Helping Others Develop a Biblical Identity Webinar
In this Ministers/Wives webinar, we look at the importance of a biblical view of identity and consider the impact which it can have on the life of a believer. Nick Gutwein and Brian Sutter help us consider how we, as church leaders, can support individuals as they walk through identity shifts, transitions, and exploration, encouraging them to grow in the stability which is rooted in a Christ-Centered identity. You can learn more on this key topic by watching our webinar recording.
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Greetings and welcome everyone. It is an honor to be here. And, Brian and Nick, it’s good to have this conversation with you. And I’ll lead us through some slides that have been prepared. I’ve got some questions that I’ve got queued up that I would love the both of you to speak into.
But at any time, please interrupt and jump into the conversation because really appreciate what both of you have to offer on this important topic of identity. And I wanna set that up a little bit as a critical topic, an important topic, and one that I believe is important to God Himself.
And I’m gonna use as a backdrop and perhaps as an illustration of this is Christ’s baptism there. And on the left side of the screen we have this image of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. And, we know that story. And there was a voice from heaven, the Father saying, thou art my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. This pronouncement of sonship identity on Christ. Did Christ not know? And it raises lots of good questions, but His Father was giving this wonderful pronouncement. And Satan picks up with that and seems to me, he goes right then into the temptation there for 40 days. Later, he questions that on at least two occasions that are written in Scripture. If thou be the Son of God, just countering that pronouncement. As we start, and we’re gonna get into what identity is and kind of lay some foundation, but Nick, as a father and grandfather, speak to the power of verbal pronouncement of identity. I mean, have you ever thought about that?
Not, really, but now that you’ve mentioned it, it’s really important certainly as a father and grandfather to really to proclaim who you are and what’s important to you around that. And so, actually I really never thought of it until you just brought it up. I knew this slide was coming, and I maybe feel the same way, not just as a father and grandfather or just as a minister, but you know, as just one of God’s children. Whatever context we’re in to proclaim that there’s some power in that. And of course, the Scripture proclaiming who we are in Christ gives us the compulsion to be able to say that we are a child of God and we are a brother to Jesus or a sister.
I appreciate that. And we even think of Paul. I would say Paul really pronounces a great deal of identity throughout his letters to the church. And we have an opportunity as ministers to pick that example up.
Let’s look at our objectives here tonight. We want to identify what we mean by identity. So kind of get a baseline of definition. Again, why does identity matter? We’ve established that it does. What makes up our identity and how does identity formation work? There is a bit on how formation, how identity settles in upon a person.
We want to talk about that and then, what does the gospel say about identity? And that’s where we want to finish. As a matter of goal, maybe to perhaps put this evening into some sort of perspective, what do we want to get out of it? We want to walk wisely with people encouraging them in a settled Christ-centered identity.
So that’s the end that we want to achieve. So may tonight’s conversation equip us in a way that we might see with maybe fresh eyes and maybe some fresh skills on how we might carry out the work that the Father has done in pronouncing judgment or helping pronounce identity and help establish identity and a settled place.
So let’s go now to the definition as we are using it, of what identity is, what we mean by identity. There on the left you can see, we’re saying it’s a self-understanding and self regard. Who am I is a good question that gets to identity. Where do I belong? Where is my grounding? What am I worth? Could be a way to think about identity and how am I unique? Nick, I’d like to ask you, and I’ve heard you speak to this very nature of identity and in a little bit of the course of your life. And, I’d just love for you to maybe pick out a few times in your life where you found belonging or grounding or worth or uniqueness, and speak to the identities that you’ve had in your life.
Well, just being real open about it. You know, I think, probably the earliest identity I felt was being an athlete in sports. I felt belonging. I felt a place where my gifts could be used and made me feel good about myself and where I fit. But that didn’t last too long. You know, at some point in time you find out you’re not good enough to continue. And so soon then I think it was my identity, I have to be really open about it. I think my first identity as a believer was, I knew when I repented that I was a sinner, but I think my first one was being an Apostolic and really identifying with the church I grew up in.
And then I quickly got married and I was a husband and father. And then honestly, most of my life after that, I knew I was growing in who I was in Christ, but my career defined a lot of me. And, you know, because I think that I had this idea that life was a set of like boxes, like things you had to manage.
And so you go from church to home to work. And, it just seemed to me that my wiring was such that career identity was a big deal to me. And then something changed for me when my father got sick and died. And I know you’re gonna talk about this later, about transitions in life and it’s about 15, 17 years ago. And something really happened to me. And I think that it made me realize that all of what was going on in my life was towards a higher purpose. And it changed.
I really, really appreciate that, Nick, and sharing that, and I guess really putting flesh to this matter of identity. I think as you trace through your life, we can see that as well. Brian, I know this comes up in the work that you do, and so why don’t you just share a little bit about what you see. How, what indicators, as you’re in the counseling room, what are indicators that say, I think identity work needs to be done with this person. I’d really love to hear your thought on this definition as it relates to the work that you do.
