Identity Crisis: The Biblical Basis for Identity | Genesis 1-2
Brian Hedges | May 15, 2022
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to Genesis 1-2, and we’re going to be reading there in just a moment.
Today I’m kicking off a new series; this will be a short series, just a few weeks probably, called “Identity Crisis.” The reason for this series is because there’s a lot of confusion in our culture about identity. We live in an age of identity politics, we live in a time where people regularly go through something called an identity crisis, trying to figure out who they really are.
There is a theologian that I’ve read and found very helpful, I recommend him to you, named Carl Trueman. He’s written a couple of books on this in the last few years, and I’ll just paraphrase him, but he poses a scenario that helps us understand what has happened in our culture. He says, essentially, that 50 or 100 years ago, if a man walked into his doctor’s office and said, “Doctor, I have a problem: I think I’m really a woman,” the doctor would have said, “You do have a problem. You have a problem with your mind, and we need to conform your mind to your body.” Today, if a man walked into a doctor’s office and said, “Doctor, I have a problem: I think I’m a woman,” the doctor would most likely say, “Yes, you do have a problem. You have a body problem. We need to conform your body to match your mind..”
That dramatically shows the shift that has happened in our culture in the way in which we are thinking about identity.
This morning what I want us to do is just begin to dig into this issue of identity, and then to ground us in a biblical teaching about what it means to be a human being in the book of Genesis.
Now, let me just make a couple of caveats here at the beginning.
Our normal diet of teaching and preaching here at Redeemer Church is sequential exposition through Scripture. We take books of the Bible and we work through them. That’s not what this series is going to be. This is going to be probably three weeks, maybe four or five (we’ll see), and then we’ll be back into a book of the Bible. So this morning, if you feel like, I wish Brian was a little bit more in the text, we’re going to get there by the end of the sermon. Normally we’re starting there and spending more time there, but I’m going to have to do a little bit more legwork today to help us understand what’s going on in our culture.
The second caveat is I am going to talk about things that are sensitive issues, and if you’re a parent of young children, you may or may not want your children to hear all of this I’m going to say, and if not, this is fair warning. If you feel like you need to pull them out, I completely understand.
I want to begin by reading some passages of Scripture, and I will return to this in the last point of the sermon to talk about what the Bible says about identity, but I want to go ahead and read these passages first. They can be in your minds and you can mark them in your Bibles. I’m going to read three passages out of Genesis 1-2.
First of all, Genesis 1:26-28.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
Drop down to Genesis 2:7-9. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Drop down to verse 15. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”
This is God’s word.
Of course, we’ve just read portions of the creation story from Genesis 1-2, and that will be foundational for our understanding of identity.
What are we talking about this morning as we talk about identity? I want us to look at three things: the nature of identity, the crisis of identity, and the biblical basis for identity.
1. The Nature of Identity
“How do I know who I am?” What is identity anyway?
If you look up in a concordance of the Bible the word “identity,” you won’t find it.. The word “identity” is not in the Bible. There are words that are similar; we have words such as “image,” “likeness,” as we’ve seen here in this passage. There are certainly names. Of course, people in the ancient world had some sense of who they were. They had a subjective sense of self just as we do, but the term “identity” is a relatively modern term, and it’s a word that’s mostly used in social psychology, but it’s crept into our culture, so that all of us use the language of identity.
Here are a couple of definitions. This is from The Oxford English Dictionary. I think this is about as precise as you can get.
The OED defines identity, first of all, as, “The quality or condition of being the same in substance, composition, nature, properties, or in particular qualities under consideration. Absolute or essential sameness, oneness.”
Identity has this idea of being the same person across situations. It probably derives from the Latin word idem, which means “same.”
The Oxford English Dictionary continues (second definition), “The sameness of a person or thing at all times or in all circumstances. The condition or fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else; individuality; personality.”
This is the more modern definition beginning to emerge, right? It is this sense of who we are, this sense of self.
Tim Keller’s been helpful to me on this. He has two chapters on identity in his book Making Sense of God. He, essentially, defines identity in this way; he says it consists of two things: “a sense of self that is durable and a sense of worth,” these two things together.
Now, I want to suggest something a little bit different than that to ground us in Scripture, because I think a biblical understanding of who we are as human beings—that is, a biblical understanding of identity—has to correspond also with a biblical understanding of human nature, and there are two components to this, which you can see in this diagram.
