In today’s world, we focus a lot on identity. More and more our culture stresses figuring out who we are as individuals. And with part of our identities being out there on the internet, with our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles, we have to figure out what we want people to know about us. We deal with questions about our identity every day. But where should we find our identities? What are they rooted in?
One of the first places we look to is our relationships. We find our identity in our families. We look at our last name. We discover this part of our identity very young in life. I get to see this happening right now with my youngest daughter as she finds her place amongst her sister and grandparents and cousins. We define our identity by our family relations, and as we get older, those defining relationships expand to include friends and other organizations and clubs that we belong to.
You’d think that locating your identity in your relationships, especially family relationships, would be an easy way to define yourself. Those kinds of relationships are supposed to be permanent. But oftentimes, they’re not. With the number of divorces and single parent homes and blended households on the rise, it can be quite difficult for some people to find their place within their family. And what about those times when someone in your family hurts you or they do something you disagree with or they bring shame on the family name? At those times is it easy to identify with that family? No it isn’t.
Another place we look to to define ourselves is our work, our jobs and careers. Hello, my name is John and I work as an accountant. My name is Robert and I’m the plant manager at the factory. I’m Denise and I’m a lab tech. We spend a lot of time working, 40 plus hours a week sometimes, so it’s natural for us to identify with our work.
We also identify with all the other stuff we do and the things we enjoy. Driving around the city you can easily spot Titan’s and Predator’s fans because they’ve got stickers on their cars.
Again, you’d think it’d be easy for us to define ourselves this way, but just like our relationships, none of these things are permanent. Very few people have the same job their whole life, and even fewer people than that would say they absolutely loved their jobs every day. We can lose interest in our hobbies, and the things we once enjoyed can change. So again, placing our identity on these things isn’t good either.
A third place we go looking for our identities is our feelings. This has gotten very popular in culture over the last few years, and we see it played out in all the talk about “transgenderism.” Men feel like they’re women, and women feel like they’re men, and so they decide to identify as such. Some even go to the great lengths of permanently altering their physical bodies, trying to make them look on the outside how they feel on the inside. But again, there’s a problem with this. Our feelings change. One minute we’re happy, the next minute we’re upset. One minute we’re crying, the next we’re laughing. If that’s how quickly our emotions can change, then our feelings about our identity can change also, and they do.
There are so many different places that we try to find our identity, but none of them can give us a permanent identity. Whether it’s our relationships or what we do or what we feel, none of these can tell us who we truly are. Instead, we need to look to God and His Word to find our identity.
God’s Word identifies us as sinners. We are sinners. You are a sinner. Far from being the good person deep down inside, which our culture tries to say we are, every single one of us is a sinner with wicked and evil thoughts and intentions in our hearts. We’ve received this identity from our first parents. St. Paul just before the Epistle reading we heard today writes this; “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19). The one man’s disobedience was Adam’s sin; the sin of trying to self-define himself, trying to make himself like God. And we’ve been following that sin ever since.
Our sin, whatever form it may take in thought, word, or deed, is ultimately the sin of setting us up as our own gods. We hear what our Lord says about us, His creation, and how we’re to live and we decide we don’t want to follow that. We want to define our own morality, our own identity, and so we turn from Him. That’s who we are, sinners who turn their back on God who’s given us life. That’s our identity. But because of God’s identity, He redeems us as His own.
Yes, you are sinners, but you’re also forgiven in Christ. He’s the One Man whose obedience has made you righteous. That righteousness was fulfilled in His baptism by John. Matthew tells us that when Jesus came to be baptized by John, he questioned it. Jesus didn’t need to be baptized because He wasn’t a sinner. And yet, in that baptism, Jesus would fulfill all righteousness. He was being obedient to the Father’s plan of salvation. As He stepped into the waters of the Jordan, Christ stood in the place of sinners, taking their sin upon Himself, taking all your sin upon Himself, and He carried that sin to the cross where He died for them, so that you’d be forgiven. God’s beloved Son sacrificed Himself for you, so that you would be a forgiven child of God…and in your baptism that’s exactly who you are.
Your identity is a baptized child of God, connected to your Savior’s death and resurrection. That’s your true identity. That’s how God sees you. And that’s how you should see yourself. Through the baptismal waters that flowed over your head, you were united with Christ in His death, and joined to Him in His resurrection. Your old sinful self was drowned and you were raised a new saint. And nothing can change that because that’s the identity God the Father has given to you.
So who are you? How should you introduce yourself? What is your identity? You’re a baptized child of God, and forgiven in Christ. In Jesus’ name…Amen.