I really appreciate there what Brother Nick was sharing and just that journey that so many of us go through. And I think in my mind it really speaks to God as our Creator and that I think we can trust as humans that we all have certain, like longings or things that we want to pursue. Whether or not we can put our finger on them is a different matter.
But, we have this desire to know where do I belong and what is my worth? And where do those things come from? And, as we walk through life, a lot of times, it gets put on something and then we find out, you know, oh, that doesn’t carry me, that doesn’t actually ground me.
And then, I think in many ways it’s part of the sanctification process and it kind of keeps whittling down and helps us really see at the end of the day, who we are and in the essence kind of way and really points us back to the gospel, points us back to something outside of ourselves that really drives that belonging and worth and that we can belong and be unique and really helping individuals sort through that is a big part of counseling work a lot of times.
What would be something that you might see in a person that indicates to you, I think we need to talk about identity? Well, I think in most areas in life we can expect that the things that we would say, this is what’s important to me, or this is who I am, are gonna be things that are gonna eventually change.
It’s hard for us to see that in the moment. But when something gets elevated and it’s hard to see how life could be possible or how I could move forward without this thing being present apart from Christ, apart from our who we are on a spiritual sense, then it’s like, oh, okay. I think that may be, would be a place of we to help us think through that.
Or, a lot of times, even like where the evil one came and brought doubt to our Lord or actually just brought questions. Well how about, and you hear those whisperings of like, no, I know I’m in Christ. But what about, and you hear that doubt and helping them sort through, well, how can I be in Christ and have this thought or have this difficulty or struggle with this thing? And again, I think that comes back to that, well, I want to be worthy and what makes me worthy? And then having to wrestle through that.
I clued in on that word change. I think that was really insightful and very helpful for me, Brian, that change. And, even in your testimony, brother Nick, when the sports ran out and things changed and there wasn’t a belonging there by nature of proximity and all kinds of matters, right? The belonging left or the grounding left and we’re left to find a new belonging, grounding, worth, and uniqueness. And so, I think we’re gonna see that or ring true, but I think that is something to really hang onto. The power of change has a lot, or the reality of change has a lot to do with identity.
I’ve got a picture here on this next slide that I really think illustrates identity well. Right here we’ve got two pictures here. These boys, and I think if these two boys walked into our church on a Sunday, we might have different thoughts on the two. As we, the bullets there, what might they be thinking? What’s important to them? What might they, what kind of behavior can I expect out of them? We immediately jump to some conclusions here. And, fascinating enough, this is the same boy. This is Thomas Moore before and after a residential school in Regina in 1870. And so we can see here that we have before that education and after that education, and we get a sense here of a big identity shift.
Brian, I want you to talk to this issue of what we saw when we first looked at these pictures. We see outward symbols, outward signs. I’m looking at the dress, I’m looking at the posture. I’m looking at these outward things, and then assuming that they are reflective of some inward orientation, inward value. Identity really has both of those hands doesn’t it, an outward and an inward part.
Oh, very much so. And, I think it’s so important to recognize that what we see on the outward a lot of times does reflect or we assume that it reflects certain ideas or beliefs or values. And, therefore when we see somebody else, a lot of things, a lot of judgements come to mind or conclusions we come to about who they are or what matters to them or what they might be like, or what they might be thinking. And many times that is reflective of what’s going on inside. But then there’s also this piece of what we see on the outside doesn’t necessarily always reflect what’s going on internally or necessarily the person or the judgment that comes to mind in our own mind about who they maybe are, what they might think, what they might value. It may be quite different. And I think this picture and the reality that this is the same boy helps us see that the outward shifts. But in many ways he’s the same boy and probably still cares about and values the very same things he did, whichever picture it was.
Nick, love to hear from your experience too outward and inward. You know, you’ve given some really, really good examples of the ball team or having an AC identity early on and then you had a work identity. Would love to hear your thoughts on what outward inward looked like in your experience.
Well, you know, I think if everybody’s honest with their self that we have grown up with biases and with ways of thinking and filtering how the external like gives us a certain picture of someone. And I think scripturally it’s very clear, especially when you can go out throughout the Scriptures. But take what James wrote in chapter two of James around the pitfall of prejudging. And so when you prejudge, I think you have to base it on something. And oftentimes that is on the external.
And so again, as from a pastoral perspective as ministering couples, we really have to pray that God will give us the grace to look through whoever the person is and see that they are a child, that they are someone God wants to be bearing His image. And so, I think it’s particularly important for us, and I can just say for me it’s been, I’m thankful for the experiences and the failures I’ve had in this regard.
And I’ve been humbled by people who I might think look a certain way or are from a certain place. And then you get to know them and it’s like, wow, did I really miss that? And so we have to watch that. We have to watch it in our church. People who are on the margins. Are they getting the time that they deserve from us and from others? Or are they feeling marginalized because of how they look or even what their interests are? This is a really important one. I appreciated this picture and this discussion.