There’s a larger circle and a smaller circle. The larger circle answers the question, “What am I?” It really has to do with human nature. This has to do objectively with what we are as human beings who have been created in the image of God, as we have just seen here in Genesis. I think we can extend this to say that it includes all of the objective things about us, but especially who we are as human beings who are created in the image of God. That objective reality is a crucial part of who we are.
The subjective aspect of this, which is in the inner circle, the green circle here, has to do with our self-understanding. This is subjective, as we ask and answer the question, “Who am I?”
This is subjective to each one of us. We will not all answer that question in exactly the same way. But we really only have a healthy understanding of identity when we answer that second question, “Who am I?” in a way that rightly corresponds with the first question, “What am I?”
There are these two components, then, to a biblical understanding of human beings: both human nature and the more subjective inward perception.
Keller goes on, and I find this helpful. Keller says, “In all former cultures people developed a self by moving toward others, seeking their attachment. We found ourselves, as it were, in the faces of others. But modern secularism teaches that we can develop ourselves only by looking inward, by detaching and leaving home, religious communities, and all other requirements, so that we can make our own choices and determine who we are for ourselves.”
That essentially shows the two different approaches people have had with identity. Keller goes on to say, “The heroic narrative in the traditional way is self-sacrifice." You are your duties, and your sense of worth and self depends on honoring your commitments and receiving honor from your community as you are attached to other people in meaningful ways. That’s the traditional understanding of identity. “But in modern Western culture, the heroic narrative is self-assertion." You are whatever you invent yourself to be, whatever you construct yourself to be. You are your individual dreams and desires, and your self-worth depends on the dignity you bestow upon yourself because you have asserted those dreams and desires, whatever the cost.
Now, we’re going to see, especially next week, that there are problems with both of those approaches, both the traditional approach and the modern approach. The biblical approach doesn’t fit either one of those, but it is that modern approach especially I want to lean into now as we think about the second point this morning.
2. The Crisis of Identity
This modern approach to identity I think leads us into a crisis, and here we’re dealing with the problem of what has been called “expressive individualism.” I’ll explain that term in a minute.
Let’s look at this diagram again. The diagram here of two components of a biblical understanding of human nature, objective and subjective. This is what has happened in the modern world: the subjective has eclipsed the objective. “Who am I?” has now eclipsed the question, “What am I?” and the subjective has eclipsed the objective.
Now, when people are thinking about identity, they’re not really thinking about human nature. They’re not even thinking about the biological realities of who they are; it’s solely constructed from within. “You are whoever you determine yourself to be,” and if your body or your relationships or your social commitments don’t fit that inward desire, you change everything externally in order to match the inward desire.
Now, this is the fruit of what sociologists have called “expressive individualism.” Here’s a definition. This comes from Robert Bellah’s book Habits of the Heart; this is an important book of sociology that examines the historical roots of expressive individualism and what has happened in American culture and society over the last couple hundred years. Robert Bellah defines expressive individualism like this: “Expressive individualism holds that each person has a unique core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed if individuality is to be realized.”
That’s kind of abstract, but the core of this is this idea that, “What I feel or what I desire for myself on the inside must be expressed if I am to really achieve individuality and identity.” Let me give you a lot of examples.
First of all, Walt Whitman. Most of you aren’t going to know who he is, but if you are an English lit major you’re going to know Walt Whitman. Walt Whitman was one of the architects of this from a literary point of view. Walt Whitman, who wrote “Song of Myself,” “Leaves of Grass,” “Song of the Open Road.” Here’s a quotation from Walt Whitman.
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
“Leading wherever I choose!" Self-determination; that’s the heart of expressive individualism.
This comes through in popular culture all the time in every conceivable possible way. Do you know who Adele is? Anybody ever listen to the music of Adele? Listen, this isn’t a knock on Adele as a talented musician. I like Adele, I listen to Adele sometimes at the gym. But Adele’s music certainly is driven by this expressive individualism.
Her latest album is called 30. She’s actually, I think, 32 or 33 years old now, but she was divorced after one year of marriage when she was 30. Out of that divorce and now her ongoing relationship with her son she wrote this album.
