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Identity

In this article, I would like to talk to you about identity—who we perceive ourselves to be, who we are, and who we are becoming. As Christians, this is of foremost importance for it is at the nucleus of our being. Everything we will do in our life, the path we follow and the journey we take is charted by our identity. 

America, and the world for that matter, is going through an identity crisis. For Americans, most are dealing, in one sense or another, with an inner struggle concerning who they are, who they want to be and who they think they’re supposed to be.  

This has led to a shift to self in culture and in the church. Original sin, which occurred at the fall of man shortly after man was created has resulted in a self-absorption problem, so we live in a comparatively narcissistic era. This is also supported by the influences of consumerism and the instant gratification of digital tools or the combination of these factors. Increasingly, more people are motivated by the “all about me” mentality and their own personal preferences and conveniences, and these motivational influences are just as present in the church today as they are in the secular world. Barna reports the following statistics concerning this shift to self:

• 84% of adults in the U.S., and 66% of practicing Christians, agree that “the highest goal for life is to enjoy it as much as possible.”

• 91% of adults, and 76% of practicing Christians, believe that “the best way to find yourself is to look inside yourself.” 

• 97% of adults, and 91% of practicing Christians, agree that “you have to be true to yourself.” [i]

Remarkably, even though a large percentage seems to agree one can discover their identity by looking within, very few can articulate exactly who they are or what motivates them. In this article, we will discuss some of the nuanced difficulties concerning identity formation, and how it contributes to many of the emotional problems people experience today. It is our hope that by bringing attention to this issue readers will gain greater awareness of identity issues and will be able to then take measures to resolve these issues in their own lives.  

To begin, I would like to point out two opposing viewpoints evidencing the varying extremes that result from one’s understanding of identity formation.  Please keep in mind, what we are seeing with these examples is the result of true and healthy identity formation verses unhealthy identity formation leading to a false self/false identity. Of course, there are other examples, but we will begin with these two so you can get a sense of what we’re talking about in this article. 

Eric Liddell and Harold Abrams

The 1981 British historical film, Chariots of Fire, tells the true story of two runners who compete in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrams, an English Jew, who many would say was running to overcome prejudice.[ii]

There are two quotes in the movie, one from each character, that have become famous. The first quote is from Eric Liddell who says, “When I run, I feel his pleasure,”[iii] The other quote is from Harold Abrams who makes this statement, “When that gun goes off, I have 10 seconds to justify my existence.” No matter how you look at the context—no matter how you slice it—both of these statements are statements about identity and how one views themselves and how they live their life because of it. Each statement represents two varying worldviews concerning identity formation, and these viewpoints exist and prevail with many of the people we meet today.

I came across an interesting quote the other day that was made by Oprah Winfrey. In an interview given at the Tribeca TV Festival Oprah states: 

“Everybody that I ever interviewed…at some point…would say, ‘How was that? Was that OK? How’d I do?’ Whether it was Barack Obama, Beyoncé, the guy who murdered his kids…At the end of every interview, somebody would say, ‘Was that ok?’”[iv]

While many would merely dismiss these statements as coming from overly conscientious people, even Oprah recognized them to be indicative of something much deeper, for these are cries for affirmation, “You’re ok!” “Well done!” The affirming of identity indicative of a search for a sense of validation from others. Even more striking is the fact that these remarks were made extremely successful people! 

Defining Identity

Before we go any further, we must define identity so we will all be informed concerning what it is we’re talking about. Robert Mulholland, in his article on Spirituality & Transformation, defines identity for us in his comments when he writes: 

Identity is the basic issue in transformation. Our character, our way of being in the world, our way of relating to others, our way of responding to the issues and circumstances of our lives all flow from our understanding of our identity. Our identity provides the foundation on which rests our worldview, our value system, and our behavior patterns.[v]

–Robert Mulholland, Spirituality and Transformation

We are social beings who need recognition, and the fact is, we need others to identify us and give us a name and identity. Someone whom we love, respect, approve and esteem must speak to us and recognize us, and this is where our identity comes from. We cannot do this for ourselves. Millions try every day to be noticed by others and it simply does not work and it is exhaustingly crushing. 

This has been recognized by many sociologists and journalists as well and was recognized by Time Magazine some time ago in an article titled, The Year We Obsessed on Our Identity.[vi]  In the article, the writer, Wesley Morris, recognizes the nation’s struggle to discover who we are as individuals and as a country.[vii]

One’s identity is critical to emotional stability and spiritual health. It is unfortunate, but too often identity is mistaken for occupation or what we do. Unfortunately, we tend to evaluate our own meaning, value and purpose, as well as those of others, not by the quality of our being but by what we do and how effectively we do it. It is not uncommon when meeting someone for the first time to be asked what it is you do. When I am asked this question, what it is I do, I respond by telling the other person that I am a teacher and a counselor which both are true since I frequently teach at the Bible College and one of the courses I teach is biblical counseling and I counsel many people throughout the year. As soon as I tell them what I do, I can immediately tell by their body language whether I have their approval and whether they hold me in high regard or not. If they value the concept of teaching, then they will respond favorably toward me. But, within in a minute or so after me telling them that I am a teacher they will ask, “Where do you teach?”  or, “What subject do you teach?” As soon as I tell them I teach from the Bible, or that I teach at the Bible College, their body language will change; sometimes the response will be favorable and other times it will be negative in a non-verbal form of rejection based on their own personal value system. Every time this has happened, the person has not even known my name, yet I have been categorized, labeled, and pigeonholed according to their system of values simply by virtue of what I do.

I lead off with this, simply to emphasize my point, that if you think identity isn’t important or something you can disregard, you’ve got another thing coming. More than ever in this country, identity matters.

Identity Formation

The Western World and the American culture, with its form of identity formation, is probably one of the most psychologically crushing machines in the modern world. Let me give you a brief synopsis, so maybe you can understand what I mean. 

In the US, it is recognized that our teachers and schools, sometimes parents, begin to push us to decide on a particular vocation and course of study at a very early age. By the time we graduate High School, we are to know where we will be studying in college and what our major will be. This, of course, is because of the desire for us to create an identity for ourselves as soon as possible so we can begin our career and earn a living, contribute to the national economy and start a family. 

Conversely, in the Easter hemisphere and Eastern Cultures, the child simply follows in the footsteps of their family. Their family will be modeled after that of their parent’s family and the family household they were raised. They will pursue the same family education, trade and occupation and they receive their identity from the family. For example, if you are of the Chen family, you will follow this particular tradition and heritage. You will be of the same philosophical and religious tradition and follow the same vocation as your family whether it be military, medical/bio-pharmaceutical, engineering or some sort of trade. 

This is not so in the US. In the US, one must create and carve out an identity for themselves by getting an education and then entering into some sort of vocational work. With the advent of social media, we see an increasingly large number of people, particularly in the US, trying to circumvent this route to recognition and success. However, as you will see later in this article, these attempts, regardless of what wealth they may acquire, are artificial forms of identity formation that in the end will not satisfy the person’s psychological or spiritual requirements of fulfillment.  

We see a strong corollary to the Need for Significance we talked about in one of our previous articles with the need to self-identify as they go hand-in-hand contributing toward one another in the creation of the false-self. We call it the “false-self’ as it is not the true self made in the image of God who follows after the plan of God for their life and identity as every believer should find their “true” identity “in Christ.” 

Thomas Merton writes,

For the sinful self is not my real self, it is not the self You have wanted for me, only the self that I have wanted for myself. And I no longer want this false self. But now, Father, I come to You in your own Son’s self…and it is He Who presents me to You.[viii]

–Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 75.

This is my false self—the self of my own making. This self can never be transformed, because it is never willing to receive love in vulnerability. “When this pretend self receives love, it simply becomes stronger and I am even more deeply in bondage to my false ways of living,” writes David Benner.[ix] Therefore, the pursuit of a self-made falseidentity is very destructive, and it is emotionally crushing in a number of ways. For the brevity of time, I will just name a few. 

The Destructive Impact of Creating a False-Identity

We see some of the horribly destructive dynamics of the false identity in our culture at two extremes. For a long time, we have all been aware of the tremendously high suicide rate among young people up to about the age of twenty-five. But very few are aware that the numbers corresponding to suicide of the elderly, particularly those over the age of eight-five, is even higher than that of younger generations. As far as I’m aware, this was first brought to the public’s eye by Time Magazine back in 1987 and this statistic has remained consistently high to the present day for seniors in the US and the Western world.[x]

Why is the suicide rate increasingly high among seniors? Of course, there are numerous reasons for any suicide. I am not suggesting identity is the sole reason for the problem, but I believe one of the underlying realities behind the epidemic of suicide among adolescents and senior citizens is that we are a culture that values people primarily for what they do rather than the quality of their being. In our culture, a persons’ value, meaning and purpose reside primarily in the nature of their work. Teenagers don’t “do” anything. Slinging hamburgers or bagging groceries isn’t “doing” anything—not in our culture’s value system. Therefore, our young adults are struggling to find their identity, struggling to find their personhood, struggling to find their personal integrity, struggling to find who they are in a culture that says you are what you do, but they are not yet ready to do much of anything. This problem is further exacerbated by the American addiction to celebrity and the rich and famous who are constantly paraded before the American public through the media. Every single person tries to measure up to what they see, and every time they sit down and turn on the television or go on the internet, they’re told they’re not good enough because they’re not like the celebrities who have hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter or Instagram, make millions of dollars each year, and have a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars.  This problem is even more frustrating for young people who are desperately trying to achieve yet find it difficult to meet their basic needs and support themselves. 