I appreciate that. I think as it is, I think there’s something very profound about the inner working of the outward and the inward. And Brian, I think you said it well. We want the outward to reflect the inward, and that’s certainly our intention and ought to be our intention. But at some level, outward things are arbitrary. I look at the braids of the first one, you know, and immediately I’m thinking something that meaning that I can ascribe to the braids.
But at the end of the day, you know, what can I? And, so yeah, I agree. I think the picture does tell us a lot. It’s a lesson in and of itself. Brian, let’s go now a little bit to the complexity of identity. Okay. I want you to speak to this slide here, it’s somewhat like a thumbprint. Anyway, fill this out.
I think that one of the things that’s helpful or important here, like you said, that identity is certainly a very complex makeup of a lot of different parts in many ways even, I think as, you were alluding to Brother Nick, is that as we go through seasons of life, a lot of times, you know, just a couple of these really pop and the rest of these maybe go into the background.
But it’s important, I think, to recognize that there are lots of different things that make up who we are for ourselves, but even as we interact with others that maybe they’re telling us they’re all about their role and maybe their spiritual gifts, and those are wonderful parts of who they are, but let’s say they’re really discouraged in those places.
Well, we also want them to be able to recognize and think about. What are your experiences and what are your interests and some of those other things, and flush that out to be able to say, boy, if this area of life isn’t going well or you don’t like where that’s headed, let’s talk through that. But also remember that’s not all of who you are. And, being able to highlight the reality that where we’re at in a certain thing isn’t everything about who we are. Even if though it maybe is a really big deal at the time.
Brian, speak to that. So we see here in this particular slide that rolls as a long bar. And, experiences for example, is quite a bit shorter. Explain what we should get out of the meaning of this slide. Use those two categories.
So for example, here, what this is, these bars are representing is how important that is to a particular individual at that particular time. For this person, the roles that they’re in, let’s say that’s their career or maybe the fact that they’re, a minister, that’s a really important to them, whereas experiences, maybe is quite a bit lower. What they’ve walked through, they haven’t had a lot of life experience or those experiences aren’t really on the forefront of their mind. They’re still important, but not the thing that is maybe really at the forefront of their mind.
Okay. And, I liked how you said there with the experiences, it’s not that they are not important, it’s just that they don’t impact the person’s view of themselves. Exactly. While they may have traveled the world, they don’t see themselves as a world traveler. That’s not necessarily the way they posture or position themselves. Even though they are a well-traveled person, but their role is important to them. And that could easily switch. Exactly. A person having might have a position or a role that is quite prestigious, but it doesn’t view themselves day in and day out, just not going into that person’s decision making, but that they are a world traveler and they see themselves as that. And, that could be so, could be see these things. You can imagine the thumbprint then being these bars would change for every given person. Nick, I would like, you know, as you think about interacting with people and they, each one has got one of these, right. How does that inform maybe how you would view them or how you would interact with them or how you might understand them?
Well, first of all, I wanna say that when we started talking about this topic, my left brain goes haywire and says, look, you know, it’s pretty clear what our identity is. We’re Christians, our identity is to be who we are in Christ. And God’s purpose was for us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Nd I really appreciate this chart though, because I think you actually said it Matt, as we were preparing for this, that if you don’t, recognize the complexity of identity and this kind of profile and this is real life, and you jump to the ultimate identity we have in Christ, you could lose or miss other aspects that shape a person’s identity.
And so I found this to be very relatable, this profile. And I find that some of the people that struggle in our congregation or in spheres that I’ve been involved in are they have these aspects of their profile that on the surface aren’t good or bad. That’s just who they are. And if you dismiss those and they’re important, and let’s just take one, the love of music, okay?
If somehow, you know, you don’t really appreciate that and they don’t feel appreciated for that gift they have, then they start to wonder where they fit. And it relates to that identity of who they are in Christ. And you could go through a host of these things and say, oh yeah, that’s how so-and-so is wired.
And if they don’t find a fit with that or an appreciation for how that can be used, it can be frustrating and a struggle for them and their identity. So I think being patient and walking through and really investing and validating in the gifts that God has given the people we serve is really important for them. And it helps them to find the kind of role they would have in the church community that could be meaningful and give them joy.
Right, I think that’s such a great point. I mean, one of the things that makes me think of is sometimes when we think of the identity as being a Christian, if we don’t think about it through this lens, sometimes we rule people out or we rule interest or ruled out that maybe can fit within the kingdom and we want to welcome them in and say, oh, okay, the kingdom, the body. What does that look like for us to be a full body that’s got lots of different gifts and we figure out how those might be able to be used together and yeah. We’d love to have you, a part of us and oh man, that’s really exciting. And, this, I think helps highlight, oh, that can look a lot of different ways and we can appreciate and value each other and still have that core identity of being in Christ together.
It really seems like Ephesians 4, it lays it out so well where we have this oneness that comes from one God, one spirit, one baptism. We are part of Christ’s kingdom and we’re one, yet we are made with unique gifts. We’re very diverse. And then we recognize Jesus as the head and we’re growing up into Him. So recognizing these gifts, I think is not just like, oh, this makes sense. This is how God designed us and His church community.