Now, you have to understand that Adele did not get a divorce because of abuse, because of infidelity, because of any really significant problem in marriage. In fact, she actually said in an interview with Vogue magazine, “I was just going through the motions, and I wasn’t happy. Neither of us did anything wrong, neither of us hurt each other, or anything like that. It was just that I want my son to see me really love and be loved. It’s really important to me. I’ve been on my journey to find my true happiness ever since.” That’s her own explanation of why she had a divorce.
In one of songs on the album, “To Be Loved,” she puts it this way:
Let it be known that I will choose to lose.
It’s a sacrifice, but I can’t live that lie.
Let it be known, let it be known,
That I tried.
What’s the sacrifice that she’s making? Again, this is the heroic narrative of self-assertion. The sacrifice she’s making is the sacrifice of her marriage. She can’t live the lie of not feeling like her true self in her marriage, so she gives up the marriage. She chooses to lose, she makes a sacrifice, but she makes a sacrifice in order to achieve personal fulfillment.
That’s exactly the opposite of the way people in traditional cultures would think about marriage. In traditional cultures you would think about marriage in this way: “I choose to make personal sacrifices, maybe even sacrifice elements of my own happiness, in order to honor my commitment to another person, to be faithful to my marriage, be faithful to my family, and to be a stable member of society, to honor my vows and my commitments to God.” That’s been completely turned on its head.
Here’s another example. Let me pick on Disney for a minute — Frozen. If you have a daughter who is under six years old, you’ve probably heard the song “Let It Go” a thousand times in your house. You remember Elsa. Do you remember what Elsa does? She leaves home and she throws her hair down and she starts singing, and she’s really entering into “herself,” who she really is.
This is what she says:
It’s time to see what I can do,
To test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me;
I’m free! Let it go...
Now, that is expressive individualism, and it comes through in almost every Disney movie, probably almost every Marvel movie, Star Wars movie. I mean, the most family-friendly movies are becoming increasingly less and less family-friendly, but this philosophy is coming through. It’s coming through all of our popular music, it’s coming through all the TV shows, all the commercials. This is the message from contemporary media.
Let me just pause for an application here. Parents, we need to be aware of the messages that TV and music and movies and media of all kinds are sending to our kids.
Christians used to catechize their children. This wasn’t just a Roman Catholic thing. Martin Luther wrote two catechisms, a larger and a smaller catechism. The Westminster assembly did the same thing, a larger and a shorter catechism.
A catechism was simply a list of questions and answers that explained the basics of Christian doctrine, and parents literally would have their children memorize these questions and answers in order to inculcate within them a biblical worldview. Sometimes this was necessary before a child could be baptized or be confirmed or take communion, the Lord’s Supper.
Now, almost no one does that today, and it’s hard to do. We’ve tried it; I haven’t been successful at it. It’s really hard to do. I don’t think any of us really quite have the discipline to do that in our culture today. But make no mistake: your kids are being catechized. They’re being catechized by their cell phones, by their iPads, by Netflix, by Instagram, Disney, Taylor Swift, Tik Tok, and all the rest. We’re just being naive if we are not aware of those messages and trying to counteract that with meaningful conversations, getting our kids in church, in the Bible, in youth group, in classes, in educational situations where they can be formed and shaped by a Christian worldview.
Let me give you another example. This is a children’s book that one of the young women in our church sent me photos of when she found out I was doing this series. It was a children’s book that was on the shelves in one of our local libraries, called My Own Way: Celebrating Gender Freedom for Kids.
I’m going to read it to you, the whole book. It’s really simple and really profound, what it’s saying.
Girl or boy,
What brings you joy?
Pink or blue,
It’s up to you.
Which hairstyle is best?
How will you dress?
Rise up like an ocean wave;
Be yourself, free and brave.
Girlfriend or boyfriend, mom or dad?
Only they can tell you that.
My grandma used to tell me
Everyone has their own way.
You can see the different faces,
But the rest is theirs to say.
Just be as kind as you can.
Boy or girl doesn’t cover everyone.
You might be both, you might be none.
Your truth isn’t hidden underneath your clothes;
Your truth is something only you can know.
You are not only a boy or a girl;
Inside of you is a whole wide world.
Boy or girl? None or both?
It’s your heart that matters most.