With our Seniors, what do you think happens to the person who wakes up one morning with a gold watch and a plaque expressing gratitude for forty years of service to the company and has nothing to do? Those who have worked with the newly retired have seen them experience the despair and despondency of suddenly having to wrestle with the reality that what has given their whole life meaning, value, identity and purpose is no longer there. They don’t know who they are anymore. For forty-five to fifty years they have been what they did, and now they don’t do anything anymore. Imagine the man who once commanded the Naval fleet, diminished to sitting at home watching Wheel of Fortune and Shuffleboard in the afternoon. 

Here we see some of the destructive dynamics of a perceptual framework that identifies our value, meaning, purpose and identity by what we do. We live in a culture that has reversed the biblical order of being and doing. 

Being and doing are integrally related, to be sure, but we have to have the order straight. 

Our doing flows out of our being, not the other way around.

As Christians, our identity should come from Christ, rather than the culture around us. If we allow our culture to identity us, then we’re in for a world of hurt and deception. 

Deceptive Cultural Influences on Identity Formation

Earlier in this article we quoted the Barna statistic of 91% of adults, and 76% of practicing Christians, who believe that “the best way to find yourself is to look inside yourself.”[xi] However, what if I told you the person you’re looking for within yourself is not the true you? It is deceptive to say my identity comes from my inner feelings. People say it all the time, “This is who I am—these feelings that I have—this is who I am, and nobody’s telling me who I am, I decide that for myself.” I’m here to tell you today that this particular sentiment is an illusion and deceptive, and here’s why. It is a fallacy to think you can find yourself within your own heart and being because we have discordantly arranged feelings, emotions and information inside, and we will decide to pick and choose which ones to portray at any given time. Your decision to project a particular identity is not what you are, it is simply a projection of information and emotions at the time of the portrayal. Therefore, the image you project to the world around you is not your true self, but a character you have chosen to play. What you must ask yourself is, “Why am I choosing this emotion over the other at this particular time?” You must ask yourself, “Why am I choosing this particular data set of emotions, information and image to project at this particular time in my life?” 

Let me further explain:

The world, media, our schools and families feed us information and inform our ideas and perceptions, and then based on what we know and the information we’re given, we then choose what to accept and believe and which identity and role to play. 

Timothy Keller, to illustrate this point, uses the following example in his book, Making Sense of God:

Imagine twelve hundred years ago an Anglo-warrior sees something and feels the emotion of aggression—he likes to smash people, and he looks at himself and he likes this feeling of aggression and he says to himself, “That’s me, I’m going to express myself through acts of aggression.” On the other hand, he also feels another emotion inside and that is the feeling of same-sex attraction. However, he denies that feeling and says, “That’s not me. I will deny that feeling.” Now on the other hand, for example, you have a man living in 21st century Manhattan, and he looks into his heart and discovers these same emotions the Anglo-warrior dealt with. He looks inside and recognizes the feeling of aggression and the urge to smash people. He sees that and he says to himself, “I need therapy!  I need anger management!” But then he looks into his heart and finds same-sex attraction and says, “That’s me!” “I must be gay!  I must be homosexual!” the person says to his or herself.[xii]

–Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, 126.

Now why is that? What’s going on?  Here’s what’s going on. 

The Anglo-warrior is from a Shame and Honor culture, and that culture was based on the thought that society will fall apart if we don’t respect strength and power. Therefore, they had the idea that the best thing you can do for society is that if someone crosses you is to kill them. Because otherwise the social fabric will unravel! His identity and actions were supported by his culture that was telling him that his acts of aggression were authorized and approved because they were good for his community. 

But guess what? Our modern culture is doing the same thing concerning homosexuality, and guess what, when you look inside you’re not just looking at yourself, but you’re looking through a grid that, whether you like it or not, has been forced upon you by your culture and worldview and that influences and authorizes you to be what you are. 

Next time you hear about another elementary aged child deciding their homosexual or transgenders in the school bathroom, remember this talk. This is why we have this problem of rising numbers of individuals struggling with issues of identity. If you talk to them about their identity, particularly after they have already decided their homosexual, they will deny that they have an identity problem as they feel fairly self-assured that they know who they are, but they do not. They have no idea how deceived they are. 

You, when you look inside, are merely deciding which character to play today. This is why we find so many choosing to be one thing for a few years, and then later change their mind a go a completely different direction. They laugh it off and call it a phase, but really this is at the root of it. It’s an illusion to think you can name yourself—to think that you decide who you are. Whether you like it or not, your family and/or your culture does that for you. Your identity comes from outside yourself. 

We must get our beliefs from somewhere, and most are picked up unconsciously from our culture or our community—whether ethnic or academic, professional or familial. Every community has “a set of understandings and evaluations [about life] that it has worked out over time.” 

Robert Bellah in his book, Habits of the Heart, says rather profoundly, 

The irony is that here, too, just where we [modern people] think we are most free, we are most coerced by the dominant beliefs of our own culture. For it is a powerful cultural fiction that we not only can, but must, make up our deepest beliefs in the isolation of our private selves.[xiii]

–Robert Bellah, Habits of the Heart, 65.

He goes on to say that modern people simply cannot see how much of their identities they owe to others. 

Crushing

It has been argued by many from the Western world that older, non-western cultures are suffocating because you have to be what your parents tell you to be. But at least if all you have to do is be a good son or daughter, that doesn’t have the pressure associated with it that having to figure out who you are places on a person today. In the Western culture today, you have to figure out who you are all on your own, you have to have a dream and then you have to set out to achieve it. As if it all were within the power and control of the individual to fulfill every lofty thought that enters into their head. No wonder suicide stats are through the roof in America. It’s exhausting and it is crushing!

Remember Harold Abrams, of Chariots of Fire fame. Remember his statement about running the 100-metre race and how he defended all of his hard work and training toward his goal. 

Abrams said: 

When that gun goes off, I’ve got 10 seconds to justify my existence.” 

–Harold Abrams, Chariots of Fire

For Abrams, his identity was derived through his athletic performance on the track. It is crushing for one’s total existence to be justified by their performance, as if to say, they either live or die based on the next 10-seconds or the passing of some contest.

If we don’t look to God, if we don’t look to community and we only look to ourselves to achieve our identity—it sounds like freedom but really it’s only a crushing burden that we place on ourselves because, if this is the case, we now have to do it all on our own, and the expectation we place on ourselves is crushing. “I’ve got 10 seconds to justify my existence.” This is simply horrifying!

You may dismiss this as being a singular isolated incident, but it is not. This same logic—this same thought pattern—rolls through the minds of millions of people repeatedly throughout every day of their existence.

When we make anything—a career, or a particular vocation, or a body type, or a relationship our identity, those things stop being good things and they begin to crush you. Abrams was an excellent runner, but he was running for the wrong reason and it was killing him.

The Source of Identity

Every culture has a way of instilling a sense of self and worth through stories, songs, slogans and traditions. It is a way you get yourself and it is self-evident. We cannot fabricate our own identity. As mentioned earlier, our culture, family and others have to name us and give us our identity. 

JRR Tolkien picks up on this concept when he writes: “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”[xiv]

Someone from outside yourself, that you respect and value their opinion, must name you and give you your identity. We look to schools, pastors, doctors, parents—but someone held in esteem must identify you. 

Personal Story

One of the reasons I feel the need for Christians and counselors of all types to recognize the importance of the issue of identity is because I have personally experienced much of what I am talking about in my own personal life. 

I was raised by very good American middle-class parents with good morals and ethics. However, they were also the product of their culture, so Elvis was king, and the Beetles were like royalty in our home. I was enrolled in music courses at a fairly young age and was encouraged to continue into my adult years. The subliminal message I received from my family and culture was that if you wanted to be someone, you would be an entertainer, a musician or something like that. Eventually, I ran my course with it and the Lord delivered me from that weight.

One night I played a concert with a well-known Jazz orchestra at the Disneyland Hotel at a benefit for Carl Karcher of the Carl’s Jr fast-food chain. The orchestra sounded great that night, and I played a number of sax solos over the course of the evening. When Carl was called to the podium to give his acceptance speech, he made it a point to walk all the way around the room to the bandstand on the side of the room. He walked up to me and pointed at me and said, “You’re good!” He told me he really enjoyed my playing and thanked me for praying at the event that night. Man, regardless of critics or what anyone else thought about my playing that night, it really made my day that someone noteworthy like Carl Karcher told me I was a good musician. 

