The older I get the more I am convinced that life is an intense struggle of identity. Listen to what the Apostle Paul pens in his letter to the Galatians:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:16-21)
The big news of the last few weeks has been of the capture of the alleged BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) killer in Wichita, Kansas. The man captured was a church-going one ... even a leader in his church. When the story broke many in his community were in a state of shock. How could this be? Over the years I have bumped into a few people who, in retrospect, seemed to have lived two different lives. There was the outward, church-going, side and an inward, perverse, side. The outer life looked good but no one knew the sickness they battled on the inside.
The scripture above seems to speak of this duality. In some sense we all have this inner battle of identity ... we are all tempted in some way ... and sometimes we give in to temptation. So what is the difference between us and those, like the alleged BTK killer, who seem to have gone off the deep-end. I suggest that it is one of identity. In the last few years I have noticed that often when I am tempted to sin I find myself thinking "that is not who I am' ... "I am not a lust-er" ... "I am not a worrier" ... you get the idea ... fill in the blanks for yourself. I don't think that it is a matter of psyching myself up or convincing myself I am something I am not. I think that, somehow, I have built an identity with Christ through the Holy Spirit. Here what Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
When we think of ourselves we can either identify ourselves as sinners or as ones that were cleansed of our sins and set apart for God's work. It is a matter of identity. Many in the church today refer to themselves as 'just a sinner saved by grace'. I wonder if by saying these things we have trained ourselves to identify as sinners and not new spiritual creations. Possibly by doing this we have quenched the Holy Spirit's influence in our lives. Hear now what God says of you through the Apostle Peter:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)
As believers our identity is a noble and holy one. I think that if we live in that reality we will struggle less when we are tempted.