So if you’re ready, let’s all say,
“I will follow my own way.”
This is on the shelves of the libraries in our area, and this isn’t the only one. This is all over the place. So, our culture is feeding us these messages that say the way to determine who you are is to look into yourself and to follow your heart.
Now, this has led to a lot of confusion. I want to show you a video that demonstrates this confusion, but also where this begins to break down. This is a video from the Family Policy Institute of Washington, where someone goes to University of Washington and interviews some students. Now, let me just caution you, this is not a “gotcha” moment; this isn’t something to laugh at. This is tragic. The answers you’re going to see in this video are tragic. I’m going to come back and talk about how this expressive individualism has actually affected us in the church as well. I’m not only trying to critique the worldly view, but also understand how this is affecting us. I want you to see this video to see one more example of how this is working out.
Interviewer: There’s been a lot of talk about identity, but how far does it go, and is it possible to be wrong? We went to the University of Washington to find out.
Are you aware of the debate happening in Washington State around the ability to access bathrooms, locker rooms, spas, based on gender identity and gender expression?
Man: I think people should be able to have access to the facilities. I think bathrooms could and potentially should be gender-neutral, because there doesn’t need to be a classification for differences.
Woman: I think people definitely should have the ability to go into whichever locker room they want.
Man: I feel like at least public universities should do their best to accommodate those who do not have a specific gender identity.
Woman: Whether you identify as a male or female and whether your sex at birth is matching to that, you should be able to utilize the resources.
Interviewer: So, if I told you that I was a woman, what would your response be?
Woman: Good for you! Okay, yeah.
Man: Nice to meet you.
Man: I’d be like, what? Really?
Woman: I don’t have a problem with it.
Man: I’d ask you how you came to that conclusion.
Interviewer: If I told you that I was Chinese, what would your response be?
Woman: I mean, I would be a little surprised, but I would say, good for you! Be who you are!
Woman: I would maybe think you had some Chinese ancestor.
Man: I would ask you how you came to that conclusion and why you came to that conclusion.
Woman: I would have a lot of questions, just because on the outside I would assume that you’re a white man.
Interviewer: If I told you that I was seven years old, what would your response be?
Woman: I wouldn’t believe that immediately.
Man: I probably wouldn’t believe it, but I mean, it wouldn’t really bother me that much to go out of my way to know you’re wrong; I’d just be like, “Oh, okay, he wants to say he’s seven years old.”
Woman: If you feel seven at heart, then so be it, yes. Good for you!
Interviewer: So, if I wanted to enroll in a first-grade class, do you think I should be allowed to?
Man: Probably not, I guess. I mean, unless you haven’t completed first grade up to this point and you want to do that now.
Woman: If that’s where you feel like mentally you should be, then I feel like there are communities that would accept you for that.
Man: I would say, so long as you’re not injuring society and you’re not causing harm to other people, I feel like that should be an okay thing.
Interviewer: If I told you I’m six feet five inches, what would you say?
Woman: That I would question.
Woman: Because you’re not! No, I don’t think you’re six feet five inches.
Woman: If you truly believed you were 6’5”, I don’t think it’s harmful. I think it’s fine if you believe that. It doesn’t matter to me if you think you’re taller than you are.
Interviewer: So you’d be willing to tell me I’m wrong?
Woman: I wouldn’t tell you you’re wrong.
Woman: No, but I would say that I don’t think that you are.
Woman: I feel like that’s not my place as another human to say someone is wrong or to draw lines or boundaries.
Man: No, I wouldn’t just go, “Oh, you’re wrong; that’s wrong to believe.” Again, it doesn’t really bother me what you want to think about your height or anything.
Interviewer: So, I could be a Chinese woman?
Woman [laughing]: Sure.
Interviewer: But I can’t be a 6’5” Chinese woman?
Man: If you thoroughly debated me or explained why you felt that you were 6’5”, I feel like I would be very open to saying that you were six foot five, or Chinese, or a woman.
Interviewer: It shouldn't be hard to tell a 5’9” white guy that he’s not a 6’5” Chinese woman, but clearly it is. Why? What does that say about our culture? What does that say about our ability to answer the questions that actually are difficult?
