As I look back on the time where I was slowly learning the lessons I have been sharing, when I was questioning my faith and seeking a lasting identity, I am drawn deeper to the time that came before. I’m drawn in to look at the circumstances that led to my faith crumbling into questions and my identity being wrapped up in what I could see.
Early in my life, I remember accepting Jesus as my Savior. I truly believed He died for me and I was thankful for the difference that made in my life. However, I can see as I look back, my identity was not found in who He said I was. I let the rules be the guidelines of my identity. I was happy and thriving in that world that every edge was protected by “do’s or don’ts.” My actions though sometimes fueled by my faith, were also guided by other’s expectations that I would follow those rules. I fit myself into the mold of how a Christian should look because after accepting Jesus as my Savior at a young age I grew right into this place.
I grew up in church. My identity was wrapped up in how others perceived me. I was a Christian. The church was my comfort zone, my home. The church family was my family. I couldn’t put into words back then nor do I know if I even realized but I let that family become my support and the security of my identity. It didn’t seem like a problem back then. In fact, as I said I was thriving in that atmosphere. I was growing in my faith. I was looking to God for strength. I was succeeding at fitting in the mold and for the most part I felt like I had it all together. However, the places where I didn’t have it together, I closed off to others and myself. They were off limits.
I wouldn’t admit to myself, let alone to my church family, that I didn’t have it all together. When questions came up in my heart they would remain unspoken. To ask questions such as: “How can you be sure you’re a Christian?” or “Why can’t a loving God just set aside our sins?” was to speak words of disagreement or a lack of understanding. In doing so I felt as if I was denying my faith. I thought this was a sign of weakness. I feared that people would wonder if “any real Christian” could have those questions. My focus was on the external. I was preserving the image that was my identity and my security by being found there.
By not being willing to say, “I don’t understand or agree,” I was actually saying that I cared more about what people thought about me than I did about the depth of my faith. Little by little, I was allowing cracks that could have been repaired with godly answers to weaken the foundation of my faith.
I didn’t see this weakening happening until my faith came crashing down around me in college. I had no idea that hiding away unanswered questions would lead to the rubble in which I then found myself. Still, I was afraid to admit I had those questions because I knew the security of being accepted. I feared not fitting in the place and with the people I thought of as “home.” I was afraid because everything I had once stood on was now just a pile of questions. However, after my college class they were bigger questions and bigger insecurities. As I discussed in the believer post, I questioned everything I had once thought I knew.
Although now I can look back and see this began happening in my early years, it felt so sudden. With that college class everything changed- I felt that I could no longer fit into that neatly packaged identity that I called Christianity. I could feel the tension of living in that identity of the outer rules but not having the inner understanding of why.
However, I continued in the pattern I had started as a young teenager. I continued choosing pride and fear instead of honesty. I chose to seek that security and acceptance instead of answers. From what I could see, it was not just my faith at stake but also my identity. Yet at a time when I couldn’t hold onto my faith, when I felt like it was stolen from me- I was not willing to give up my identity as well. I knew how to keep the rules. I knew how to hold onto the boundaries that set my identity and so I did. I let others see me by the actions I took and hid the battle and questions in my heart.
Standing in the present, I can look back and see how Romans 1:25 applied to my situation. Romans 1:25 says “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” By not confronting my doubts or being honest about them. I stepped into sin. I stepped into serving the created. I allowed the deception and lies of this world—the lie that my identity and security came from people—to take root in my heart. I exchanged the truth of how God cared for me and sought to preserve what others thought of me.
Instead of looking to the God of my youth, the God of our fathers, I looked to myself. I wanted to be who I was before. I wanted to hold onto and return to a place where I just believed. I was trying to keep up what others thought of me but it didn’t stop there. Now I was trying to convince myself and my God that this person that followed the rules was good enough. I was working to maintain my identity. I was striving to be who I had always been and who I thought God wanted me to be. Those rules that I used as guidelines of my identity became a way for me to work and prove that I was who I had always been. Anything that didn’t fit into this identity I hid from others. I pushed it down not desiring to admit it to myself or my God.
I thought I could hide and it would all be ok. However, Psalm 139 shares the truth of what God sees and knows about each of us.
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
These verses tell us that we are known. No one can hide from God. Though I attempted to hide my doubts and questions, there is no place that we can go from God’s presence (Psalm 139:7). He knew my heart and my intentions as I worked to make up for my lack of faith.
My heart was where I suppose that Moses’s heart was when he asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). I, like Moses, had my vision set on myself.
I needed to stop trying to be the person I thought God would want to send and see that God knew me right where I was. I might have been hiding my struggles from those around me but I was not hiding from God.
Let’s look at the context surrounding Moses’s question. In Exodus 3:7, God tells Moses that He sees what is going on with the people. He knows what they are going through. He sees their situation and He is getting ready to act. He is going to go with them.
God knew what was going on in me. He knew I had to learn that my identity is not in what others think of me. He knew I didn’t have it all together. He saw my struggles, questions and doubts. However, I still found the promise in His word that He would go with me like His promise of His presence to Moses in Exodus 3:12. We will talk about this at length in future posts but let’s briefly look at several verses where God extends this promise of His presence to us through the giving of His Holy Spirit.