A number of years later, while at a seminar at the Calvary Chapel Bible College I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Norman Geisler. I was minding my own business, but Dr. Geisler had seen me taking notes during his presentation and sought me out. He spent a few hours with me that day. He was very insistent I go back to school and seminary and pursue my interests in theology. Because of Dr. Geisler, I later did just that. I did not realize how our talk that day would so shape the course of the rest of my life but it has in significant ways. Someone has to name you. Someone, outside yourself, shapes and gives you an identity. It is not something that we fabricate on our own. “The praises of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”[xv]

Dr. Geisler was a great Christian man and an incredible theologian, so his investment of time with me that day impacted me in ways others could not. However, while doctor Geisler was no slouch and certainly a great man, he was no match in comparison to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the creator of heaven and earth, has named me as His chosen elect and bestowed upon me the status of son and made me heir to His eternal kingdom.  So, I must ask myself, and you should ask yourself the same question: “If Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe, confers upon me the status of co-heir to His eternal kingdom, then how much more should I regard His gift of adoption and live in the reality of the new identity that has been bestowed upon me by Him?”

Once you get what Jesus Christ has done for you down to a naming level, and that love associated with it wells up inside you, then He will be in your heart and impact your identity and life. You will no longer feel the need to prove yourself or create an identity for yourself, because your identity will be found in Him! 

The Bible Teaches that Identity Comes from Outside the Person

As I read through Scripture, I find that this principle of a person’s identity being imparted by someone else is given to us very early on. But one of the more profound examples, for me, is from the life of King David. 

After many struggles and much bloodshed, David finally begins to reign over Israel. But we read just prior to the conquest of Jerusalem this exchange that takes place between David and the Elders of the Tribes of Israel. In 2 Samuel 5:1-3 Scripture states:

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel, and your will be a ruler over Israel.’” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the Lord at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel.[xvi]

–2 Samuel 5:1-3

Please note:

  • The exchange took place between Elders from every Tribe
  • The Elders acknowledged David’s familial heritage
  • They recognize David’s leadership of their people and nation
  • They acknowledge God’s anointing of David as a Shepherd over His people
  • They make a covenant with David, and anoint him as their King

But there is more. If we read further, verses 11-12 say:

Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David. And David realized that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.

–2 Samuel 5:11-12

What we find is the King of Tyre sent messengers and craftsman as a gift to build him a house. Then it says, 

And David realized that the Lord had established him as King over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.

–2 Samuel 5:12

This is amazing!  In other words, even though David had previously been anointed by the prophet Samuel, it was not until the people themselves and neighboring rulers recognized him that his kingdom was validated and what God predicted was fulfilled in David’s eyes. 

God promised he would be king, but the people had to recognize him as king before it was so. The recognition of others led to ratification or realization of the promises of God! 

I remember Tim Keller using this quote from Annie Dillard and I think it is appropriate. 

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”[xvii] 

–Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

When David’s people and neighboring nations recognized David’s calling and anointing to be king, it was validated in David’s heart and he knew it was time to rise to the occasion and fulfill his role as the nation’s king. With this we see that Scripture affirms the concept that identity as being given to us from outside ourselves. 

Someone in your life must say, “I see you and I know who you are!”  

Many seek to gain an identity through various relationships. This is really the same as “self-identifying” or doing it for yourself, rather than legitimate identity formation. 

An identity is only as sure as the one who imparts it on the individual. If the relationship the identity is derived from is founded on sinking sand, then the identity is not as sure as one may hope. 

There’s only one Person who can truly authorize you. Somebody who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you…I love you.”

The gospels depict this truth about Jesus. In the garden, that first morning when Jesus was resurrected, and the woman encounters Jesus at the empty tomb. 

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher).[xviii] 

–John 20:16

Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “Come here, slave!” But He calls her by name, “Mary…”  

 “My sheep know my voice. I call them by name, and I lead them out,” Jesus said (John 10:3).

Jesus said, “He calls His sheep out by name and… He is the good shepherd” “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:3, 14). 

We have all heard for several decades now, psychologists talking about self-esteem. 

Think about this. If it’s really true that “the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards,” as suggested by Tolkien in the Two Towers.[xix] This would have to mean that it is only when you have the esteem of someone you esteem that you will truly have your own sense of self-esteem. In other words, only if you have the adoration of someone who you hold in high regard and who adores you, that you will receive an identity of self-worth. 

Then, to know God loves you, the Lord of the Universe loves you, that would have to give you the most powerful basis for an identity that is possible. 

Much more, the acceptance of God and the identity He provides is not based on performance, so it is sustainable and does not involve competition against others to prove ourselves. 

The apostle Paul writes: 

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

–Titus 3:5-7

Believers have a rich inheritance in Christ as a result of the finished work (salvific work / atoning work) of Christ.

New Testament believers—lovers of God through Jesus Christ—have been adopted into the family of God.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

–Galatians 4:1-7

The Apostle John writes, 

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

–John 1:12-13

As C. S. Lewis memorably put it:

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”[xx]

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 62.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, famous British Preacher, was known for presenting this question to people who had doubts about their faith. He would ask, “right now are you a Christian? Are you a child of God?”  If the person said “Well, I’m trying…” Lloyd-Jones knew they didn’t really understand what it means to be a Christian at all (Lloyd-Jones, The Assurance of Salvation, 423).

In other words, here’s a person who still relates to God as a hired hand, rather than a Son. They don’t understand Sonship at all. A son doesn’t have to earn his identity. He is either a son or he is not a son. It has nothing to do with earning a place in the family. 

So many in the church today view themselves more like hired hands or stepchildren, rather than being a Son or child of God. This in and of itself is evident that they have no comprehension of their Christian identity. 

A close reading of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son helps to clear this up. 

Application for Christian Counseling and Discipleship

Christian identity resolves many of contemporary societies psychological, emotional and spiritual problems:

  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Violence / Aggression
  • Schizophrenia (mental breakdown and withdrawal from reality)
  • Depression
  • Narcissism
  • Adultery

Once the person’s identity is realized, they will truly fall in love with the Lord, and their relationship in Christ will become the default position and their “go to” posture, then they will be able to overcome many of the sins of the flesh and their emotional problems. 


[i] Ventura Barna Group CA, The State of DISCIPLESHIP: A Barna Report Produced in Partnership with The Navigators, 2015.

[ii] The Jewish Telegraph article explains how the producers of Chariots of Fire envisioned the films depiction of an English Jew who battled against prejudice through his running, Jewish Telegraph (2012), accessed on June 13, 2020, https://www.jewishtelegraph.com/greatf_6.html. See also Simon Round, “Ben Cross: the challenges of playing Harold Abrams in Chariots of Fire,” The Jewish Chronicle (July 12, 2012), accessed June 13, 2020, https://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/interviews/ben-cross-the-challenges-of-playing-harold-abrahams-in-chariots-of-fire-1.34320

[iii] Nikolai Berdyaev, “Testimony: The Making of an Original,” Christianity Today (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2000), 59.

[iv] Oprah Winfrey quoted in the blog Article: A Love Supreme: By Faith Alone, Romans 3:23 (Oct 1, 2017), accessed on May 30, 2020, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5851d4ed1b631b55ebaed251/t/59cd1a8290badefdc2508843/1506613892047/SermonStudy_October1_2017.pdf

[v] M. Robert Mulholland Jr., “Spirituality and Transformation,” ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 216.

[vi] Wesley Morris, The Year We Obsessed Over Identity (October 6, 2015) the New York Times Magazine, accessed February 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/magazine/the-year-we-obsessed-over-identity.html

[vii] Ibid. 

[viii] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1958), 75. 

[ix] David G. Benner and M. Basil Pennington, Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2015).

[x] Suicide rates are particularly high among older men, with men aged 75 and older having the highest suicide rate of any group in the nation, at 39.7 deaths per 100,000 adults compared to women aged 75 and older who have a suicide rate of 4.0 per 100,000 adults in 2017. In general, rates of suicide are higher among men than in women at all ages despite depression being higher in women of all ages. Senior Report, America’s Health Rankings: United Health Foundation. Data Source: CDC WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death, Multiple Cause of Death files, 2017, accessed May 14, 2020, https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/senior/measure/Suicide_sr_a/state/ALL  See also (Modern Maturity, June-July 1987, 13 cited by M. Robert Mulholland Jr and Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2016).

[xi] Ventura Barna Group CA, The State of DISCIPLESHIP: A Barna Report Produced in Partnership with The Navigators, 2015.

[xii] Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (New York: Redeemer; Viking, 2016), 126–128.

[xiii] Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan and Ann Swidler, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life(Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), 65. “The American understanding of the autonomy of the self, places the burden of one’s own deepest self-definitions on one’s own individual choice.… The notion that one discovers one’s deepest beliefs in, and through, tradition and community is not very congenial to Americans. Most of us imagine an autonomous self, existing independently, entirely outside any tradition and community.”

[xiv] Tolkien, J.R.R.. “The Two Towers,” The Lord of the Rings: One Volume. HMH Books, p. 682. Kindle Edition.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] All Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995, 2 Samuel 5:1-3. 

[xvii] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, (HarperCollins e-books, 2009) quoted by Timothy Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

[xviii] John 20:16

[xix] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: The Lord of the Rings: One Volume. HMH Books, p. 682. Kindle Edition.

