Text: Philippians 3:4-9 | Listen to Message
No matter who you are, everyone’s working off an identity “script” – a story that tells you have worth, you’re a somebody, you’re okay.
The Traditional Script goes something like this: You’ll receive validation if you do your duty, play by society’s rules, and wait for honor to come to you in due time.
The Modern Script sounds more like this: You’ll receive validation if you play by your own rules, forge your own path, and live for the free expression of your own individual uniqueness.
As different as these two identities are, they both lead to the same dead end.
And that leads us to a third identity that Jesus tells us about: the Gospel Script. The Gospel says your validation comes directly from God, who loves you just because he loves you. You’re intrinsically valuable because you were created in his image and because, in spite of your sin, you are being re-created in his image. In Christ’s love, you are freer than the freest prodigal and more righteous than most self-righteous older brother. Your identity in Christ – the truest thing about you – is a gift that no one can take away.
So how would you “flip the script” if you realized you were living in the wrong story, finding your identity in all the wrong things?
Using his personal testimony in Philippians 3:4ff, the Apostle Paul illustrates a 4-step process to becoming who you are in Christ
1. Recognize what your self-made identity is doing to you.
Whether you’re finding your sense of self-worth in duty or desire, faithfulness or freedom, achievement or autonomy, your identity is making you an idolater. You will always worship and serve the things that give you the biggest dose of validation. You will devote your time and attention to those things, and they will shape and control your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
For example, if you find your identity in your work, you’ll become a workaholic. If you find your identity in the approval of others, you’ll become a people-pleaser. If you find your identity in money and possessions, you’ll become a materialist.
What’s worse, whether you succeed or fail, the very act of seeking your identity in a self-made or culturally-conditioned “script” distorts and disintegrates your true self.
Take the workaholic, for example. What happens when someone criticizes his work? Or corrects him and tells him to do it over or do it better? Or tells him he stinks at his job and lays him off? He’s devastated. Suddenly, he’s anxious, agitated, angry, and defensive. He could easily go to a dark place of despair.
Or take the people-pleaser. What happens when someone implies she’s not that interesting, not that smart, not that much fun to be around? Again . . . devastation, frustration, self-doubt, and depression.
But let’s say you find your identity in affirmation or achievement or affluence . . . and you succeed. Say you get what you’re after! What happens then? You get a huge hit of validation, the serotonin flows freely, you take credit for your success, and you become arrogant, self-righteous, and critical of others who aren’t as amazing as you.
Do you see any of this in yourself? It’s important that you do – because the first step of flipping the script is simply recognizing what your current identity is doing to you. It’s not pretty. As Tim Keller says, when you’re serving these false identities, “Success goes straight to your head and failure goes straight to your heart.
2. Render it powerless.
Jesus said you must deny and die to your old self – your psyche. That means saying “no” to your self-made and culturally-conditioned identity. The Apostle Paul described this self-denial as “counting it as loss.”
But how do you deny yourself when these identity layers keep showing up in your life, telling you, “You need me; you’re nothing without me”?
Paul’s testimony includes advice that’s quite unusual for Scripture: he uses a vulgarity, a profanity, to stress the force and totality of his renunciation of his self-made identity. Modern translators seem to wince at that, so they soften the blow with euphemisms: Paul thought of his old self as “rubbish or refuse.”
The reality is Paul calls his former identity skubalon – a crass word for feces or excrement. Skubalon was an obscenity, common in street talk but rare in formal writing. The modern equivalent of skubalon is †shit.
You want victory over finding your sense of worth in an identity that’s wrecking you? Then call it for what it is: it’s a pile of shit. It’s not only worthless, it’s reprehensible.
And here’s the thing: That false identity loses it’s power when you see it for what it really is, you call †BS, and you allow yourself to be absolutely disgusted by it.
3. Receive your true identity by grace through faith.
Having forfeited your former, false identity, you’re free to “gain Christ and be found in him,” as Paul wrote.
I want to stress that this new identity is a gift. It’s free. It’s received by grace alone.
In the Gospel, God isn’t saying to sinners, “I love and accept you because . . .” Because you’re good. Because you’re kind. Because you’re smart. Because you’re strong. Because you’re successful. Because you first loved me. Because you’re sorry for your sin. No, God says to sinners, “I love you, period.” No because. No benchmarks. No conditions.
In Christ – and simply because God loves you – you receive his record, his achievements, his righteousness, credited to your account. So do what you’d do with any other gift and simply accept it! Receive your new identity by faith and treasure it!
4. Revere God as your decisive validator.
Amidst the noise, learn to live for an Audience of One. In faith, give God the first, last, and loudest vote. Society can’t validate you. Your work can’t validate you. Relationships can’t validate you. And you can’t validate yourself. Only Christ can give you the honest, deep, unshakeable validation you long for.
So don’t just count God as one advisor amongst many. Pursue him. Know him. Love him. Trust him. Honor him. The more you esteem God, the more his validation will mean to you. The more his “well done” will drown out all the other voices telling you you’re not good enough.
When you revere God as your decisive validator, you’re giving the ultimate say to the One who has the ultimate say. You’re tuning in to the one who says, “One day I will judge you . . . but my Son has already been judged in your place, so I can tell you the verdict is that you’re loved and accepted.” You’re wise to listen to that voice.
† I debated writing this. I did so because 1) everyone who knows me knows I don’t talk this way; 2) frankly, no one reads these blog posts; and 3) this is the force of the original Greek. I shared this in church because I don’t think this’ll really “click” with us until we stop excusing our addiction to finding our identity in the things of this world and wake up to realize we’re cozying up to a steaming pile of excrement.