You have an identity. Maybe you have several identities.
When I say identity I mean the way you see yourself. It is a label you hang on yourself to say who you are.
For example, one label could be your nationality or race. It can be what you do. It can reflect your relationships with other people.
The labels we hang on ourselves are the things we believe are important and meaningful about ourselves.
Names, for example, are important too us. In the early day only important Koreans had names, and they wanted important names so they chose them from China. When common people were allowed names, they wanted to blend in and be seen as also important so they used the same basic names. That is why we have so many Kims and Lees and Parks.
In my country too people didn’t have names for a long time. They were called by their work, the place where they lived or something else that identified them. This is still important to the Samsung man and his kind.
Apart from names and race, such as Simon from England, we may use relationships. Wife of, son of, father of, etc. Many of us spend much of our life working on our identity through how highly we are educated, how much we earn, how important we are, how we look, how our spouse looks, what car we drive, where we live. The list just goes on.
When people think of their identity, these are the things they often think of. Their things, the things they own, are what they are. For those people, they are only as good as their job, their degree, their handbag, or their children.
We are looking at Luke chapter five this morning. It has something to say to us about our identity.
Jesus is preaching to large crowds on the shore of the sea of Galilee. At this point he doesn’t have any disciples. He is wondering from place to place on his own. A little earlier, in chapter four, Jesus stayed in Simon’s home and healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Simon was there when Jesus performed many miracles. After that, in verse 44 Luke says, ‘he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.’
Now in chapter five he is back and preaching on the shore. Simon is there cleaning his nets beside his fishing boat after working all night.
Simon’s identity is a fisherman and a local Galilean. He allows Jesus to use his boat as a speaking platform so that Jesus can teach the crowds.
Simon is the master of the boat. He is a fisherman, son of a fisherman. Jesus is not in a position to tell him how to fish. Jesus is a preacher and the son of a carpenter. Yet Jesus gives orders to Simon about fishing.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
Simon shows us a great example of obedience. It would be normal for a man such as Simon to trust a rabbi’s teaching on religious matters, but this is an area where Simon is the expert.
Perhaps because they already know each other, Simon at once agrees. He does it because it is Jesus who says so. As you know of course, the net fills with so many fish that he has to get help from his colleagues, James and John. Jesus multiplies the fish until two boats are filled.
Simon then sees his identity not only as a fisherman but as a fisherman who is a sinner that is unworthy to be around Jesus. So he begs Jesus to go away.
How do we respond when Jesus comes to us and challenges us as the experts in running our lives? How do we like it when Jesus challenges our identity as being in control and having it all worked out. Do we tell him to go away?
When Gideon was called by God to give up his identity, what happened? Turn to Judges 6.
Reading from verse 14.
The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel?”
Gideon argued back and demanded a sign.
And how about Jeremiah. Turn to the book of Jeremiah and chapter one. God is talking to Jeremiah. Look at verse five.
“Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
“O Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”
Jeremiah resists the invitation to give up his situation and become a prophet. He complains to God that he is too young.
Or how about Moses. You all know what Moses said when God invited him to take up a new identity. Turn to Exodus chapter three. Look at verse 10.
“I am sending you to the king of Egypt so that you can lead my people out of his country.”
But Moses said to God, “I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
God had to persuade Moses that his identity as a shepherd in the desert was not who he was. He had to persuade him to give it up and take on the new identity that God had prepared for him. God told Jeremiah that this new identity had been prepared for him before he was born.
How hard we find it to give up our identity and trust God when we don’t know or understand the new identity he has prepared for us. But we need to be like Simon.
As soon as the fishing boat reached shore, Simon, James and John “left everything and followed Jesus.” They didn’t even unload the fish.
There was a rich man who owned vast flocks. He could have easily made his great wealth his identity, but he didn’t. His name was Job. He knew a lot about suffering.
Job knew he was not entitled to anything he had – it was all owned by God. He knew that everything he had was on loan from God – his money, his relationships, his place in society, his family. Although Job loved his health and children and reputation and role and wealth, he didn’t locate his identity in those things.
This should teach us that if the foundation of our identity is our things, then suffering will pull us away from the misplaced foundation of our joy. And that will make us bitterly sad. But if our identity is anchored in Christ, so that we are able to say, “Everything I need I already possess in him,” then suffering drives us deeper into your source of joy. Suffering, in other words, shows us where we are locating our identity. Our response to suffering reveals what we’re building our lives on and what we’re depending on to make life worth living.
This means that suffering itself does not rob us of joy – idolatry does.
If you’re suffering and you’re angry, bitter, and joyless, it means that at some level you’ve idolized whatever it is you’re losing.
When God invites us to say goodbye to our identity and leave everything behind to follow him, he is setting us free. He is opening the door to true joy.
The gospel alone provides us with the foundation to maintain radical joy in remarkable loss. Joylessness and bitterness in the crucible of pain happen when we lose something that we’ve held onto more tightly than God.
When we depend on anything smaller than God to provide us with the security, significance, meaning, and value that we long for, God will love us enough to take it away. Much of our pain, therefore, is God prying open our hands and taking away something we’ve held onto more tightly than him. And when that happens, it may seem like he’s killing us, but he’s actually setting us free.
So let go of your old identity, and accept the one God prepared for you before you were born.