[xx] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 178 in Jonathan Landry Cruse, The Christian’s True Identity: What It Means to Be in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 62.

The Question of Motive

Every counselor or therapists approaches a session with a counselee with a certain set of presuppositions, a paradigm if you will, by which they understand the person. This points to the need for a model—a biblical model—by which we view behaviors, so we can help the person to gain victory over sin and emotional problems and allow the person to move forward in their relationship with God that He may be glorified in and through the person’s life.

Most Christians would agree there is massive evidence to support my thesis which is:

Man’s soul has been so severely damaged as a result of the fall, that man now has a hollow core inside, and as a result of this hollow core, man is on a quest to fill this emptiness and man’s desires for fulfillment permeate everything man does in life.

Now, that is a huge opening statement, so let me proceed to unpack and support this statement by beginning with some evidence. Beginning with the way Satan tempted Christ in Matthew Chapter 4.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

–Matthew 4:1–11

We must keep in mind; this temptation comes as a result of the fall of man into sin. If we look at this scene, we have Jesus who has fasted for 40 days and nights and He becomes hungry. Now, this hunger Jesus experienced is the same hunger we experience when we need nourishment and it is a basic physical need. Lexicons are careful to explain that this sort of hunger is not unlike our own and has nothing to do with what comes next in the story with the temptation of Christ.

It should be noted how the temptations of Christ presented three main forms of spiritual idolatry:

  • Material possessions (Matt. 4:3),
  • Prestige and self-esteem (Matt. 4:6; Luke 4:9) and,
  • Power (Matt. 4:8-9; Luke 4:6-7; cf. Jas. 4:6, 10).

Any one, or all, may become a personal idol to a person. At the same time, it should also be recognized that these, although idols to men, were not idols to Christ, but Christ, as the champion of mankind, was subjected to the same temptations of man which He overcame victorious in his triumph over the flesh and Satan.

But I would like to draw attention to the potential outcome of each temptation, for the nature of the outcome shows what weakness of mankind Satan was trying to appeal to.

Now, why do you suspect it was these specific fleshly temptations and weaknesses that Satan chose to try to exploit with his temptation of Christ? Right, these are our weaknesses. And what I’d like to discuss are the basis for these weaknesses as a means of understanding why these are the weakness and temptations for human beings like us.

Viktor Frankl

Years ago, in Austria, during the time of WWII, there was a Jewish psychologist named Viktor Frankl, who was arrested in 1942 and Frankl and his family were sent to the Theresienstadt Ghetto and later to Auschwitz1 which was primarily a death camp. Because of his studies and interests in human behavior, he observed and documented the behavior of the people who were being held prisoner in these death camps. Due to the extreme and inhumane circumstances, his studies proved invaluable to the study of human behavior for years to come. One of the more resounding theories that came out of Frankl’s studies were his ideas about primary or fundamental needs as a motivation for human behavior. These ideas have been embraced by many secular, as well as Christian psychologists and counselors alike, because they can be supported by Scripture.

The outcome of Frankl’s studies produced the theorem that human beings have two basic primary/fundamental emotional needs:

  1. Significance or meaning, and
  2. Security or unconditional love

Frankl writes,

Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are “nothing but defense mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations.” But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my ‘defense mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!2

Frankl goes on to write about a public-opinion poll that was later conducted in France that revealed that 89 percent of the people polled admitted that mankind needs “something” for the sake of which to live. Moreover, 61 percent conceded that there was something, or someone, in their own lives for whose sake they were even ready to die.3 Frankl states,

As a primary motivation, the search for meaning must be fulfilled for the sake of our psychological well-being. If we fail to find the meaning we’re looking for psychological disturbance in the form of apathy, depression, and even anger will result. This failure to find meaning, and the psychological disturbance that follows, is prominent in modern society.4

The needs for meaning/significance and security are equally important to both men and women; however, men often display the need for significance in more pronounced ways than women. Conversely, women, will often display the need for security more than men. However, each need is important for all human beings and these needs must be fulfilled; otherwise, the person will emotionally wither and die.

Significance

First, significance is the need to be recognized or appreciated and meaning attributed to the person’s position or existence. It is the need that drives people to compete with one another and it is the drive that motivates people to take positions that draws attention to them, such as positions of authority or prominence, or on stage speaking or entertaining in some way. It is an overwhelming emotional need or drive for meaning and purpose that can provide motivation for a person to do practically anything to be noticed in fulfillment of this need.

Security

Secondly, is the need for security. A person must feel that they are loved unconditionally; that is without condition, aside from performance or the fulfillment of another person’s material needs, or the person will wither and emotionally die. This is a basic fundamental human need that must be met in the life of every person to sustain emotional well-being in the individual.

A man may achieve significance by knowing that his family depends on his income to survive and maintain their current lifestyle, but if he does not receive love from his wife and family apart from his contribution to the family bank account, then he may begin to feel used and unwanted like an old shoe and he will act out accordingly. The same goes for women. They must know that they are loved apart from their work or it will lead to disruption in the marriage and trouble in the home.

Longing for Impact

We all long for something similar. Maybe the word adequacy best describes it. We want to know that we are capable of doing a job that needs to be done. We want to leave a mark on our world, a real and enduring difference that matters.

We experience this desire for impact in many ways. Larry Crabb uses the examples of inspecting a newly waxed car or a freshly cut lawn provides a measure of legitimate satisfaction: “I did it. Because I expended energy, things look better. I made a difference.” But there is a problem with the limitedness of this impact.5

For example, the dishwasher’s observation that clean dishes are quickly soiled reduces the pleasure of getting them clean. Short-lived impact is not terribly exciting. We desire an impact that is important and lasting. Impact ranging from the trivial (well-trimmed lawns) to more important matters (business success or family harmony) provides different degrees of satisfaction, but never enough, so we continue to strive for lasting impact and meaning.

Defining Significance / Meaning

Larry Crabb defines this thirst for impact as a desire to be adequate for a meaningful task, a desire to know that we are capable of taking hold of our world and doing something valuable and well.6

Because we are dependent (finite) beings, our capacities are experienced as opportunities for fulfillment that drive us to resources outside ourselves. I am not sufficient for myself. I cannot supply myself with relationship or impact.

We will talk more about our limitations when we talk about identity, but for now, we simply need to know that we are not capable, in and of ourselves, to satisfy our own fundamental needs—they need to be filled from outside ourselves. This is why recognition from someone who is important to us or deeply respected is a highly treasured thing to us, and at times, can be transformative in our lives.

J.R.R. Tolkien, in his book The Two Towers wrote, “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”7 This is exactly right. To have someone we highly esteem speak into our lives is like treasure—it’s like adding fuel to a fire for our self-perception and identity, and it is a very necessary part of our emotional and spiritual development.

The Doctrine of Man

One of my pet theological interests is the study of Theological Anthropology, which is the study of humanity in Scripture. Because we are fallen beings, our capacities have become desperate longings energized by a fear that we will never find the satisfaction we desire. Had the Fall not occurred, we would know nothing less than unbroken fellowship with God. Our affective experience would be fullness rather than emptiness, joy rather than a chronic ache, and complete relationship rather than aloneness. But the Fall has happened, and the resultant hollowness of our core motivates us to find fulfillment. We cannot escape the longing. To pretend it isn’t there is to invite its unnoticed tyranny.

All of us pursue, in one degree or another, avenues of fulfillment that have nothing to do with God. Apart from the Spirit’s prompting, none of us would ever seek after God because of the inherent human drive toward self-sufficiency to achieve significance. In Jeremiah 2:13 the prophet indicts God’s people for depending on broken cisterns in their efforts to quench thirst, cisterns that they made for themselves, but they hold no water. Nothing that human beings can control will ever provide deep satisfaction. Yet we insist on trying to control our own lives. And that fact defines our foolishness.

But our foolishness is not immediately apparent. Even wells with holes in them can hold some water for at least a while. Temporary satisfaction is available in the pleasures of sin as we build up idols in our lives to take the place of God and appease our emotional needs.

Satan is the Master of Counterfeit

Satan is the master counterfeiter. He provides almost limitless opportunities for illegitimate but very convincing satisfaction. He capitalizes on our desperate desire for a quick fix to blind us to the long-term emptiness of following him. There is no worse pain than an empty personal circle — we feel empty, worthless, unloved, and useless. And that pain demands relief. Satan warmly cooperates with our demand by offering us the means to feel better in a hurry. He invites us to become consumed with the purpose of finding relief. When he hooks us, we quickly feel the strength of sin’s enslavement.

Life then becomes an effort to gain love and to find means of impact. The purpose of loving God and others and the mission of promoting God’s program gets swallowed up in self-centered preoccupation with our own self-fulfillment.

The Biblical Basis for the Hollow Core Motivations

As I said earlier, Viktor Frankl, who originally advanced the concept of fundamental human needs, was a psychologist. However, he was also a Jew and possessed biblical knowledge and faith in God. Therefore, he held to a biblical worldview and knowledge of the spiritual aspects of human nature. As such, Frankl’s assertions can be supported by Scripture, and we can find illustrations of the hollow core concept and fundamental human needs throughout the pages of Scripture.

