No Confidence in Identity

LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! ~ Psalm 144:3

LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! ~ Psalm 144:3

Since expulsion from the Garden of Eden man has pondered the question: Who am I? Of course it is the result of being made a living soul, which distinguishes man from the rest of creation, that even enables him to think such a thing. So, who are we really?

Certain Objective Biological and Physical Realities

God created the first human being during the creation week (Genesis 1:26-28). He was a human male named Adam and he was distinct from all the rest of creation and its plant and animal life. God’s design and command to the man was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with other human beings. However, throughout the entire creation there was nothing compatible or complementary to the man with which he could fulfill his purpose so God made a woman, a female counterpart to the male, and brought her to the man that the two could be joined together and bring forth children (Genesis 2:7, 15-25).

The most basic aspect of our human identity is being made male or female after the image of God. More personally, God is at work in forming each one of us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). We are conceived either male or female according to the purpose of God and formed with other physical and genetic traits to be born into the world.

All these are objective realities and not something anyone can choose. We’ve all probably thought at one time or another that we would like to be taller, older, or younger but these things cannot be changed by thoughts or actions (Matthew 6:27). The prophet Jeremiah asked if the Ethiopian could change his skin (Jeremiah 13:23). The answer is no, he cannot. One might suggest that he could undergo medical procedures to perhaps lighten his skin over time, but he hasn’t really changed it, only deformed and disfigured it.

Other Aspects of Identity

Being made male or female is the most fundamental human identity but there are other aspects that contribute to our identity as well. We have a nationality or ethnicity, a birthplace, a native tongue (Acts 2:5-11). All these things contribute to our identity and are objective realities no one can choose.

Beyond this we can add some things to our identity by pursuing education or training or being accomplished in some skill. While those things can contribute to our identity, they cannot fundamentally alter it. Whether we ourselves or others view our identity as good or bad, it is not something we should put any hope in.

The discussion of identity today revolves mostly around someone unhappy with their identity and wanting to change it. Paul gives us a different perspective in Philippians 3:3-11. He was born with a stellar identity and rejoiced in it for part of his life. He was born a male of Israel into the tribe of Benjamin. He was circumcised on the eighth day and brought up in observation of the law. He later added to his identity through training to become a Pharisee. He considered himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews. If anyone should have reason to have confidence in their identity, Saul of Tarsus had reason.

Though Paul was very proud and happy with his human identity, he learned it was not enough. He considered his identity as rubbish that he might have a new identity in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). When it comes to eternal life in Christ, neither a good human identity nor a bad human identity can avail us anything. We must be made a new creation in Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:15). Nothing in our identity commends us or gives advantage with God (Galatians 3:28). In fact, all who come to Christ are given a new identity in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20).

What is Our Human Identity?

We are human beings made in the image of God, male or female according His eternal purpose and will. We are broken through sin that comes to us by nature through our forefather Adam and our mother Eve. That brokenness is manifested within us and without us in thousands of ways and often making us uncomfortable in our own skin. Whether we are discontent or unhappy with some fact of our identity, we cannot change it. We can only deform it. What we need is not surgical, chemical, or psychiatric modification, but rather to be made a new creation in Christ destined for full glorification and everlasting life in wholeness with our Creator and Savior. That identity, that life, is only had through repentance and faith in God’s Son.

The World’s Trouble: Chapter 3

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 3

There is no human consensus on sin. Throughout history different civilizations have viewed right and wrong differently. Today we hold very loosely to the collective idea of defining right and wrong. We’ve evolved beyond a majority decision to a much more individual decision. What’s right and wrong for you may not be right and wrong for me. Such philosophy has disastrous effects for society, but my purpose in this book is not confined to life on earth. I am concerned about that future judgment, which will not be based on any human definitions of sin, but will be measured against the holy righteousness of God.

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
– Romans 3:23

We looked at some biblical definitions of sin. Theft, adultery, and murder are straightforward violations of God’s law. But we also noticed that something more is going on. Proverbs 21:4 states that the pride and plowing of the wicked is sin and Proverbs 24:9 states the thought of foolishness is sin. There doesn’t seem to be a straight line between those things and a particular law—Thou shalt not. This is where we need to look beyond a strict, technical definition for sin and look at the bigger picture.

When we think of sin, we think of the “bad stuff” that “bad people” do. Romans 14:23 presents a different picture, stating: “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Faith refers to saving trust in Jesus Christ and therefore everything unbelievers do is sin. Everything a person who does not believe and trust in Jesus Christ does is sin. This means not only the bad things like murder are sin, but everything like plowing their field is sin.

That’s a sweeping statement. Can it be true? Not only does the Bible define sin, it also defines good. God’s survey of every human being in their natural-born condition is that none are good nor do good.

