What you may have noticed in society and culture today is sometimes someone will say something that seems like a simple disagreement and the reaction that is received seems disproportionately large compared to the point that was made. This happens a lot of times when we’re talking about the rightness or wrongness of a behavior. So someone might say, “I think marriage is between a man and a woman.” The response that comes back maybe from someone who is in favor of same sex marriage seems disproportionately large or maybe we’re talking about gender identity and someone might say, “Well, I think gender is actually linked to the biological reality of someone’s sex, that if you are a man biologically, you are a male biologically, you are a man from a gender perspective.” The response might be quite vitriolic or upset.
Now we’re far enough into 2018 at this point in time where those types of responses maybe aren’t surprising like they used to but I think it’s helpful for us to consider why that response happens, in part. I’m not claiming that we’re going to look at all of it today but we are going to consider what I think is a key part and problem of how we look at ourselves as human beings in our current day: That has to do with where does our identity come from. What grounds our identity and more than that, what grounds our worth? Because often there is this linkage between worth and identity, where I feel like I have worth because of my identity.
I think that’s an important thing for us to realize, but here has been the shift that’s happened, at least noticeably more over the last decade or decade and a half. I think it’s always been present in human behavior but it seems more pronounced now, and that is that the grounding for my identity and my worth is found entirely or almost entirely inside of me. That is the message culture puts out, that you and you alone determine who you are and as a result what’s your worth.
This obviously exhibits itself in the areas of gender like we talked about, where it seems to be unacceptable today to tell someone, “You are a male because biologically you’re a male if they tell you they feel like they are a woman.” Now I don’t know how someone who is a man knows what it’s like to feel like a woman, that’s a separate consideration and what we’ll probably talk about at a later point, but nonetheless, regardless of how they feel, the idea is that they are a woman simply because they feel like one.
Wo when you say, “No, I think gender is something that’s inextricably linked to the physical reality of biology,” and “biology is not bigotry” as Ryan Anderson says, that person might get really upset because to them you’re not talking about an isolated external concept, you have gone right to the heart of their identity and you have hurt them in that way. Most of the time that’s not the intent of the person disagreeing on gender identity, but nonetheless, when we determine our identity ourselves, well then people are more likely to be upset when you disagree with them on a fact that is related to their self conception.
It’s the same way with sexuality. If you say the action of homosexuality is wrong, today, people get very upset because they think you’re saying that they are wrong, not that their behavior is wrong. They take it a step further and create an equivalence between how they act and who they are, so you can no longer simply talk about actions because people identify themselves with their actions and find their identity in their actions and find their worth in their identity. Their worth is based on their actions because it’s related to their identity.
That’s a part of why the conversation about sexuality is so tense today because action is being linked to identity. The highest conception of one’s self from a non-Christian worldview often is only based on what I do or where I live or who I do it with. But this doesn’t just happen when it comes to gender and sexuality, it actually happens for students with grades, in what’s been called kind of the “snowflake” generation (and I’m not so sure that that’s an accurate or helpful term).
I think parents may have changed more than kids have changed, but it seems like on average that the students today find more of their identity, or at least some students do, in their academic performance and where they go to school than used to be the case.
Now part of that may be due to the fact that more people go to college now percentage wise than used to and so I think there are a lot of factors there but nonetheless, for some people their grades and where they go to school really matter to them so when they don’t do well in school or an assignment or don’t get into the school of their choice, it actually really shakes them because their identity is based on how they perform academically.
It’s the same way sometimes for career goals. Some people really want to do something but they’re not good at it and so if you say, “Hey, have you considered that this is not the best career path for you because you don’t seem to have the aptitudes that would surface well there,” that almost doesn’t matter. If they think of themselves as doing well in that field or wanting to do well in that field, and that’s how they’re conception of the future has been based, they find their identity there, then that doesn’t come across as helpful or welcome advice. It comes across as cutting to the heart of who they are.
This surfaces in many ways when it comes to ministry. Sometimes people will say, “I’m called to ministry. I’m called to be a pastor.” But sometimes I think, based on your giftings, I don’t think you are or based on your character, I don’t think you are. The Bible has qualifications for what it looks like to be a pastor/elder. There are character qualifications and there’s the ability to teach.
Somebody who doesn’t have either the character or the skill qualification often will still say, “I’m called to ministry.” Well I don’t know who called you but I don’t think it was God. This really shakes people sometimes and I think there are many reasons for this point but nonetheless, part of it is because their identity is self conceived and their worth is based on their identity.
Now all of that often comes from a non-Christian worldview. The idea where our worth is based on what we do or our abilities is actually the idea behind the pro-choice movement, that an unborn child is not worth as much because it is smaller. It needs to rely on someone else or it can’t breathe on its own or those sorts of things. It’s an argument for value based on ability and the Christian worldview knows nothing of an argument for value based on ability. It doesn’t know anything of worth based on ability when the person is pre-born and it doesn’t know anything about worth based on ability when the person is 10, 20, 30, or 100 years old.