Now, it must be said, it is not necessarily the fundamental needs that are the problem, in and of themselves, but rather the way these needs serve as motivation in the heart that result in harmful and sinful behavior. James writes,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

–James 1:13–15, NKJV

The Greek word for “desires” is the word epithymia, which is a difficult word to translate and define—most frequently in the NT it is translated as “lust;” however, for most of us who are looking for a deeper understanding of what is happening within us and how to overcome our sin nature we need to look a little further into the meaning of the word.

Epithymia, when we look at the way it is used within context in the NT, and the extra-biblical Greek classics, what we find is that the definition must be more nuanced and it is more adequately defined as, “an inordinate, displaced, over-exaggerated, self-indulgent craving—a strong desire for wickedness or evil (that displaces or over takes proper affections for God).8

Now, with a definition like this, it is so telling of what exactly happens when the fallen nature of mankind kicks in to fulfill these needs of meaning, significance and security. The culmination of this motivation is sin as ugly as it comes. As we go through this, you will become acutely aware of the insidiousness of sin and just how depraved fallen human beings have become.

In nearly every instance, what you will find is the person who is struggling has an inordinate love—meaning their love for God is not supreme and they have placed something else in God’s place. In other words, they have idols they have idols surrounding them.

Jay Adams, the man who is really considered to be the founder of the biblical counseling movement in evangelicalism, consistently asserted that humans are idol makers and most problems in life will find their root in man’s inordinate love for the things of the world.9 I have never whole-heartedly agreed with Adams on other issues, but on this basis, I believe he was correct.

Due to man’s fallen sin nature and his quest, his motivation, to fulfill these fundamental needs being so strong, man will do practically anything to quench the thirst for fulfillment of them. And he will do this at the risk of breaking covenant with God.

The Hollow Core Motivations Illustrated in Genesis

The need motivations are clearly demonstrated for us throughout Scripture. The first of these is in the book of Genesis with the fall of humanity in (Genesis 3:5-6). In the Genesis narrative the idea was introduced into the heart of humanity that they can be like God—that they will have some secret knowledge that only God possesses—and they will gain some sense of meaning and significance that they had not yet realized for themselves.

A little later in human history we find the fundamental need of significance illustrated for us again with the narrative of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:5-10).

Abel was a keeper of flocks, whereas, Cain was a tiller of the ground and each brought and offering to God from the first of their flocks and produce. But the Scripture tells us:

Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. “Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. “When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.’

–Genesis 4:4–12

Most commentators identify the cause of Cain’s jealousy as typical sibling rivalry causing strife over whose sacrifice was acceptable to God, and then commentators debate the nature of the sacrificed elements, but what I want to draw your attention to is the motivation, for we see really a couple of things going on here that motivated Cain to enter into sin and kill his brother.

First, Cain was upset and angry because God accepted his brothers offering but had no regard for his. Anger and resentment occur in the heart when one believes they have been deprived of something they were entitled to or deserved. So, the question must be asked, “What if Abel never existed and Cain was not in competition with his brother, do you think Cain still would have been upset if God had rejected his offering?”  I wager he would not have been upset, but because he was trying to “one up” his brother in his quest for significance and be greater than his brother he became angry and his resentment got the best of him.

C. S. Lewis, talking about this sort of thing in Mere Christianity essentially makes the argument, we’re not really proud of having money, we’re proud of having more money than the next person. We’re not really proud of being smart, we’re proud of being smarter.10 Similarly, the biblical narrative pits the brothers in competition against one another with their sacrifices, and when Cain’s sacrifice was rejected by God, resentment set in. Anger is resentment and resentment only exist when we feel we have been deprived of something that we believed we were entitled to or deserved. This is clearly Cain rising up to defend his significance.

Secondly, Cain was given a choice. God goes to him and warns him about the resentment and sin in his heart and encourages him to overcome his emotions and anger (Gen 4:6-7). At this point, Cain clearly makes a choice to negatively react to his emotions and sin by murdering his brother.  In other words, he places his will over and against the will of God for his life, and he placed himself in God’s seat and asserted his own will over God. And this is the general course these motivations follow in the lives of people today that lead to sin and destruction.

The Hollow Core Motivations Illustrated in the New Testament

The need motivations are also illustrated for us in a number of places in the New Testament as well. I will only point out a few, but there are many.

First, in the gospels with the disciples’ argument over which one is greatest (Matt 18:1-6).

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

–Matthew 18:1–4

Jesus’ response to the disciple’s inquiry about greatness is for one to be changed, converted or “born again” (Jn 3:3), and become “as a child” (Matt 18:3). The very question of greatness raised by the disciples is indicative of their hearts and desire to rise to prominence even in God’s kingdom.

And then there was the request by the mother of the sons of Zebedee for the sons:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.’

–Matthew 20:20–21

No doubt, all mothers wish the best for the children and hope for their success. But while the request appears to be understandable from the parental point of view, it too evidences the hollow core motives of the heart and the desire for significance.

Another place this motive of the heart is evidenced is in the book of Acts with the deception of Ananias and Sapphira. The Scripture tells us that those who had money and possessions would sell them to feed the poor in the church. And there was a particular man named Barnabas who had sold a tract of land and given the proceeds to the apostles to support the community of believers. Now this preface to the story is really important in order to understand what happens next.

The biblical account reads:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things.

–Acts 5:1–11

Now, it is obvious the reason Luke tells us about Barnabas in the preface of the story is so we will understand Ananias and Sapphira were trying to emulate what happened with Barnabas when he gave his money to the apostles. It is apparent that everyone knew what Barnabas had done. Luke knew about it and it is obvious Ananias and Sapphira knew about it; otherwise, Luke would not have mentioned it in his account. Ananias and Sapphira conspired to lie to the apostles and God concerning the sale of the land and the amount of money they received because they wanted the apostles to think they were more generous than they actually were. Unlike Barnabas, they only appeared to be generous and graciously giving from the proceeds in order to gain undeserved honor and significance from the leaders of the church.

With this, once again we find the central characters in our story are motivated by these same hollow core need motivations, and in their quest for significance and meaning it let them to enter into sin. You can see how the characters were motivated by their need for significance and their inordinate passions that caused them to choose the sin over and against God. Therefore, through the biblical narrative the concepts of inordinate passions and idolatry come into full view through the need motivations leading to sin.

You will find the fundamental need motivations at the root of nearly every emotional and spiritual problems today.

Anger / Resentment. The Christian man who has unresolved resentment: Resentment is another word for anger, and it stems from having the underlying notion of being deprived of something that he believed he deserved. This is the same problem emotion as Cain that led to his sin and killing his brother.

Sex Addiction. Sex, pornography, fornication and adultery can also be a manifestation of the drive to fulfill the fundamental needs. In many instances, with further questioning, what will be discovered is the person who is addicted to sex or leading a promiscuous lifestyle will really be trying to fulfill their need for significance and meaning through the conquest—that is to power over the person. With each new sexual partner, they feel they have gained some sense of victory. In other cases, a promiscuous lifestyle is the result of shame and feelings of inadequacy. In each instance, the sexual behavior is the result of the person proving to themselves that they truly are worthy of having another person. Unfortunately, once they have the other person, they quickly move on to another because the thrill does not last and does not sufficiently meet their emotional need.

As a cautionary note, this is also another reason why people should not rush into relationships, and specifically why they should wait to have sex with the other person. 1 Cor 13:1 says, “Love is patient…” Love waits, and you really do not know the love is real until it has been proven by waiting.

I am convinced that many couples confuse the feeling of fulfillment of the fundamental needs with feelings of love. New relationships are exciting. To find that someone else finds you desirable is exciting BECAUSE it fulfills the fundamental needs; therefore, it is often confused with love, so waiting is the best policy.

Substance Abuse. Substance abuse is a little trickier because there is also the chemical dependency that goes with it. But often these same fundamental needs may be at the root of why they started their alcoholism or drug use. Substance abuse is multi-faceted, but most often you will find they are using drugs or alcohol to medicate to deal with emotional pain. They may say they like the way it makes them feel, but that means a lot of things and under it all is emotional pain. Frequently it is the trauma of a painful existence at the root of their drug abuse.

Bazaar & Outlandish Behavior. We find a number of people doing outlandish acts with clothing and decorating their bodies in such a way as to gain the attention of others. Much of this is to gain meaning and significance and the attention of others to fulfill their empty core and emotional needs.

Homosexuality.  Homosexuality can be linked to a person’s lust, but the motivation can just as easily be viewed as an effort to meet their needs for meaning, security and love. Also, society today has presented homosexuality as another option for a place of belonging, so there are many today who find themselves attracted to homosexuality to find connection and fulfill their emotional needs when in reality they are not necessarily attracted to others of the same sex. Others in the homosexual community are motivated by their need for recognition and attention, and this further supports the paradigm of how we view the deeper cause and deception of sin motivating certain behaviors. We will talk more about some of the cultural influences further exacerbating the sin of homosexuality when we talk about identity.