Excellent. And, the example that you gave Brother Nick of the musical person, I think is just spot on. We are most wounded, insulted, offended. Choose your word. When we feel attacked or misunderstood or undervalued in our largest bar, right? And that goes for everybody. And right now I’m thinking about my 18 year old son, and I wish I could tweak the bars on his profile because, and I don’t have that ability as much as I’m trying. I do see some of his heartache right here in these bars. So, it is what it is, but it also gives us a little bit of a map forward. It’s helpful in knowing people, I think.
A little biblical sidebar on that. You know, you think about Mary and Martha, right? And you think about their gifts seem to be different. Their desires or gifts or what made them feel good. And I often think like we’ve got this Swiss German culture that really values cleanliness and orderliness and squareness and, you know, process and this and that. And, here is Mary just wanting to talk. And you know, we have people like that in our church that they relate, well, they may not be the first ones to clean up after lunch, but they’re going to go find someone and spend some time listening to them and caring about ’em. So I think it’s laced throughout Scripture, this concept.
Yes. Oh, that’s an excellent, excellent example. Let’s, we’ve already alluded to this concept identity shift over a lifetime. Brother Nick, your testimony was really that they have shifted. Brian, you, I think, wove in this important concept of change. At when things change, and you look at all of these headings here, loss is a change, transitions development, just natural aging process, right? Role shifts. These are all changes at some level. We can be sure that there’s going to be some identity work required with that. Brian, speak to that a bit.
Yeah, if we think of it again, just from a very simple question of who am I? And, you think about any of these changes, these transitions that a lot of that, how you answer that question, who I am, who am I in, like a very practical way is gonna shift. So let’s even think of, you know, life experience raising kids. You know, who I am as a dad is gonna look different when my kids are five versus when they’re 25 versus, you know, when they’re 55. And, answering that question and wrapping my mind around what does that look like and how do I carry that rollout in a practical sense is just gonna have to naturally shift as life shifts.
I appreciate that. Nick, you really laid the groundwork in your testimony talking about the shifting of these different things, and then you’ve talked about this Christ-centered identity. Just talk a little bit now about, set that Christ-centered identity up next against these shifts that happen in a lifetime. What advantage, I think we all know it, but just put words to it.
Yeah, well, you know, one of you mentioned it earlier about this is really kind of like an embodiment of sanctification growing into who we are. And I would first wanna say I’m 61 and I am definitely still a work in process. But what I would say is I look less on my past to say, oh man, I’m glad I’m past that. And say, well, what was God teaching me? And what’s different for me, what makes this seem like clearer in my mind is that all these things that make up our profile and our interest and desires and roles, positions, if it’s cycled through who we are in Christ, it all becomes more meaningful.
And I would say the same for an athlete that stays an athlete, but is committed to Christ and lives their life in a way that reflects Jesus. So everything can be done. I remember at one stage in my career, and this was maybe about 15, 16 years ago, I had a friend of mine, Christian friend, I said, look, I need to get out of this grind.
I said, I need to probably go into ministry. It feels like I’m just putting my effort into something that’s not really for the kingdom. And he looked at me and said, why don’t you do that where you are? I mean, you have a leadership role in a company. It seems like a perfect place for you to minister to people in a way that you can affect so many others. And it really had an effect on me. And I think it’s relevant to the life of experiences where you are and how all of it can cycle through who you are in Christ and be more meaningful.
I think that’s so well said. That person really helped you see that your identity really comes from within rather than being dictated by your surroundings, which I think is a really, really powerful point of identity. Brian, again, before we advance to this slide here, as you speak to us ministers and wives as people in our churches are going through all of these things. How should this inform our day in and day out interaction with folks?
Well, I think a starting point that comes to mind is just the reality that as we walk through life and things get shook, that that tends to be really unsettling and hard. And that I don’t think we want to shy away from that, but just to know that is a reality for us personally, as well as those that we’re interacting with. There is something that’s going on in their life, in their world that probably is changing or transitioning. And in that brings a lot of questions and being able to be cognizant of that, to be able to connect with that, to be able to relate with that in a way that I think that helps us then speak into, you know, the foundation of who we are as in Christ and reminding ourselves of that as we continue to sort through what this thing looks like right now that we’re walking through.
But seeing that too is a very relevant thing that I think the Lord is using to refine them as well as us. And not just something that we just pass off. Cuz I think one of the things that’s really easy to do is that when we’re in a different season of life, when we’re walking through a different transition, it’s easy to look at that and downplay that one. Oh, that’s not a big deal. And the reality is when we’re in that season, it is a big.
You’re really raising us to a level of empathy and awareness to recognize, oh, there’s a transition that just happened in this person’s life. I can assume then that there’s probably some identity work that’s being done, or they might be experiencing an identity crisis at some level. That I can walk beside or be patient with or help. Just give me some understanding for that person. Which really leads us to the next slide. Brian, I want you to speak to this as well, and that is identity formation. So there’s been a lot of work done in this area and how identity is formed in a person. And so we’ve got a matrix here. I’m gonna let you explain what this means and what we can learn from it.