Brian: What that says about our culture is that we’re really confused about what it means to be a human being, and the reason is because we are all swimming in this sea of expressive individualism. Brothers and sisters, I believe that this has infected us even in the church. We’re like fish in water; we don’t even know that we’re wet. Even if we perhaps wouldn’t go to such extremes in denying the objectivity and objective reality of who human beings are, we still act in ways that correspond with this expressive individualism.
Let me give you some examples of this, just in relation to church. Think about how we choose a church community. Now, every one of us is here because we’ve chosen to be here, but why do we choose where we worship? I think most of us do so in a very consumeristic way. We are looking at quality of teaching, quality of ministries, we’re looking at music, we’re looking at relationships, and we’re trying to determine whether we will be happy or fulfilled. Now, we’re going to use spiritual language—whether I’m fed, whether I’m nourished, spiritually fulfilled and satisfied with the offerings of the church.
Now, in the ancient world there would just be one church in a city. People would go to the church often in fear of persecution because of their love for Christ, their honor for Christ. My guess is that for most of us we have mixed motives, and that we have some motivations that are wanting to honor the Lord and honor Christ, but we are also intuitively and sometimes subconsciously making choices on the basis of personal preferences and desires, thinking about how this experience fits me.
Think about how we evaluate worship. Worship is a big thing, right? Worship is a big part of church today, and of course there have been all kinds of worship wars in the church at large over the last 30 years. How is it that we evaluate worship at church? I think for most of us, what we probably do is we think about the experience. We think about whether we liked the songs or not. We think about whether we thought the music was too loud or not. We think about whether we felt close to God or not. But essentially, in all of those ways, what we’re doing is we’re looking inward and we’re evaluating our experience of worship. Does it ever occur to us to ask if God, the object of our worship, is pleased with our worship? It’s a very different question.
Think about our commitments to service. Many of us serve in ministry of various kinds, but how is it that we go about serving? How do we choose which team we will involve ourselves on or which opportunities in the community we will take up? I think most of us probably look for a matching up of our gifting and especially of our desire for involvement. Where will I be fulfilled? Where will I be satisfied? Where will I build meaningful relationships? We’re looking primarily at how it will affect us. Probably it’s pretty rare where someone is really thinking about, “How can I meet the needs of other people and glorify God?” and that’s the primary consideration. Then, regardless of personal feelings or personal cost or personal sacrifices, we jump in and we serve.
Now, of course I’m not saying that the subjective element should not be there at all, okay? We can’t help being subjective in our approach to these things. What I’m saying is that we tend to let the primary motivations be motivations for personal fulfillment, satisfaction, feeling happy about outcomes, and we let that govern the way we think about church life.
How much more do we do that in the many other things we choose—the way we engage in family and in relationships outside the church.
My point here is that expressive individualism and the way it’s affecting identity and personal choices, it affects all of us, and all of us need to be aware of it and return to biblical foundations for thinking about identity.
3. The Biblical Basis of Identity
That leads us to point number three, the biblical basis of identity. What I want us to do is try to understand from Genesis 1-2 human nature and how that should frame and shape our approach to identity.
One of the most helpful books that I’ve consulted in preparing this series is Brian Rosner’s book Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity. Rosner says, “The simple question of personal identity can only be answered by addressing two other questions. Along with, ‘Who am I?’ we must ask the prior question, ‘What is a human being?’ as well as the subsequent question, ‘Who are we?’ Put differently, I cannot know who I am without first considering what I am and then to whom I belong.”
I want us to focus for a few minutes on this question, “What am I?” What is a human being?
Let me give you six propositions from Genesis 1-2. These are not going to be full-fledged points of a sermon; one or two minutes on each one of these and we’re done.
(1) Number one, you are a creature, not the Creator. That’s the most fundamental thing. Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God has always existed, God is the absolute, the supreme being, the uncaused cause of all things, and God created human beings. He created them in his image (Genesis 1:26-27).
I think it was A.W. Tozer, many years ago, who wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I actually think I would modify that just a little bit. That’s still pretty subjective. It’s not simply what comes into our minds when we think about God that is the most important thing about us—that’s important. What you think about God is really important. But the fact that you are made by God is the most important thing about you and the most important thing about me. We are made by God, created by God, and therefore we are his image bearers, accountable to him, therefore not self-determining people, but people whose lives are determined by him. “We live and move and have our being in him,” Paul says in Acts 17. You are a creature, not the Creator. You are human, not God. He’s God, and you’re not. Everything else follows from that fundamental reality.