The Innermost Being

In John 7:37 – 38 Jesus invited all who were thirsty to come to him. He promised that for those who come he would fill a central part with life — unique, deeply satisfying, permanent, and available only in him.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

That life, Christ said, would penetrate into the core of our being. Somewhere in the center of human personality is our innermost being, a deep part within us from which God causes living waters to flow.

The word Jesus used to refer to this deep part within is the Greek word koilia. Some translations render the word as “belly” because sometimes the Greek word means an open space of cavity of some sort. For example, in Matthew 12:40 where we’re told that a fish’s belly housed Jonah for three days and nights. But the same word can be used metaphorically to mean a void, an empty space that desperately longs to be filled.11 Each of us have what Christian Psychologist Larry Crabb refers to as a “Hollow Core” in our personality, a central part that is empty but yearns to be filled.12

To the degree that this Hollow Core is full, we experience a profound sense of wholeness, an unspeakable joy, an energizing conviction that life makes sense, that we fit, that what we do is important. But when the Hollow Core is empty, or more precisely, when we feel the emptiness —our souls are torn apart with an unbearable ache, a throbbing loneliness that demands relief, a morbid sense of pointlessness that paralyzes us with anger, cynicism, and frustration.

The Lord appeals directly to this deep ache in our core, promising to do for us what no psychologist can ever hope to do.

Jesus offers us deep, thorough, lasting satisfaction that affirms our identity and at the same time frees us from self-centeredness. Christ offers life, a Full Core.

Two other passages shed important light on the Hollow Core and how it functions. Romans 16:18 speaks of people who are slaves, not of Christ, but of their own innermost being (koilia). In Philippians 3:19 Paul warns his readers about enemies of the cross whose god is their appetite or innermost being — the same word again.

Apparently, this dimension in our personality is a force to be reckoned with. Either it is the place where God’s Spirit fills us with a vital, rich life, or it becomes a monstrous power that relentlessly controls the core direction of our lives. When Christ’s invitation to come is ignored, we eventually become driven people, hopelessly committed to a futile search for fulfillment but only God can fill this void.

Nature, whether physical or personal, abhors a vacuum. Internal emptiness becomes an absolutely compelling force that drives people to sacrifice anything, eventually even their own identities, in an effort to find themselves.

The search for identity is real, and this is why we will be drilling down on that topic. Image-bearers were designed to enjoy their clear identity as happy persons who belong to God. Fallen image-bearers, however, are incredibly foolish: we look for fullness every place except where it can be found. “No one seeks after God” the Scripture says. We all “drink from broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). The result is a life lived entirely in the service of oneself, a mad pursuit of whatever holds out the hope of fullness.

Everything people do is moving in a chosen direction. Behavior is never static but always dynamic; behavior is always behavior-in-motion. We all go after whatever we think will give us what we want. To understand people deeply requires that we realize that

  • all behavior is moving in a direction toward a chosen goal;
  • without the fullness of Christ filling our innermost being, we are motivated to move in whatever direction we think will relieve the emptiness of our Hollow Core.

A model of counseling that fails to come to grips with the Hollow Core (these fundamental need motivations) is problematic and perhaps even unbiblical. Symptoms may be relieved, feelings may become more pleasant, a counterfeit sense of well-being may be enjoyed, but if the horrible reality of a Hollow Core remains unchanged, counselees remain slaves to the god of their own longings for satisfaction.

I believe this explains why there are so many in the church today who, while still attending church, have resolved to sitting on the sidelines and have given up any hope of ever moving forward with sanctification and transformation of their inner being.

We must attack the core problem in the human personality, the real culprit behind all nonorganically caused human distress which is: a steadfast determination to remain independent of God and still make life work.

Counseling and/or discipleship that is biblical addresses our arrogant denial of dependency on God. It brings us into touch with the truth of our utter dependency by stripping away all pretense to independence which is a painful process that is absolutely necessary if true spiritual maturity is to be realized.

Questions for Reflection

  • In what way does your behavior, past or present, reveal efforts to fill a hollow core and/or a quest for significance or meaning?
    • When you enter a room with people, do you seek the affirmation and attention of others?
    • Have you chosen activities, career or vocation that draws attention to yourself?
    • Do you spend an inordinate amount of time on social media seeking attention from others?
  • Recognizing that trying to fill a hollow core with anything other than God is destructive and sinful, what steps do you need to take toward repentance? Future articles will help to guide you with this process

  1. Worth Books, Summary and Analysis of Man’s Search for Meaning: Based on the Book by Victor E. Frankl (New York, NY: Worth Books, 2017).
  2. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Trans. Ilse Lasch (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1942), 102.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Larry Crabb, Understanding People: Why We Long for Relationship (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013).
  6. Ibid.
  7. R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: One Volume. HMH Books, p. 682. Kindle Edition.
  8. ἐπιθυμίαWilliam Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 372.
  9. Jay Adams, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem Self-Love, and Self-Image (Eugene: Harvest House, 1986).
  10. Lewis asks, “What is it that makes a man with £10,000 a year anxious to get £20,000 a year? It is not the greed for more pleasure. £10,000 will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride—the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers.”  C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 123.
  11. σπλάγχνα, ων; κοιλία, ας; νεφρός, οῦ: the psychological faculty of desire, intent, and feeling—‘heart, feelings, desires.’ It would be possible to treat σπλάγχνα, κοιλία, and νεφρός in this figurative sense in Domain 25 Attitudes and Emotions, but these meanings have been assigned to this domain of Psychological Faculties since the meanings involve aspects of personality which function as agents or presumed locations of psychological dispositions. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 323. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 323.
  12. Lawrence J. Crabb, Inside out, Rev. & updated, 10th anniversary ed. (Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1998), 87.
  13. All Scripture cited is from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

How Does Divine Grace Translate into a Changed Life?

Many recognize that is it God’s divine grace, His unmerited favor, that makes redemption of humanity possible through the Son, Jesus Christ. However, it must also be recognized that it is God’s divine grace working throughout the redemptive process of sanctification to transform us into the image of Christ bringing newness of life to every believer. In this article, I want to talk about some of the ways that divine grace works in the transformation process changing believers to become more Christ like.

Divine Grace Makes It Possible for God to Give You a New Identity

God’s grace makes it possible for God to bestow upon believers a new status as the children of God, as members of His eternal family, so they may relate to God as their heavenly father (Gal 4:4-6). The Apostle John, in his gospel, writes,

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

–John 1:12–13

The Christian’s status as a child of God is far more significant than most realize, for Christians have been given an entirely new identity that not only impacts their eternal destiny but their life on earth as well. Biblical scholar, Klyne Snodgrass, in his book on Christian Identity asserts that the overarching biblical narrative should be considered when defining Christian identity. The biblical emphasis placed on history with regards to identity points to a larger history, the history of God’s effort to have a people of His own, into which we as Christians are born into the family of God. Snodgrass states,

The New Testament stresses that Christians by faith have adopted someone else’s story to be determinative of our own. Our true history is the history of Christ into which we are grafted. His history, within which and to which our personal history is subsumed, is our defining history. That is what faith, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are about. Christians lay the story of their lives—damage and all—in the hands of God, confess that parts of their story are not good, affirm that they do not direct their own story, and ask that their story be taken into and conformed to the narrative of what God is doing in Christ.1

According to Snodgrass, Christians basically trade their history and stories in for the story of Christ, assuming His family heritage and identity for their own; “laying the story of their lives—damage and all—in the hands of God.” Paul asserts in his letter to the church in Rome,

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ….

–Romans 8:15–17

Because of God’s grace through the atoning work of Christ, believers have been adopted into the family of God. This adoption is not a forever adopted status, because Christians become fully legitimate Sons and Daughters of God in Christ.

Michael Milton, discussing the hardships of adopted children, writes about the attitudes that go with the concept of adoption and how adopted children are often viewed by society. He writes about the distinctions people make between “real children” and “adopted children” and how people in their minds and hearts make adoption an ongoing identity rather than a single event in life. Milton writes,

They elevate bloodline over covenant, a wrongheaded, human way of thinking in fleshly juxtaposition to the concept of family presented in the Bible. Unchecked and unexplained, this misguided talk about adoption can ultimately lead to the appearance of malignancies of the human soul, mental anguish, a crisis of person-hood, and a host of other diseases of the heart and mind. This is true for both the child and the parent.2

Just as it is emotionally damaging for a child to be considered adopted throughout their lifetime, it is equally damaging for a Christian to continue to consider themselves adopted into the family of God. Christians who continue to view themselves as adopted thrust upon themselves emotional damage that prevent spiritual growth and maturity and prevents them from moving forward in victory in the spiritual life and in the war against sin. We have been adopted (past tense), and are now (present tense), “the Sons and daughters of God in Christ.”

Paul, applying Old Testament prophecy to believers in Christ writes, “’And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18). According to Scripture, believers in Christ have full placement and are no longer adopted, but rather Sons and Daughters of God.