Yeah, so I think this is, you’ll see in the middle there, there’s four different identity places that you can land statuses and they really are the combination of exploration and exploration is when we’re kind of investigating, trying to figure out where, what do I think about this thing? Or where, what do I believe or where do I stand? So we’re exploring a certain topic, and we’ll go through some examples here. And you can either be high or low in that exploration phase of things. And then the other side is the commitment. Once you’ve done some exploring or even prior to the exploring, you can make a commitment to something, okay, this is where I stand. This is what I think, this is what I believe.
And depending on whether you’re high or low, then that kind of tells you where you’re at as far as identity formation. The ideal that is really the healthiest place would be if we’ve had a time of exploration. We’ve had a lot of opportunity to do that as well as then that’s helped us make a strong commitment. And that’s what’s in quadrant one, that identity achievement. So for example, if we think of it, you could think of this through a lens of like, you know, the work that you do or choosing your college degree or what matters to you as far as character traits. But maybe I’ll just use one and then we can circle back and use different ones if we want.
But let’s pick the identity piece of being an Apostolic Christian. So my kids are really young and at this point they kind of just see themselves as being part of the Apostolic Christian Church. They really haven’t explored that and they really haven’t made a strong commitment to it. So I would say they’re in that fourth quadrant, identity diffusion. But as they age and as they grow up, the reality is they will either take on a foreclosed identity, which means they really haven’t explored it, they’ve just decided that they’re gonna be Apostolic Christian, because mom and dad are, they’ve not explored it, but they’ve made a really strong commitment.
Now, as a parent, that’s really exciting, but the problem with foreclosed identity is usually what happens without the exploration is at some point in life that gets challenged or the, oh, so why are you there? Or what do you think about this thing? And if it’s not their internal belief, then that really leads to a lot of fractioning. And questions can be really discerning and hard for people to sort through. So what I’d really like is for them to move from identity to fusion up into identity moratorium, which is where they’re exploring, okay, what do I believe in? Okay. Dad and mom, they’re here. And what does it mean to be a part of a church body? And what are the things that matter to me related to first, a commitment to Christ, what does that look like and what’s important? And okay then a local church body, why is that important and how would I sort through that? And really doing that exploration. But as a parent in this situation, that’s uncomfortable because you don’t know for sure where they’re gonna land.
Cuz you have to give them the freedom. You wanna walk by them with that exploration. But then hopefully then that leads to, okay, now we’ve done the exploring and now yeah, I’m ready to make a commitment. And when that’s together, then that’s that identity achievement. Now that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t ever shift after that, but that’s a healthy way to sort through that and that’s an identity that’s likely to last. And then if it does need to be reevaluated, it won’t be nearly as shaking to the individual.
I think that’s really fascinating. I think that’s helpful, I think for all of us to understand h how this formation works. In particular, I want to call this one out here, Brian, cuz as you were talking, I could agree. When people land here, we think they’re in a good place because there’s high commitment and sometimes we don’t know what kind of exploration went into that. Think of just faith in general for that in commitments. And, Nick, I would be glad for you to jump in this conversation.
I think, and this is just a conversation here, right? I think if we were to look at average testimony and baptism, for example, 50 years ago, I’m guessing the age was older than what it is now. I think if we look at average baptism, average repentant in our church, we’ve got younger individuals. And I wonder how much that plays into even this matter here at hand of identifying with Christ, identifying with the church family that I’m a part in. Nick, I’d be glad for you to weigh in on that.
When I was listening to Brian, I really appreciated your explanation, Brian, and the example of your children. And as I think about discipleship and applying it to converts, it’s very, very important that we have ways that we explore this with them in our church. And it doesn’t really just have to be ministers and wives. It can be others in the church who have experience to help walk this through with them.
You know, the early part of this, you had a slide that said walking wisely with them. I can’t remember the term exactly, but it was walk wisely with people. I mean, this is critical, especially as they come to Christ at a young age and they have questions they don’t even know to ask yet. And so to be there for them and to explore with them and to make exploration safe, I think, I don’t know if it’s, you can tell me this, but it seems like a lack of exploration would make it hard to be committed except on the surface. And so I find this to be a very helpful framework to think through about this discipleship, especially of young believers.
Brian, I want you to say a little bit more about this foreclosure space. What happens when things dismantle for this individual? And again, we can talk about this from a church identity standpoint, we could talk about it in a faith standpoint. We could talk about a political one, right? Subscribing to a political party without exploration. And then when the wheels fall off. Tell us a little bit about that situation.
Well, it just brings so many things into question when that happens. And again, sometimes that just happens as part of life, but this can be a big part of that if there’s not been any exploration and all of a sudden that possibility of exploring gets exposed and it never took place, then it does, it just makes them question like, oh, what, why didn’t you, dad, ever bring this up?
