JANUARY 12, 2020 – Identity

JANUARY 12, 2020 – Identity

A Sermon on Matthew 3:13-17

“May I see your ID?” Just this week I was asked that question when I went on a hospital visit. I have to admit that most of the time I take it for granted that I have an ID. 

It wasn’t always that way, though. I remember going with my parents to the MVA to get photographed for my first ID. It wasn’t even a driver’s license. It was some other photo ID. I don’t remember why I needed it. But I remember the feeling of getting handed that state-issued piece of plastic. This sounds kinda crazy to say, but in some way, it was really validating. Like, “I have an ID! I’m somebody!” I even have the little hologram to affirm that it’s real!

It wasn’t like I suddenly “became somebody” on the day at the MVA. But my identity was affirmed in a new way. I think I’ve probably felt similarly with every other ID I’ve gotten since that one. My driver’s license, for sure. My college ID at the University of Maryland– I was definitely really proud of that one. My government ID, when I worked for the government. Even when I became a card-carrying Methodist pastor. There’s just something validating about getting an ID.

Of course, IDs are just one thing that makes up identity. Presumably if you wanted to steal my identity, you’d benefit from having my social security number, my mother’s maiden name, and probably some other things. 

I wonder what you consider to be core pieces of your identity. 

For some people it’s the work that they do. And our culture feeds into that, doesn’t it? What’s one of the first things that you tend to ask someone when you meet them? “What do you do?” 

It seems that we think that if we want to know who someone is, we have to know what they do.

Our identity can be based on lots of other things, too. Maybe it’s your political party. Or your number of instagram followers. Maybe it’s that you make a good salary. For students, maybe it’s that you get good grades. What is your identity based off of?

Identity is actually front and center in the story of Jesus’ baptism. 

Again, this is how Matthew says what happened: 

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The Father speaks from Heaven and the Holy Spirit comes to affirm Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, seen in one act at the same time. It’s such an amazing moment.

But do you know that something very similar happens when someone is baptized as a Christian? We don’t typically get the heaven-rending spectacle that Jesus did, but in a very real way, in our baptism, the Father speaks a word over us: “This is my daughter. This is my son.” And the Holy Spirit comes to affirm our identity as God’s own child and to empower us to do God’s will.

Jesus is God’s Son in a unique way. But Christians are God’s adopted children. When you adopt a child, you don’t love that child in a second class child type of way. You love that child as you would love your own biological children. Paul says, “you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The Holy Spirit comes to witness to us the reality of our identity as children of God. The Holy Spirit is the hologram of authenticity on the ID that the Father gives you. 

I love that when Jesus was baptized, he hadn’t really done anything at all yet. All he’d done is show up to be baptized, because it was the right thing to do. His ministry hadn’t launched yet. There were no healings, no signs and wonders. And yet, God speaks and says, “This is my Son.”

That’s how it is at your baptism, whether as a baby or as an adult. It’s not about what you bring. It’s about God’s declaration over you and God’s Spirit upon you. You need to know that you are a child of God. 1 John 3:1 says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” That’s your ultimate identity.

I pretty much take it for granted that I have a state-issued photo ID. Do you take it for granted that you have a God-issued identity?  It’s a truth that needs to be affirmed over and over again. 

There’s something else you need to know. Yes, you have an identity, but there is an identity thief. There is someone that wants to come an snatch your God-given identity and replace it with a lesser, more vulnerable identity.

Immediately following Jesus’ baptism, Matthew chapter 4 says this, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Let’s review: The heavens cracked open and a voice declared Jesus as God’s Son. And then a few moments later, along comes the devil saying, “If you are the Son of God…” The devil is a rather bold liar, isn’t he?

One of the devil’s primary tactics against God’s children is to make them doubt their identity as children of God. It’s a tactic that’s particularly effective in derailing the faith of new Christians, but it’s also employed against more seasoned saints.

We need to guard our identity as children of God and not let the lies of the enemy snatch it away from us. Being a child of God isn’t just one more identity among many that you have, it is your primary identity. And if it’s not your primary identity, you’re missing out.

If the enemy can convince you to willingly put your primary identity somewhere else, then he can put you in a position to take you out. Because our primary identity is our primary source of validation. And your heart will follow after your source of validation.

  • If your identity is in a human relationship, when that relationship fails– not if, but when– your identity will be in a shambles. 
  • If your identity is in your work, your world is going to implode if you lose your job. 
  • If your identity is in the number of social media followers you have or how many likes your latest post gets, then your identity and self-image are literally at the whim of a crowd. 
  • Not to rub salt in the wound, but if your identity is in rooting for a winning football team… Hey don’t send me email, just receive the point. 

But when your primary identity is in your relationship with God, that God is your Father and you are God’s child, your identity is on rock solid ground.

So how do you get this identity? Well, it typically happens through your baptism. God’s word is spoken over you. God says, “You <name> are my daughter.” “You <name> are my son.” 

And the seal of your identity is the Holy Spirit. Now, don’t push this analogy too hard, but sometimes the hologram can fade if you don’t care for your ID by reaffirming your identity as a child of God. 

Do you feel worn out? Or do you feel like you’re just not sure that your faith and identity in Christ is authentic? What you’re looking for is the Holy Spirit. You know how I felt validated by getting my new plastic IDs? The Holy Spirit’s validation is like that… times a million. The Holy Spirit brings a sense of deep belonging. Unfailing love. A peace that passes understanding. Think about what it would mean if it were actually true if you were a child of God. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the benefits of being a child of God into your experience of life.

You can actually ask for that work of the Holy Spirit in your life. We don’t repeat a water baptism, but there’s nothing to stop you from asking to receive that work of the Holy Spirit again and again. It’s one of our primary defences against identity theft.


  1. John Nupp

    Thank you for this perspective, David. I’m working on a presentation for License to Preach School about Pastoral Identity and was looking for passages about who we are in Christ. I had written down most of the Biblical Call passages, but had not included the Baptism of Jesus.

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