To comprehend the significance of full inheritance in Christ can be liberating opening up doors and possibilities and setting our hearts and imaginations free. In Christ, our earthly family is no longer our primary family, for we have been placed in God’s household and are His beloved children. Regardless of what family history we may have previously been held, and no matter how dysfunctional our earthly family, our new family in God’s household is perfect and we are perfectly loved. Therefore, through God’s grace, believers find a new identity as Sons and Daughters, heirs to God’s eternal kingdom by which we can throw off the yolk of bondage and live in freedom. When temptation comes, we do not have to fall back into the worthless things of the world, but we can respond in the newness of life found in our new identity. We are no longer without a home, for we have a home as the beloved children of God (Galatians 4:9).

Divine Grace Changes Our Character and Relationships

God’s grace changes both our character and relationships with others. The believer’s reception of God’s grace is conditioned upon our humble submission to the Lordship of Christ and growing in the knowledge of Him (James 4:6). God’s grace, as it is reflected in the life of Christ, is to also be reflected in the lives of believers through their character and relationships. It is for this reason Peter writes, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;” (2 Peter 1:2) and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ….” (2 Peter 3:18). As such, believers grow in grace as they grow in the knowledge of Christ because Christ is the embodiment of God’s grace. As we grow in the knowledge of Christ and God’s grace, our character changes and we become more like Christ. With this, our relationships are also transformed as we learn to respond to others with grace, humility, love and respect (1 Peter 2:17).

Most people, whether they will admit it or not, spend much of their life looking for a place to belong. The want to be part of the club, whether it’s at work, gym or church, they have this sense of wanting to belong to something and be part of the group. C. S. Lewis spoke much about this human need and sense of belonging. Lewis says that he believes that in all “men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local ring and the terror of being left outside.”3

The good news is, through God’s grace, Jesus comes to us and He tells us He’s answered that desire. This is what he says in John 15:15: “No longer do I call you servants.” So, we are no longer on the outside. We’re no longer on the outer circle. Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” That’s shocking that the Son of God calls us His friends. “For all that I have heard from my father, I’ve made known to you.” In other words, you’re in on what’s going on with the secrets. You are now in the “in” crowd. You’re now “in the know” so to speak. Jesus says, because of your association with Him, you’re part of that inner group, and you no longer have to strive to be popular or part of this group or that group. This is such good news. The striving to be noticed is over.

Because of this, we can be free from feelings of alienation and isolation. Why? Because we are no longer alienated or isolated because God the Son became one of us and calls us His friend. Much more, we are now free to love our neighbor because we’re not trying to work our way into the “in” group, so we are free to reach out and embrace others and bring them into our group because we’re no longer worried about our own popularity with men because we are already popular with God. This is a work of the Holy Spirit because of God’s grace working in us and through us changing us from the inside-out and our relationships with others.

Divine Grace Changes Our Behavior

Grace has an ultimate purpose by grounding the origin of the Christian life in predestination to its end in glorification (Rom 8:29-30). In Ephesians 2:10 we read that good works have been prepared by God beforehand for believers to perform. This tells us that being saved by grace is more than just a notion or a passing idea. The gracious work that God has done in Christ has real implications toward the ultimate goal of our future glorification.4 Moreover, this work of growing and changing has already begun if we, by faith, pursue God and allow Him to do this work in us. Peter admonishes believers to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…” (2 Peter 3:18). Paul, writing to Titus, admonishes believers, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,” (Titus 2:11–12)

The grace of God not only saves, it “instructs” or “teaches.” The paideia word group used by Paul for the Greek word “instructing” is the comprehensive Greek term for education. The specific term from the Greek manuscript is παιδεύουσα or paideuousa and the meaning focuses on the forming of habits for godly behavior.5 It conveys the meaning of a disciplined kind of formational type of training for life. Yet even our modern concept of education and training still fail to communicate the breath of meaning loaded into this Greek term. The description contained in verse 12 of what this training should accomplish demonstrates the meaning of the verb better than any single English word. There are two goals: to renounce ungodliness and worldly desires; and to adopt sensible, righteous and godly living in the present age (v. 12).

God’s grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to pursue righteous living. It trains us to positively embrace the Christian life in a way that is self-controlled, upright [or just] and godly with our relationship to self, others and with God. Grace instructs us to live godly lives here and now in anticipation for the soon return of Christ.

In Hebrew thought, memorizing facts, learning history, and mastering the teachings of the Law were all intended to provide the means to live for the God who delivered their ancestors from Egypt. This had immediate implications in obedience to the Law God had taught them. Behavior was the necessary fruit of knowledge. As Walter Liefeld states, “The goal was not to be an educated person, even in the best Greek sense, but to be a good son or daughter of the covenant.”6 Instruction in Jewish thought, then, was not merely an academic venture, but rather was centered on the Exodus narrative and focused on the grace that saved and instructed them.

Divine grace, then, has a much larger meaning and role in the life of the believer than what most understand it to have, for it extends well beyond the definition of “God’s unmerited favor,” and it serves to instruct believers so they may forsake worldliness and grow in sanctification.

Therefore, God’s saving grace does not end at the point of salvation but accompanies us on the further journey of our new life, providing the wisdom and direction needed to grow in the knowledge of Christ and be transformed into His image.

Food for Thought

  • What is your understanding of grace? Is your understanding limited to conversion, or do you see it playing a larger role instructing believers so they may grow in Christ?
  • Have you been living in a state of adoption, or full placement into God’s family?
  • Are you growing and do you continue to grow in the knowledge of Christ, or have you stalled and stopped growing in spiritual maturity and Christ likeness?

  1. Klyne R. Snodgrass, Who God Says You Are: A Christian Understanding of Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 74.
  2. Michael A. Milton, What Is the Doctrine of Adoption?, ed. Sean Michael Lucas, Basics of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2012), 8.
  3. C. S. Lewis, The Inner Ring Commemoration Oration delivered at King’s College, University of London, December 14, 1944 in Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal 2, no. 1 (2008), 60.
  4. Carl R. Trueman, Matthew Barrett, and R. Kent Hughes, Grace Alone—Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taughts…and Why It Still Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 44.
  5. paideuousa Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 413.
  6. Walter L. Liefeld, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 342–343.
  7. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from The New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.

The Relationship Between Alienation and Mass Shootings

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Alienation is somewhat of a new phenomenon that has gained the attention of psychologists and therapists alike due to its far-reaching impact into the lives of those struggling with it as well as society at large. Unfortunately, the impact of this emotional problem for the nation is just beginning to be realized as it has just now caught the attention of the general public due to the rise of mass shootings across the nation.

In the wake of recent shootings in Dayton, OH; El Paso, TX; Gilroy, CA; Virginia Beach and a number of others throughout the country,1 Fox News decided to air an interview with clinical psychologist, Norman Fried, whose most recent book, Reclaiming Humanity, discusses the effects of trauma on children and how the divine connection of a relationship with God inspires and serves as a template for healthy interactions and help for victims of trauma.2

In the interview, Fried, alludes to the declining spiritual health of the nation, but more to the point, he talks about the alienation that leads to incidents like the recent mass shootings in the United States today. When questioned about the reason why the shooters engaged in recent mass shooting are characteristically young white men, Fried asserts the reason behind this phenomenon is due to declining spiritual engagement and the alienation and disenfranchisement of the current generation of white males. Others, like CBN News have also noted the spiritual component to these mass shootings.3 Fried asserts these acts of violence are a cry for love and acceptance as the shooter acts out violently searching to be noticed by society.

There is little doubt alienation is on the rise in the US today, as recent studies alarmingly reveal the country is in crisis. According to a recent study conducted by Cigna Health, people within the ages of 18 to 22 appear to be suffering the most from alienation, admitting to feeling alone and “isolated with no one to talk to.”3 In fact, a staggering 69 percent “felt that the people around them were ‘not really with them,’ and 68 percent felt as if no one knew them well.”4  These statistics are not surprising to many of us who have been observing the behavior of the youth of our nation with their increasing use of text messaging, video gaming and other practices that further hinder personal contact with others and promote isolation.

Fried’s assertion that the shooters violent acts are desperate cries for love and attention, while difficult for many to accept, is not that far-fetched. There is no doubt the acts of these shooters are of the highest crimes against humanity rooted in humanities fallen sin nature. Regardless of what drove these young men to violence, there simply is no excusing their actions. However, what is important for society at large to learn from these events in order to avoid future recurrence and save future generations is to understand what is needed to heal the soul of this generation and heal the nation.

Scripture Addresses Isolation

Scripture repeatedly addresses the topic of human alienation between God and human beings directly acknowledging the disastrous impact of the fall of humanity into sin and the destructive consequences to the former harmonious relationship that previously existed between human beings and God. In her Walking a Sacred Path, Lauren Artress highlights humanities isolation with this statement, “We lost our sense of connection to ourselves and to the vast mystery of Creation.”5 I find Artress’ comment thought provoking in that it calls us to reflect back to creation and the beginning of the world and humanity. She speaks of a loss of connectedness, a separation if you will, with our original foundation and beginning. She intuitively calls us to reflect back to the beginning of mankind, back to Genesis.