Or why? I was never even asked, do I want to take over the family farm and when that happens and it can lead to bitterness or frustration and then just a real questioning of things that used to be pretty secure and then just throwing everything out because of this one thing that really blew up at least emotionally or internally from that kind of a standpoint and just shatters a lot of things, or it has the potential to.
Really appreciate that and I think that’s really helpful to see that we can really go in one or two directions of this, throwing all things out. And, I think another one is just doubling down as well. To get really rigid and like, oh, it has to be, this is the only way that, this is the way that I’ve always thought of it, and it can’t be good if it’s not this way. And, like you said, because I’m afraid of the exploration. Exactly.
I just don’t see how this is like, you guys are more skilled at this than I am. But it just seems to me like it would be really hard to be highly committed to an identity, but not explore, not be explored. It doesn’t seem like it’s even possible.
Well, I just threw a political example out. I think that with the political climate we’ve had right now, I think there’s a lot of fallout right now of people saying, oh, wait a minute here. Let me think about this. Right? Sure.
And, so that’s helpful. So you can be committed to, this is kind of who I am here, but maybe at a surface level, and when pressed, then you can’t answer, or you can’t really, maybe can’t articulate why.
And so, or when things, or when things turn sour. Or you’re offended and hurt by this whatever, then you start to ask questions in the thought of being something different. Right. Anyway, and I’m just using politics as another case example where people find identity. Among many other things. Thank you.
So let’s then look at who holds sway in pronouncement? The self, the group, the Lord? We’ve started with the Lord, and His pronouncement. We’re gonna end with the Lord. So we’re gonna let that one go for now and let’s just focus on the self in the group. Brian, I’ve heard you speak before to the culture that we live in, how identity is formed, what people have to hear. Speak to this slide with regards to this generation.
So I think it’s helpful to just consider the culture that we’re in and its influence on us and the general message, maybe the overarching message of the culture is that we look inside, we look to ourselves, what do we feel, what do we desire? And, that’s the thing that we look to that defines us. That’s the thing that kind of sets the path of what is true and what we ought to pursue. And so right now we live in a culture and in a setting that says the self is really the thing that matters at times, maybe even the only thing that matters. And that is kind of lord, if you will, in our current climate for sure.
Which is really why it’s hard for me to change the bars on my son’s identity profile. Right. As much as I would like to change those and say, Hey, this one here, and then not so much on this one. At some level, he’s gotta construct it. And that’s a little bit about the culture that he lives in and his in the way. But, that hasn’t always been the case. There has been groups, the Klan and that type of thing. And so Nick, I’d love you to speak to, what is it we would want church identity. How important is church identity? How important is it for the church to be able to speak identity into people?
I actually think it’s vital. I love this slide and I think that what Brian said, and you’ve said it too, Matt, about self-actualization and the whole emphasis on the current culture, on realizing who you are. And, it’s not wrong per se, but absent obviously the Lord overarching, our identity. But I think the group is critical. And I think there’s this weird paradox that goes on with people. People are encouraged to be who they are and to sort of tell us your experience and then find yourself. But at the same time, there’s this longing people have to be part of something. And so church is God’s design for where His people are, to be functioning, to be loving, to be reflecting Him in community.
And so I love this idea of the group. And I recently read, it was really on a matter of the challenge with gender identity that we’re facing today in society. And it was a man named Carl Truman, who’s a theologian, and he teaches at Grove City College. And he wrote this, and it really was profound in this regard. He said, the strongest identities I have forming the strongest intuitions, derive from the strongest communities to which I belong. We become by belonging. So, and we had several questions from this group around the role of church in all of this. And I think it’s central. Central because it’s God’s vehicle and back to fit and gifts and placement. And identity, how is it played out? It’s where we belong. And I I love that.
And which was part of the definition of identity is belonging. Which, if the belonging is in a group, then that group certainly has a voice in it. And if we don’t have in church a strong community, they will ultimately, people will find a place where there is a strong one. And this whole comment was about the LGBTQ community and how people who, how they do it marginalized in regard, they’re gonna go to a place where they feel they belong. And so we want that to be the church, to be God’s church where people find their belonging.
And, I think where too, where we can, if we’re not careful knowing the pull of the culture and the drumbeat of culture, we can say that everything, the uniqueness is bad. And we don’t wanna say that either. We wanna say that the church is a place where uniqueness is allowed as it’s underneath the umbrella of what is true, according to the Lord. Amen. Exactly. But I appreciate what you’re saying there, Nick, that’s so pivotal.
And I just wanna raise that, I think you’re absolutely right, Brian and Nick as well. But let’s just be clear about this difficult tension of uniqueness and likeness. And what does identity look like? And is it okay to have an identity outward marker that’s not biblical in the sense pronounced like God says this, which maybe church lunche is that, right?