As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
Their feet are swift to shed blood:
Destruction and misery are in their ways:
And the way of peace have they not known:
There is no fear of God before their eyes.
– Romans 3:10-18

There is nothing an unbeliever does that comes from faith, and therefore they do no good. Romans 14:23 said, “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” An unbeliever is a person who does not have biblical faith in Jesus Christ. Not having faith constrains them in different ways according to the Bible.

• Without faith it is impossible to do anything good or acceptable to God. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for the that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

• All the works of an unbeliever are judged as sin. “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me” (John 16:8-9).

• All sins of the unbeliever will stand against them in the judgment because they have not believed in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

This all seems a bit thick. How could everything a person does be considered or counted as sin? You might accuse me of only focusing on bad things and ignoring the good things that people do, such as helping the poor, loving their family, or being honest in business. It is good to help the poor and suffering. It is good to love your family and to be honest in business. Those things are good and so are a thousand other things we could suggest.

You probably do those things and many more. I am not suggesting that you’re insincere in doing them. I’m comparing against God’s standard in the Bible and see that even the best works an unbeliever does fall short of that standard. But how do they fall short? It is easy to see that if you steal from your neighbor it is sin, but how is it also sin if you give to your neighbor out of kindness? Remember that God’s righteousness is the standard of measure and let me give you three ways the good works of an unbeliever, person without faith, falls short.

1. A person without faith in God does not have an eye to God’s glory in everything they do. Sometimes we talk about a person’s conscience or internal moral compass. They have an intuitive sense of good and bad and most generally follow it. That conscience is the remnant of the stamp of God’s image from creation (Romans 2:13-15) but it is defiled and falls short. We are commanded, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Without faith we do good as prompted by our inner sense of good, but we never do good to glorify God, and therefore fall short.

2. A person without faith does not love God and does not act out of love for God. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of the law is, He responded, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38). When a person does a good deed, they may be acting selflessly but their actions are not motivated by love for God. So in everything an unbeliever does, they break the first and greatest commandment of the law and are sinning.

3. A person without faith does not believe on Jesus Christ, and regardless of what they do or don’t do, they are already under condemnation. “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). There is no good deed that we can do to get out from under that condemnation (Romans 3:20; John 3:36), and therefore everything an unbeliever does is sin because it is not of faith (Romans 14:23).

What happens next? If everything an unbeliever does is counted as sin against them, what is the consequence?

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

The World’s Trouble: Chapter 2

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

And it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
– Hebrews 9:27

Chapter 2

You and I breathe the air of relativism daily. That is a fancy term that basically means there is no universal standard of right and wrong. Morality is discussed this way in the classroom, textbooks, news editorials, and talk shows. It sounds intellectual and informed to talk this way, but you really cannot live this way.

You believe in fixed meaning and right and wrong when it comes to your bank account. You believe in fixed meaning and right and wrong when you sign a contract to buy or sell a house. You also believe in right and wrong and fixed meaning when it comes to whether or not your spouse cheated on you. At best we are perpetrating a double standard when we philosophize about moral relativity but demand the bank teller put the exact amount deposited into our account and not keep some or all for himself.

We do live our lives in terms of right and wrong, but we are often arbitrary and inconsistent in applying a standard of right and wrong. The Bible reveals a fixed standard of right and wrong that is the timeless revelation of God’s will. The world will be judged by God’s fixed standard.

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
– Revelation 20:12

A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.
– Daniel 7:10

There is standard of measure for our lives and we need to know what God says about sin. First we want to consider sin by definition, or technically. Our English Bible uses several different words, e.g. sin, transgress, trespass, fault, etc. These words have a range of meaning and are used to translate the various words from the Hebrew or Greek. The most common word for sin though is a word that means to miss the mark. It assumes a target or a standard that is missed.

The standard is God’s law as revealed in the Bible so that sin can be defined as breaking God’s law. If the law says, “Don’t do this,” and we do it, it is sin. If the law says, “Do this,” and we don’t do it, it is sin. If we took a poll of a group of people and asked them what the Bible taught sin was, they would probably say things like murder, adultery, theft, and lying.

The Bible makes a number of broad statements about sin, which all assume a standard that is violated.

All unrighteousness is sin
– 1 John 5:17a

And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.
– Romans 14:23

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
– James 4:17

The thought of foolishness is sin
– Proverbs 24:9a

An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.
– Proverbs 21:4

Sin mentioned in some of those verses seems obviously defined but not as much so in the others. For instance, unrighteousness and not doing known good are easily seen as sin. But what about eating in doubt, or foolishness, or plowing? How are those things sin? To answer that question, we must move beyond a technical definition for sin and look at it more ultimately.

This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.

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