(2) You are human, not an animal. You’re a human being, not an animal. In Genesis 1, the very pinnacle of creation, the apex of creation, God’s creation on the sixth day of creation is human beings. He creates man, man and woman, in his image. Only of human beings is it said that God created them in his image, and only after human beings are created does God say, “It is very good.”
There is a fundamental distinction between you and every other living being on this planet. You are more; you have self-consciousness, you have a sense of identity, you have mind and heart and will. You have a spirit, you have the ability to be in relationship with God and in relationship with others, where you can actually think about, subjectively and self-consciously, what’s going on. All of that, I think, is implied in being the image-bearers of God.
We also see it in Genesis 2, when God has Adam name the animals and then creates woman. He says, “It is not good for man to be alone,” and he creates the woman. This is because the animals are not sufficient companions for human beings.
John Lennox has said, “The first lesson that Adam was taught is that he was fundamentally different from all other creatures.”
Whatever you may believe about origins, however you may interpret Genesis 1, the age of the earth, length of days, all of that, Genesis loudly, clearly declares that human beings are special, they are different, they are unique, they are the apex of creation, higher than animals of any kind.
(3) Number three, you are social, not just an individual. This is very important, I think, for understanding human identity. You’re not the only human being. You belong to a family, you belong to community, you belong to a nation, you belong to the human race.
This is implied in the plurals of Genesis 1:26-27. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. And God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth,’” and so on.
God created us not to be individual islands, not to be an end to ourselves; he created us to be in relationship with others. While we can go overboard in understanding our identity in relationship to other people, especially if that eclipses our relationship with God himself, we should not neglect the biblical pattern, that God instituted marriage, he instituted family, he instituted communities and civil government. These are the divine institutions of God that are part of the natural creational order, and it is right for us to begin to understand ourselves, who we are, in relationship to these various social communities.
(4) Number four, you are embodied, not just a psychological self. This is so important. God, when he created human beings, he created them as embodied souls. That is, a complete human being is not the soul, but it is the soul united to the body.
You see it in Genesis 2, where God created Adam from the dust of the ground and then breathed into him the breath of life, and he became a living being.
The body is seen to be important from four great doctrines in Christianity: the doctrine of creation, where God created our physical bodies; the doctrine of the incarnation, where Jesus Christ, the word, became flesh, took a human nature upon himself; the resurrection, where God raised that body from the dead; and the ascension, where the body of Jesus ascended to heaven and is now in the very presence of God.
C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity is almost the only one of the great religions which thoroughly approves of the body, which believes that matter is good, that God himself once took on a human body, that some kind of body is going to be given to us even in heaven and is going to be an essential part of our happiness, our beauty, and our energy.”
I think it’s important, especially in regards to sexuality and the LGBTQ+ movement, to affirm the intrinsic goodness of the human body as created by God. He created us in his image, “in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.”
Your basic biological nature cannot really be changed. Now listen, technology and science can modify externals through sex reassignment surgery, but you still either have two X chromosomes or an X and a Y chromosome. It’s embedded in your DNA, and you are either male or female, man or woman, boy or girl. You are embodied, and the body is to be counted as sacred, it is to be counted as God’s creation, it is to be cherished, it is to be taken care of, and it is to be submitted to the lordship of Christ.
(5) Number five, you are created with purpose, not accidentally. God, when he created you, created you with intention. This is the basis for significance in our lives. God created us with intention; he intended for you to be created, to be born, to be alive. Right in Genesis 1-2 you see God giving human beings a sense of purpose right from the beginning—to be fruitful, to multiply, to exercise dominion, to work and tend the garden. What is that? It is to build families, it is to reproduce, it is to extend the dominion of God over creation, it is to work, it is to be productive. This is where all of our ethics about marriage and family and work come from. You are not a cosmic accident. You are created with divine intention, with significant purpose.
(6) Finally, number six, you are morally accountable; you are not autonomous. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2, mentioned in verse 8 and then verses 16-17—God said, “Of all the trees in the garden you can freely eat, but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Have you ever wondered why?