Not biblical, but identity at some level. And so I do think the conversation gets very important as we think about what identity looks like and what uniqueness, what likeness it forms and all of that. So we’re not gonna be able to solve it. But, let’s, we’ve got time and I was just afraid that we wouldn’t leave sufficient time for this slide here which is really the important finish as we talk about the gospel. And how the gospel has, is, a wonderful answer to identity. Brother Nick, I would love for you to speak to this slide here and what the gospel offers us as it regards this settled identity.
Well, God made each of us in His image, and it offers us a place in His kingdom equal in value. Everyone, irrespective of that profile what it looks like. And so you can find this place. And it’s not only for eternal purposes, which is a beautiful thing. We have an eternity to look forward to in the presence of God, but it also is life and its fullness and its richness, and that’s what it has to offer.
Now, I just had a privilege last week of being at Cleve Klopfenstein’s funeral. I know I didn’t ever meet Cleve. But I know his son well and his daughter-in-law and I’m close with them. And Suzanne and I sat through that funeral and it was a packed church in Peoria. And, the singing was beautiful in the back and the service was wonderful.
And Cleve had a lot of interests. He collected arrowheads. He was an athlete in high school. They had pictures of him up there in his visitation. He loved cars. He told lots of stories. He was a great-grandfather, a great husband, a great father. But the message what was most pronounced about him was he lived in the gospel and he wanted the gospel to be prevalent in his life and all these other things ended up becoming wonderful in that context, in cycle through the gospel. And I just sat there reflecting on a life that had just tragically passed away, and to be able to look at the fullness that was there. Because it was the gospel and his position as a child of God that made everything else meaningful. It was just wonderful.
Nick, you just answered the question that I was gonna ask and I thought, I think it’s a really challenging question and that is, does our identity in Christ dissolve any sort of uniqueness. I’m a brother to Christ. You’re a brother to Christ. Brian’s a brother to Christ. Guess we’re brothers to Christ. That’s all. We are the same. But you just gave an example where the identity in Christ then allows all of that uniqueness to find its proper place, proper proportion, proper use, proper effect. And it was really beautiful. And I think you answered that in such a satisfying way and really, really welcome to every creature on the earth, right? Every human on the earth. Brian, speak to this slide here. As you work with people, you definitely see this first picture, right? Where they’re swirling with identities constructed from without. And you’re able to supply to them another identity structure. Speak to that.
Well, I, I think it is one of those things that whether we go back to where we started, but our enemy is just inundating us with, you know, why we’re not good enough, or why we can’t do this, or you didn’t measure up here. And, so if you think about an identity that’s formed from achievement, that’s basically what an identity is apart from Christ, it’s how good are you or what have you accomplished? And there’s just ongoing striving.
But at the end of the day when you’re, when you’re really pressed, there’s no reason that you can actually conclude that there is, you have value or worth or uniqueness for that matter, or belonging apart from there being something outside that says, this is who you are now go live it and go live it in lots of different ways and trust that this is who you are, even when maybe your outward marker or your behavior is contrary to that, but work at aligning that outward stuff with what, who is actually who you are in Christ.
That I think Christianity is really, about learning how to live who we actually are, whereas a identity outside of that is trying to become something that we aren’t. And, that’s impossible. And, so in many ways, I don’t know if that makes sense, but I think a lot of the counseling work and even just sorting through life maybe could be summed up in some of those kinds of ideas.
And if I’m correct, correct me if I’m wrong, but even when we, and I don’t wanna simplify addictions and these types of things, right? Because they’re very complex but a lot of the things that ail us and we struggle with really do find part of its answer in a good founded identity and then living out that identity. Am I right about that, Brian?
I think so. Yeah. I think so. And even in that, like moving into that exploration when we have a really strong sense that I’m a failure or I’m not a good dad, or I’m not a good mom, to move into exploration with that and say, wait a second, is that true? Is that what the Lord would say about that? As I would look at my community and is that what they would say? And, moving into that exploration that would hopefully expose that lie to the truth. And through that, slowly but surely, it could shift and align with what is actually true.
Yeah, appreciate that. I wanna just mention with five minutes left, if anybody does have a question, they’re free to unmute themselves. This is the last slide. And ask that question. We’ll be glad to have you on there. Brother Nick, you have something to say here?
I just wanted to say that none of this is affirming that sinful lifestyles are okay. I think that’s really an important point. But what it’s saying is that have we all not struggled with something and need help? I think some of the most powerful friends I had were Christians or ones that have gone through addictions and have gotten help and have realized that didn’t define them, but it can be used to help others. And there are many other things that we wouldn’t affirm as acceptable lifestyles, but I don’t think that means we shun. We want to explore and find out what’s underneath all that and really try to provide help. So, I appreciate it. Really that last discussion, Brian, you and Matt had. Thank you.
Yeah. And the world is gonna say, if this is the way you feel and this is what you experience, well then that must mean you’re this. Exactly. Now go and live according to that. Right? And the gospel says, this is my beloved Son. I’m well pleased with Him. Go and live the free life even amid Satan’s attack, which is what Jesus wonderfully did out of that founded identity. I’ve been delighted with the conversation. Really, really appreciate it. Arlan, if you’ve got anything you want to share, you can share that or a question that wants to be asked that can be chatted in.
