’s not about our comfort, our ease, our sense of security or our risk.  What it is all about is living to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, living his way, not ours.

Sin causes us to look at ourselves, our comfort and our ease in this life.  The gospel, on the other hand, causes us to look away from ourselves and to those around us.

The question is this: do we want actual spiritual growth in our lives?  Well, it’s not going to happen if all we think about is our comfort, our ease, or how well we seem to be doing because of the good things we are doing. 

Jesus has accomplished it all on our behalf!  Remember he said, “It is finished”?  That is exactly what he meant—there is no more for us to do.   The focus of our lives must not be our work but his work; not on our holiness, but his; not on our performance, but his!  But, particularly if we have been believers for a time, we can tend to take all of that for granted.  We take Christ’s suffering for granted.  We take the cross for granted.  We even can take the resurrection for granted!  Guys, don’t be one who does this!  Focus on the cross, focus on the fact that “it is finished”, focus on who you already are in Christ, and preach the gospel to yourselves every day!

Tchividjian points out that being “in Christ, we have worth and purpose and security and significance that make utterly laughable all the transient things of this world that we’re so frequently tempted to identify ourselves by”.[10]  Certainly, those would include compromise, blending in, idolatry, or worldliness. 

Folks, you and I are “in Christ”…

[1] Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, p. 40 (emphasis in original)
[2] Iain Murray, “Worldliness”, from Evangelicalism Divided by the same author, in Banner of Truth General Articles
[3] Tchividjian
[4] Philippians 2:13
[5] Philippians 1:6
[6] 2 Corinthians 2:15
[7] 1 Corinthians 1:18
[8] 2 Thessalonians 2:10
[9] Genesis 1:3
[10] Tchividjian, p.133

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