To the contrary, the Bible grounds are worth not in ourselves, not in how we feel, not in what we do, not in how we think, not in where we live, not in our education, not in our SES, none of that. It actually grounds it in a few different things that are all external to us. It grounds it first and foremost in the image of God.
God actually prescribes the death penalty—People today seem to forget that and are very uncomfortable with that—in Genesis 9. God actually prescribes the death penalty for someone who murders another human. The reason for that is because the person was created in the image of God. In other words, they were worth something. They had intrinsic worth and dignity and were worthy of respect and should have been cherished as a life but they weren’t, and you’ll note that all of those factors are external to them.
The image of God is has been given to us. It’s been credited to us. It’s how we were created by God, so the thing that makes us have worth from a certain perspective is not from us, it’s from someone else. The Bible tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. This comes along with being made in the image of God, but I think that also speaks to a physical component here in how we are made, and when it comes to art or other sorts of things like that, like antiques, who made something matters a lot, right?
If it’s just some guy on the corner that made this painting, eh, it doesn’t have much worth. But if it’s a Van Gogh or something like that, it has a lot more value. Who made something really matters, so we’re created in the image of God but we’re also made by God fearfully and wonderfully, and that is another reason we have value because of who made us and who owns us. Who owns something has to do often with how valuable something is. Some people want to own something simply because someone else owns it, right?
We think of maybe grade school where, when some kid has a cool pair of shoes, everyone wants to have those. They’re suddenly more valuable because the person they respect owns it. Well, God actually owns us. We are His possession and that is another reason why we have value. For the Christian, we have value because we are a child of God. Not everyone is a child of God, only the people Jesus redeemed on the cross and who have been adopted into God’s family are children of God, but to be a child of the King is to have immense value.
Now this doesn’t really apply for the non-Christian, does it? They are not a child of the King in that way, but they are still created in the image of God. That’s a key point, so we should still treat them as valuable. Just as valuable as a Christian in some ways but for the Christian, we have the knowledge that we’ve been adopted into the family of God, that we were so valuable that Jesus died on the cross to secure our salvation. That’s an incredible value because of the type of person who did the sacrificing, right?
God himself sacrificed for us to have eternal life. That’s an immense sort of value that we have because of Him, but we can’t just stop there because that seems to have a very man centered view of salvation, that the primary reason God died on the cross in the person of Christ was to glorify himself. We see that in Ephesians 1. That he did all of the things related to salvation and more to the praise of his glorious grace.
Now yes, it was out of love for us but it was first and foremost out of love for himself, and when we flip those things around, we actually end up with a skewed view of value because while we are valuable, God is more valuable. We, in fact, are only valuable because our value is derivative from who our creator is, from who we are created in the image of. It’s the reason we have a different value than animals, because they are not created in the image of God. They are not that sort of being or creature.
Now I think it’s interesting today that when everyone is searching for value, when the reason people get so upset sometimes when you condemn behavior is because their behavior is related to where they find their identity. All of that being the case, the Christian worldview has the answer for that, doesn’t it? We ground our worth outside of ourselves in a way that it can’t be taken away. We didn’t create it, we didn’t find it, we didn’t grab it, it has actually been credited to us.
We can’t lose it, and isn’t that wonderful when everyone in the world, including some Christians that fall into this trap, are searching for worth, searching for value in their job, in their career, in their status, in their cars, in whatever, that the Christian worldview says that those things actually never make you worth anything. That your worth actually comes because of who you are, not what you do. It comes from who owns you, who created you, not from how you feel. Feelings are temporary. Life situations change. Human value is a constant because it is grounded in the constant who is God.
That’s an incredibly important point that I think the Christian needs to hear and understand and let influence their heart, but it also should affect how we talk to others. One of the things that should stand out to other people is the peace we have with our place in life due to whose we are, due to not finding our identity in something else, in someone else. Perhaps one of the apologetic methods we have available to us is actually a result of Christian maturity and it looks like resting in who God says I am and being comfortable there, but more than that.
Finding satisfaction in who God says I am and realizing I can’t add to that. That is so counter cultural, I think if we express that confidence, that subtle confidence, in how we approach life, it actually adorns the gospel well. Now yes, we need to share the gospel message certainly, but a result of the gospel is that we realize that our worth is found elsewhere. It’s not found in who we are and how we feel, it’s not found in what we do, it’s not found in our sexuality, it’s not found in our careers, it’s not found in our ministry ambitions, it’s found in whose we are. That’s a counter cultural idea that the non-Christian certainly needs to understand, but the Christian often needs to internalize as well.