In the book of Genesis, we read that after the fall of man and woman into sin, God had to search for His human creation as they hid themselves in shame and further isolated themselves from God (Gen. 3:8). After the fall, shame entered into the world and the relationship mankind previously had with God was severed and broken. Paul the apostle references this brokenness and the animosity between God and mankind that exists even today as a result of the fall of mankind when he writes,

you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds…” (Colossians 1:21–22, NASB95).

In his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes, “remember that you were at that time separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world…” (Ephesians 2:12–13, NASB95).

According to Scripture, those without Christ are hopelessly lost—alienated and cut off from experiencing a relationship with God. However, God seeks to restore mankind and the relationship once enjoyed with God. through faith in the sacrificial work of Christ, mankind may be restored to the harmonious relationship once experienced in the garden. There is forgiveness offered to mankind, by placing one’s faith and trusting that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to pay the price for sin.

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” (Romans 5:9–10, NASB95)

Once one embraces the truth of the gospel and receives forgiveness in Christ, Scripture says we are saved from God’s wrath. Scripture says,

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36, NASB95).

Additionally, we are made a “new creation…the old things pass away, and all things become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

What is new is the child of God, who has been born again, now has a “living hope…to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable reserved in heaven for [them]” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

The Prescribed Remedy for Alienation

In Christ, you are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). You are a child of God; God is spiritually your Father (Rom. 8:14-15; Gal. 3:26, 28), and you are a joint heir with Christ, sharing His inheritance with Him (Rom. 8:17). From this point forward, you become a temple—a dwelling place—of God. His Spirit and His life dwell in you (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).

You are no longer alienated from God as He is with you and in you, and you are the heir of an eternal kingdom to which there is no end. As such, your search for identity is over, and the heartfelt needs of your fallen nature are resolved, as meaning and significance are fulfilled through your relationship with God in Christ.6 The Scriptures declare,

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12–13, NASB95)

As a child of God, the search for meaning and belonging is over, for the recipient of God’s grace through Christ becomes an heir to God’s eternal kingdom. This is not to say that Christians do not experience feelings of isolation or even depression, but when confronted with these emotions, the child of God has a basis for hope and can seek after God for comfort. The psalmist writes,

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.” (Psalm 42:5, NASB95)

Violence is not the answer as it will not help to alleviate feelings of alienation and despair. However, as one grows in their relationship with God and begins to comprehend the extent of their relationship with God, the former feelings of isolation will begin to diminish as they begin to discover their new identity in Christ and find new meaning and purpose in life.

In future articles I will explain further the root of alienation and provide actions that one can take to help them with this emotional problem.


Food for Thought

  • Have you ever experienced a deep sense of longing in your heart that you have been unable to satisfy? What did you do about it?
  • Do you have someone in your life that you feel really knows you?
  • Have you made effort toward drawing into God to fill your sense of longing?
  • Have you made effort to connect with your local church and Christian community, or sought the help of your local pastor with your feelings of isolation?
  • If you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are a child of God and your identity is in Christ. You are an heir to an eternal kingdom, and you have brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no need to remain alienated and alone and you can begin to take steps toward connecting with other Christians.

_____________________________________________________________________

  1. “Recent mass shootings in the U.S.: A timeline,” Los Angeles Times (Aug 4, 2019), https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2019-08-03/united-states-mass-shootings
  2. “Why are most mass shooters young men who felt alienated by society,” FoxNews, Aug 6, 2019, https://video.foxnews.com/v/6068487800001/#sp=show-clips

Norman Fried, Reclaiming Humanity: A Guide to Maintaining the Inner World of the Child Facing Ongoing Trauma, Urim Publications, 2017.

  1. Benjamin Gil, “’Beasts of Darkness’: The Satanic Hatred that Possessed Connor Betts, and What It Tells Us About Mass Shootings,” CBN News (Aug 9, 2910), https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2019/august/beasts-of-darkness-the-satanic-hatred-that-possessed-connor-betts-and-what-it-tells-us-about-mass-shootings
  2. CH Sommers, “Who are the most alienated Americans?” AEIdeas: A public policy blog from AEI (Feb. 25, 2019) accessed July 29, 2019, http://www.aei.org/publication/who-are-the-most-alienated-americans/
  3. Lauren Artress, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice, Riverhead Books, 1996.
  4. Edward T. Welch, “Who Are We? Needs, Longings, and the Image of God in Man,” ed. David A. Powlison, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Number 1, Fall 1994 13 (1994): 29.

 

Further Reading

Joe Carter, “The FAQs: What You Should Know About Mass Shootings,” TGC: The Gospel Coalition (Aug 7, 2910), https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-faqs-what-you-should-know-about-mass-shootings/

What is your self-image?

Bible & Briefcase

In his book, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf writes,

The Army, with its emphasis on rank and medals and efficiency reports, is the easiest institution in the world in which to get consumed with ambition. Some officers spend all their time currying favor and worrying about the next promotion — a miserable way to live. But West Point saved me from that by instilling the ideal of service above self — to do my duty for my country even if it brought no gain at all. It gave me far more than a military career — it gave me a calling.

Often, we as Christians, get caught up in serving and doing for the Lord. We can become very ambitious at times. We work and busy ourselves with all sorts of projects and ministries as if our very salvation depended on it. Although, as we read through the scriptures, we find God is not moved by our works, nor does he view them as necessary for our salvation.

Scripture tells us, “That we are saved by grace and not by our works.” “That the just shall live by faith’ and that ‘Abraham was justified simply because he believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness” Moreover, all those who confess and believe in the finished work of Christ on the cross; that He paid the price for our sins, shall be saved (Jn. 3:16, 4:10; Rom. 3:25, 5:1; Colo 3:20; Eph. 2;8,9; Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:9, 22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23).

Paul, in his letter to the believers in Rome writes,

But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

–Romans 15:15–16, NASB95

Obviously, there was something about Paul which set him apart from the rest. His heart affected a power greater than all the Roman Empire, and none of our lives would be as they are today had it not been for the missionary heart of the Apostle Paul.What made him different is what makes our text so interesting.

Paul must be admired by all, for he sets the example of a true missionary heart, an ideal which few attain. Paul’s heart is a heart that sees its mission as entirely sacred. In our text, Paul appropriates the vivid imagery of a Hebrew priest ministering at the altar in the Temple.

The imagery here is remarkably forceful due to the words Paul, by divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has chosen. For in our text, the word Paul uses for “minister” in Greek is the same root word from which we derive the word liturgy. The word is—lietourgon, which means religious worship and service. You may ask, “What’s this all about and why is this important.” Well, here’s why this is important, and if you don’t get this you’ll miss the meaning of the whole passage and what God is saying to us. Paul could have used other words to describe himself in relation to his service for the Lord. For example, he could have used the common term doulos to indicate a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, an ambassador of his master who willingly has chosen to give up his own right to freedom to serve his master and King. Or he could have used diakonos, which simply means “servant and represents the servant under the employ of another; such as a waiter waiting tables or serving food.

But Paul didn’t use either of those words, but instead deliberately chose to use the word lietourgon because he saw his missionary work like that of a priest offering sacred worship to God. As a servant of the Holy things of God, he saw his priestly offering not as that of a lamb or grain offering, but as Gentile converts as he expresses in verse 16, “that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Paul saw his missionary work like that of a priest offering sacred worship to God.

Here Paul reveals to us his remarkable self-conception. Though he is involved in the dusty, mundane business of traveling the ancient world on foot, suffering from exposure, threats, beatings, and rejection, in his heart of hearts he sees himself in priestly garb in the Temple, lifting up the souls of men which then ascend as a sweet-smelling fragrance to Christ.

It is common knowledge today that how we perceive ourselves greatly determines how we live our lives.

Psychologists persist in reminding us of the importance of self-image. Imagine then, if you will, what this priestly self-perception did for Paul. His missionary life was to him intensely sacred. The most mundane daily occurrences were holy. Everything was done to please God. All of life was a liturgy (worship). (Philippians 4:18).

If only we could see our service as such, our lives would be transformed.

If when we’re operating cameras, greeting and serving people at church, we would see ourselves before the throne of God offering up the dear and precious souls we serve as sacrifices to the Lord, I believe our service and attitudes would greatly change and we would experience new found joy and adoration for the Lord in our service. In our everyday lives, a child held and loved is a worship service, an employee treated with dignity beatitude. The gospel shared becomes a song in Heaven’s courts, a home study or devotion as a fragrance to God. This sacred view of life was a primary characteristic of the missionary heart of the Apostle Paul.

Peter tells us that we were saved in order that we might offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). The most significant verse in the New Testament on this subject, however, is found in the last chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. There we read,

Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

–Hebrews 13:15–16, NASB95

May our self-conception be as Paul’s; that every soul we touch may be a sweet sacrifice of worship to the Lord.

Food for Thought

  • How do you view your daily work? Do you see it as insignificant, or do you view it as worship?
  • Does your attitude need to change concerning your work and ministry?
  • What would change if you were to view your work as worship?

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Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General Norman Schwarzkopf, Bantam Publishers, 2010.