Likewise. I really appreciate brothers and thank you so much for sharing. I wanna just kind of close with a couple of questions that were submitted. As people registered and really bench towards the pastoral side of this. And so just appreciate your thoughts on this area of, I’ll just read two things here.
So one person wrote in and they said, we know what is true about biblical identity, but how do we actually help people and others believe it deep inside of them? It seems like sometimes people believe what the Bible says about them, but their hearts don’t feel it. So how do you help with that head knowledge versus heart knowledge battle that we can face. Is there any kind of counsel or teaching you would encourage with that?
And a similar question that I think kind of dovetails into that. If you have someone who is struggling maybe with their past and thinking about the past and the influence, how do you help them understand that their past has an influence on them, but it doesn’t have to define them? And a little bit of a question maybe of acceptance and understanding. How to move on from that. Any thoughts to kind of speak into, if you’re thinking about from a pastoral perspective there, or a constant perspective there? Brian?
I would just start by saying those are big questions. I think what’s really important, number one, is that I’m gonna speak more from minister couples now as we minister to and pastor our church. But also this could be something that the church body in its entirety and mature believers can help with.
Number one is, it’s back to some of the small things watching for people in the margins. Biblically speaking, the Bible is filled with people who have had challenges and problems and were able to find themselves. I mean, I think of like Rahab, you know, Rahab had a pretty bad past.
I believe that’s her past, but they could continue to call her Rahab, the Harlot, even in the New Testament. But what she did was amazing. And so back to the past thing, I think God can actually use that, not to validate bad choices or sin, but to use that experience to really show others the redemption that comes from walking in Christ and to make that as we preach and we teach and we counsel to be open and encourage people to be transparent about what they’re challenged with, about what’s dark in their lives so that we can lean into it and not pretend that everything’s just fine. Or should be just fine. So if we can kind of foster that kind of environment of vulnerability, transparency, and then go to the Word with so many examples of God’s redemption and bringing to life your identity. Back to where Brian was saying about validating those things that are important to you that can be used for His kingdom.
I love that example, Nick, with Rahab the Harlot. I love it. I think that answers the question so well, Brian, speak to that feeling. This individual says, I know I’m supposed to, you know, making my Christ-centered identity real. Sometimes it seems like we have, feeling is really important in making it real, right? So I know you think about feelings a lot.
Yeah, I think feelings are a wonderful gift from God but they’re also something that can be very, very confusing. And, I would say too, if I go back to even just the kind of the cultural climate right now, that in many ways feelings are part of that what is really looked to as the definer of what is right and good and true and just to be aware of that and what kind of value we’re putting to them. I think feelings are really a helpful indicator and maybe even like a road sign that tells us information and we want to take that information in.
But sometimes those signs get mixed up. And just to be quick, to be a little bit skeptical if we’re saying our feelings say this, but other people are saying this, the Scriptures are saying this, like to try to, what I would say is breed a bit of skepticism towards this. Now sometimes what we try to do, as helpers is just say, well, we know that’s not true, just stop it.
And, it makes sense. But also to bridge that gap between what somebody knows is true and what their feelings generally is gonna take a lot of slow wrestling and exposing your heart and mind to truth and that tends to be a slow journey. So I just encourage people to be really patient with that. Continue to remind of what is true and well, your feelings might say that, but I want you to know this is what I believe. This is what I would say. And also this is what I think the Scriptures would say. And, I think another maybe just practical question would be, well, what would you say to somebody else in that position if it weren’t you? What would you say to them? And that generally helps reveal what is true. And again, they might say, well, I’d say this to them, but it’s just hard to believe that’s true. I know. And that’s okay. And just being patient cuz that’s a slow shift a lot of times.
Thanks. Yeah, I really appreciate that. And I just appreciate the mention about the power of testimony too, and the power of learning from each other and walking through experiences together, I think brings color to that which we experience.
Anything else, brothers, that you’d like to share or any other last thoughts, Matt, you might have. I don’t, really appreciate it. Thank you both. I would just encourage all on the phone and all of our leaders to be what you just said, Arlan, which is that to be transparent yourself and share your own struggles and your own challenges.
Because I think that also helps people understand that this is what they might be going through is real, and that there’s hope and that there’s a connection to what they would be going through and empathy, let’s call it empathy.
Thanks for that brother, Nick. Brian, any last thoughts? No. Just grateful to be a part of this and I think it’s a helpful discussion and hopefully just gets that conversation started and gets us thinking in these areas. I’ve enjoyed the discussion with you brothers.
Well, thank you all. Thank you, Matt, for leading this conversation. There’s much more resources on this on our website. There’s a whole course that we have on identity and there’s other conversations. We’ve had podcasts and such. It’s a heavy topic. It’s a weighty topic, but it’s a powerful topic and it’s a topic that God can use in so many wonderful ways to really bless His body and draw us closer to Him. So, thanks for being with us and we wish you God’s blessings tonight.