John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever-“
Ephesians 1:13 “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 28:20b … “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Who then is this God? Who is the one that promises His presence? Moses wanted to know the answer to this too. Let’s look in on the conversation between Moses and God in Exodus 3:13–15:
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
As I was trying to learn from and understand this passage I found a great resource from John Piper. Piper is a pastor, writer and founder of desiring God. Much of the info below is adapted from this teaching. If you would like to read the sermon in detail you can find it here.
In the conversation in Exodus 3, God choose to reveal part of Himself. He makes three statements to Moses that build upon one another.
- “I AM who I AM.”
- “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
- ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’
The first statement “I AM who I AM” appears simple. However, with closer look and study we can see that He claims existence. He claims unchanging qualities. He states that His life is not dependent on another nor can it be equaled by another. The fullness of my statements of what God’s words, “I AM who I AM” claims can be backed by other scriptures such as Colossians 1:17. This verse says, “And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” God doesn’t just let life happen as He watches, but He is actively creating and caring for His creation. He holds it all together. He was there before the beginning.
God continues by telling Moses to tell the people that “I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). I AM, the God who exists with no beginning, is taking interest in His people. They are not forgotten. He wants Moses to tell the people that Moses was not coming on his own but because the one who creates and was never created was getting ready to act.
In God’s third statement He uses His name Yahweh which is translated in English Bibles as “LORD.” Here He tells Moses to tell the people, the same God of their fathers has sent me to you and His name is Yahweh. The very name “Yahweh” is derived from the same word as “I AM” (hayah)[i]. God wants the people to know what His name means when they call upon Him and His name. “Yahweh” is equivalent to “I AM.” Yahweh the I AM! This God who has and will always exist chose to step into the lives of His people. The same God of their fathers was sending Moses to a people in need.
FOR DEEPER THOUGHT
Why was God taking action?
Look back at Exodus 3:7: “Then the Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings.’” The LORD, Yahweh, knows the people.
In each situation, with the Israelites in Egypt, with me, with you, God knows the oppression, the sin, and the questions. “For the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9b). He knows the situation, the choices, and the rebellion. He knows our need for Him and He knows the sin that is entangled in our hearts. He knows! He is the I AM and He exists fully able to see our oppression, to see our sin, to see us!
Even with all those hidden feelings and questions, God knew me. He knew I doubted; He knew I questioned. He knew when I felt lost. He knew my sin. He knew my situation. He knew everything about me and He still loved me. He also knows your sin, your failures, your shortcomings, and He still reaches out His hand with His gift of grace and forgiveness. He knows and yet He still extends the right to be called His child and receive His salvation.
I am known.
EMBRACING MY GOD-GIVEN IDENTITY
- Can you find peace in this claim? I, _______________, am known.
- What does it mean to be known?
God, the I AM, the One who was before all things and who made all things (Colossians 1:16-17) knows each of us. He knows everything about us -past, sin, and situation- yet He loves us.
This knowledge is valuable because even though God knows each person thoroughly, including what we may try to hide, He does not turn away. He promises to go with each of His children by the presence of His Spirit. When we are searching for significance and identity, we can have confidence in Yahweh. We don’t have to prove our own value. The world is not what tells us of our importance. Our value comes from the I AM, Yahweh, the one who made all things, knows all things and holds all things together.
- If you believe this is true how should this affect your life?
- What action should be spurred by this truth?
- How does this aspect of who we are play out in a role/position that God has given you?
God knows His creation. We don’t have to try and hold things together because only He can (Colossians 1:17). We don’t need to hide our insecurities or inadequacies in order to be loved by God. We can be honest about questions and feelings and rest assured that our hearts are known and seen. We can be truthful about shortcomings and sins, knowing that because of Jesus we are accepted and loved. He took action so that He could pull us close to Him.
Our true acceptance and value does not come from people but from God.
We don’t need to explain our actions and try to control what others see or think. We have only to seek God and what He has for us. He knows each of us and is the only source of lasting value for He is lasting, The I AM.
To the First and the Last, the I AM, the One who holds all things together: Thank you that we are known by You. You know our past, You know our sin, You know our situation, and You know our character. Despite all these things, You offer us Your love. May we not run or hide from you but answer the call of relationship. May we invite you into our lives like David in Psalms 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23-24)
I praise you, Father, that I don’t need to hide my sin or what I am going through from you. You already know, for I am known. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
If you missed any of the posts in this series and want to catch up you can find them below.
Next time on the blog we will look continue with the thought of inviting God into the places which we think are hidden- into areas that He already knows. I hope that you will continue on this journey with me to explore identity. To receive updates please subscribe to Steps to Trusting. As a welcome for subscribing you will receive the a printable file that includes much of the encouragement that I found in God’s word. When I was searching to see who I was, I found healing and an identity of value and purpose in God’s promises. I hope that these truths will be a blessing to you too.