Posted by: Philip Rushton | April 30, 2015

Identity Protection

 “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” Ephesians 1:17-18

There is a lot of concern these days about “Identity Theft” and the need for “Identity Protection.”  Just last week I received a letter from our health insurance provider indicating that their server had been hacked and our identifying information was at risk.  In response to this crisis they set us up with 2 years of free identity protection software.

I had an experience this weekend that caused me to wonder whether we ought to have a similar degree of vigilance about our spiritual identity.  On Saturday, in the midst of doing the mundane task of cleaning our bathroom, I was unexpectedly overcome with a feeling of peace.  For a moment I was invited, as the psalmist says, “to cease striving and know that God is God.” I had a sense that there is no need to strive so hard for acceptance and affirmation if I am already accepted and affirmed by God. If I truly believe that God loves me, then I have a hope and an inheritance that is far more secure and far more valuable than all the things I anxiously strive for.

227873_8154Unfortunately, this does not seem to be my default perspective.  I think a lot of the time we are insecure in our spiritual identity.  This seems to be the case for the Ephesians.  It is interesting that Paul feels compelled to fervently pray that this group of believers will develop an awareness of the hope they have in Christ. The recipients of the letter already know the basic doctrines of the faith; however, while the Ephesians may understand the Christian teachings about grace and hope with their mind, the “eyes of their heart” are not always enlightened. At the heart level they run the risk of being unsettled and anxious.

In the last session of the Reframe series we hosted this winter, Polly Long tells a story of a time when she was unsettled. She was going through a season of intense stress. She had four young kids at home, her husband had started a difficult new job and she was half way through her seminary education. During one of her Greek classes the professor began the session by asking the students if they had any prayer requests. She proceeded to talk about all the things that were causing her to feel unsettled. When the professor prayed for her, however, he simply said one simple line – “Lord, restore to Polly the joy of her salvation.”

Polly was caught off guard by this prayer. At first she found it confusing and even a bit frustrating. It sounded as if he had not heard her concerns. Yet, as she was driving home after class she was suddenly struck by the profundity of this prayer. She realized that her anxiety and ambition was rooted in a loss of awareness of God’s love and provision.  She really had lost the joy of her salvation.

We talk a lot about God’s love in the church. We know the theology and we’ve heard numerous of sermons about it; yet, it is so easy for lose the joy of our salvation. We often live our lives as if this isn’t really true. Rather than grounding our identity in God’s love, we ground it in fleeting things like success, materialism, or public opinion. This creates a lot of anxiety, because things like success or materialism are elusive. You can always achieve more, acquire more, or gain more popularity.

Paul, however, invites us to root our identity is something more secure.   The antidote to anxiety and fear is a renewed awareness of our identity in Christ. Richard Rohr puts it this way:

 “When the True Self becomes clearer to you, and it will for most of you, you will have grounded your spirituality in its first and fundamental task, and you will have hired the best counseling service possible.  I love to tell people, “You have just saved yourself ten thousand dollars in unnecessary therapy!” Why? Because in finding your True Self, you will have found an absolute reference point that is both utterly within you and utterly beyond you at the very same time. This grounds the soul in big and reliable truth.”

When he speaks of the “True Self,” Rohr is talking about the self that is understood in reference to God. Our true self is a self that is deeply loved and empowered by God. That is what he means by a reference point that is both within and beyond us.

When we grasp this truth, our identity is rooted in something more secure than the fleeting nature of material possessions, or worldly recognition. We come to a place where we can sing the great line from the hymn Be Thou My Vision, “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, though mine inheritance now and always.”

This week, then, I simply want to echo Paul’s prayer.  For, while I had a moment of peace on Saturday, it didn’t take long for me to reclaim my anxiety.  I suspect that this is a prayer we need to say on a regular basis.

For all of us then:

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” 

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Responses

  1. Peace may come for a brief moment but it grasps hold of us and gives us breath again. Thanks for this dear brother. So often I am over taken by my anxieties I cannot breathe… It is almost paralyzing. Simplicity often draws us in to His beauty. Love to you, Julie and sweet James.

    • Thanks for sharing Erin! I appreciate your perspective on how we come upon this peace. Your words point to the hope of God’s initiative in this whole equation – he “grasps hold us us and gives us breath again.” May God’s peace, which transcends our understanding, guard your heart and mind in Christ!
      We’ll have to get up to Vancouver soon!

  2. Just a thought.Not all Praise by man is empty.Henry

    • A valid observation Henry! I’d agree that sometimes “praise” is a gift. Paul, for example, lists encouragement as a gift of the spirit. I suspect that the intent of this lyric is to avoid being dependent on the opinions of others. At the end of the day, what really matters is God’s opinion of us, not mans. Thanks be to God, he sees us as people of worth irregardless of what we produce or achieve!

  3. Excellent clarification. Appreciate the response and well stated.Thanks


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