Why did God do that? Why did he put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil there? Sometimes that can seem kind of arbitrary to us. I’ve actually heard people object to Christianity on this basis, along with other things: it looks arbitrary. It looks like God is just tempting us.
It’d be like parents, you put fruit on the table, and then right in the center of the table you put a jar full of Hershey’s Kisses, and you say, “Of all the fruit on the table you can eat, but don’t get into the Hershey’s Kisses!” What are they going to do? You know what they’re going to do! It’s just setting them up for failure.
Is that what God was doing? Was he just setting Adam and Eve up for failure? Here’s what I think we have to understand. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil—I’m getting this from Brian Rosner; I think this is really helpful. He points out that the Hebrew word for “know,” the knowledge of good and evil, to know, that Hebrew word has a wide range of meanings. It can mean to know by experience, it can mean to choose; but he argues that in Genesis 2:17 it means “to determine.” He says, “Adam is commanded not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He is not free to determine for himself what is good and what is evil.”
In other words, this tree wasn’t an arbitrary test; it was rather given to establish this fundamental creature-Creator distinction to show that he is God, that we are not, and it demarcates the line that we cannot cross. We do not determine for ourselves what is good, what is right. We do not determine the moral fabric or shape of the universe.
Listen, as a quick illustration of this, we don’t determine natural laws. You can’t choose to be immune to gravity. You jump off of a tall building, you’re going to get hurt or you’re going to die. That’s a law. You can’t choose to put poison into your body and expect to be nourished and not to be hurt, or perhaps even die. You can’t choose that. You can’t choose the fundamental laws that govern health and life and being.
In the same way as there are biological and physical laws that govern the universe, there are moral laws, the way that God made the world to be, and when you choose to go against those laws, you know what happens? You hurt yourself, you break yourself, you make yourself sick. You destroy your identity. So we are accountable to God.
Now, I’m pretty much out of time, but let me summarize quickly. We’ve seen the nature of identity, the crisis of identity, and very quickly, this biblical basis of identity. We were made to bear God’s image, we were made to live for his glory, to find our purpose, our significance, our identity, our sense of self, our sense of value—all of that we find in relationship to God and by inhabiting these lives that we’ve been given in ways that accord with God’s plan.
Here’s the problem. The problem is that sin has broken in, has corrupted his plan. Sin has marred this divine image. Sin has obscured our understanding of who God has created us to be. Sin has alienated us from God, from one another. Psychologically, sin has alienated us from ourselves. Sin has brought about condemnation and death.
We’re going to talk more about that next week, but here’s the good news. The good news is that Jesus Christ is the second Adam. He’s the new man. He came to image God perfectly for us, to show us what it really is to be a human being. He came through his death and his resurrection, to pay the penalty for our sins, and then to unleash into the world and into our hearts and lives the power of his transforming Holy Spirit, so that, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, as we gaze on the glory of the Lord, we gaze on the image of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the true man, the God-man, the word made flesh—as we gaze upon him, upon his perfection, upon his glory, upon his beauty—as we gaze upon him, the Spirit of the Lord transforms us from one degree of glory to the next, changing us, transforming us, making us more and more like Christ.
You know what that means? It means that the way to really find who you really are—your truest self, your true identity, who God made you to be—the way to be restored to the divine image is through a living faith relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you know him? Do you trust him? I hope you will today. Let’s pray.
Our gracious God, we’ve covered a lot of material this morning, but my prayer is that you would take the truth of your word and help us, Lord, to apply it to our hearts. Father, I pray that you would help us to see more clearly how the expressive individualism of our culture has shaped the way we think, how it’s shaping the way our children think, our families think. I pray that you would help us to course-correct, to align ourselves with the truths of your holy word, and to see that we have dignity, we have value, we have worth because we are created in your image. It is not for us to create this sense of self and identity for ourselves; rather, it is for us to submit to your divine plan, and through faith in Jesus Christ to be renewed in that image, to live as the image-bearers you designed us to be. I pray that you would help us to do that. Lord, would you work in our hearts this morning what is pleasing in your sight? Work in our hearts what is needed in each one of us. Help us see ourselves more clearly as we examine ourselves.
As we come to the table, may we come with our eyes not merely on the bread and the juice, but on the broken body of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who came in the flesh and who gave that flesh for the life of the world. May you be glorified, and may we be changed and transformed, we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.