This Week’s Text: Ephesians 2:1-10
How many of you prefer Coke to Pepsi? How many of you prefer Pepsi? In blind taste tests, significantly more people pick Pepsi. Yet, when it is not a blind taste test, and you tell people which one they are drinking, it flips the other way and people overwhelmingly pick Coke.
This is because Coke is much more than a drink. It is a brand, and that brand almost has an identity. It seems to have a personality, almost a life of its own that we interact with.
Today, as we continue to explore the concept of God’s will, we are going to talk about the concept of identity. How does our identity play into our understanding of God’s will in our lives?
A couple years ago, I saw a TED Talk that really captured me. This one was by a writer named Simon Sinek, and he was giving a summary of a book he had written on businesses and their identities called “Start with Why.”
From his research into successful brands and businesses, he worked up three concentric circles, and he labeled these circles what, how, and why from the outside in. He found that uninspiring leaders and companies often functioned from an outside in approach. They decided what they wanted to do and how they were going to do it. Occasionally they would get to the why, but even when they did, it was usually to make money. On the other hand, the leaders and companies that inspire and drive change move from the inside-out. The why drives the how which determines the what. I encourage you to watch the TED Talk, which is linked to at the bottom of this post.
The entire time I was listening to the talk by Simon Sinek, I was thinking that this was just one small shift away from something that could be so powerful for us as individuals, especially in our relationships with God. Let’s shift just a couple of the terms. Instead of “what”, let’s have “behavior.” Instead of “how,” let’s have “values.” And instead of “why,” let’s have “identity.”
For many people, when they become a Christian, what’s the first thing they think needs to change about their life? Their behavior. I am a Christian now, so I need to stop doing what God doesn’t want me to do. Then I have to go to church, read the Bible, and pray because God wants me to do all this stuff.
Well, let’s play this scenario out. If we are moving from the outside in, and our behavior drives our values, then what do we value? Whether or not I am behaving in the way God wants me to. Then if our values determine our identity, what is our identity? We are legalistic, perfect know-it-alls. How do we look to those outside the church? We appear judgmental or worse- hypocritical. Who wants to be a part of that?
And what happens when, not if, when we aren’t perfect? If our identity is completely based on whether we can be perfect or not, then our relationship with God and God’s love for us is completely based on whether we can be perfect or not. When we make a mistake, then God doesn’t love us anymore.
What if we flip it and we go from the inside out. Instead of starting with behavior, let’s start with our identity. What does today’s Scripture tell us about our identity? We were dead in sin, and now we are alive in Christ. We once were slaves to the temptations of the flesh, but God loved and valued us even then, and in Christ has transformed us, giving us the ability through the power of the Holy Spirit to live as God has called us to live. We are what God has made us, not what we can try to become through our own effort and strength. We are saved by grace and mercy, not good behavior.
So, if this is our identity, and identity defines our values, then what do we value? We value our relationship with God. We value the new perspective God has given us. We value other people because God loves them too, just like God did for us when we were slaves to sin and death. We value the opportunity we have share with other people their true identity.
If these are our values and what we value determines our behavior, then what do we do? We value our relationship with God so we pray, we read Scripture, and we worship God. We value God’s love for other people and our opportunity to help them see their true identity, so we do the work of evangelism.
Some of you may be thinking- you’re just flipping the order. The behaviors are the same, so doesn’t it look the same to the outside and don’t we end up just doing the same thing?
But when we move from the inside out, it is different isn’t it? These behaviors are no longer the measure of our relationship with God and rather they are the result of our relationship with God. Remember that the intention is far more important than the action when it comes to God’s will. Going to church or praying or reading the Bible is a much more transformative experience if we are doing it because we are in relationship with God than when we feel obligated to.
In fact, this is how God works his will in our lives. Let’s look at the call of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Let’s straighten out this Yoda speak and put the words in chronological order. So, God says, first, I knew you. Then I formed you. After I formed you, I consecrated you, and then you were born. To consecrate means to set apart as holy. God claims us and makes us special before we even take our first breath on this earth. Then, finally, God called Jeremiah to something specific- he was appointed to be prophet. The doing part, the behavior, came last. The identity, the relationship with God- these all came first.
To close and tie it all up, I am actually going to leave the hard part to you. Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Like we said last week, what if God’s trusts you to make some of the particular decisions in your life? God’s will is for you to figure out who you are, who God is, what the world needs, and do something where those things intersect.
My challenge to you this week is to run this process for yourself. What is your “Why?” What is your “identity?” What we did here was for all Christians- God’s general will. But if we want to have a better picture of what God wants us to specifically do, we need to press into and explore our own identity. Who did God make you to be? What are you passionate about? What are you good at? What brings you joy? What makes you feel connected to God?
So, this week, may we dig into who we are, who God made us to be, and may this exploration of our identity become yet another tool to help us understand God’s will for our lives.
*This week’s sermon draws on a TED Talk by Simon Sinek (watch here). For the full Frederick Beuchner quote, click here.