Living As A Child Of GodRev. Philip Miller | April 2, 2023
Selected highlights from this sermon
In the series Identity Traps, Pastor Miller shows us how our orphan hearts tend to look to everything but God for our identity. And we’ll find that all these strategies for significance, security, or satisfaction will always let us down.
But the good news is that we don’t have to live like orphans in this universe. Because of what Jesus did for us through His death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension, we can now live, not as orphans, but as children of God.
As Pastor Miller wraps up this series, he’ll give us a few final insights that will help us live as a child of the Most High God.
Download ID Verses (pdf format): 15 Key Verses for our deep soul needs.
Well, it’s Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem to loud hosannas, to begin the greatest week in all of world history, for it is in this week that Jesus laid down His life only to take it up again, to forgive us of our sins, to cleanse us of all unrighteousness, to reconcile us to God so that we might be children of God.
And as each of these kids have reminded us this morning, we are children of God, by grace through faith in Christ. Can we thank the kids one more time? I know they’ve left, but let’s thank them. (applause)
Today we’re going to put a bow on our series, Identity Traps where we’re looking at nine ways we lose ourselves and how Jesus makes us whole. And you know, a couple of weeks ago, somebody pointed out to me that this little schema here actually kind of looks like a seating chart for Moody Church (laughter) if you think about it. And so, what you could do is you could identify your whole thing, your identity trap, and then move to that section. And so actually everybody stand up. We’re going to shuffle...I’m just kidding. I’m kidding. We’re not going to do that. (laughs)
But in this series we’ve seen how our orphan hearts tend to look to everything but God for significance, for security, for satisfaction. We look to people and power and possessions to know who we are, and it all ends up letting us down. But the good news is that we don’t have to live like orphans anymore. Because of Jesus we don’t have to live like orphans, fending for ourselves in this universe. Jesus has made a way back home to our Father. He came for us. He died in our place, and for our sake; He bore our sin and shame. He exchanged His identity for ours. He’s our substitute, His life for ours. And He rose again so that we might come home to our Father by grace, through faith in Christ, and be children of God, no longer orphans but children of God.
And we’re learning that our truest, our fullest, our deepest, most abiding, thick, durable, robust identity is found in this simple reality of living as a child of God. And so today, what I want to do, as we wrap this up, is I want to share just a few final insights on this whole schema. We’re not going to look at a character in particular. We’re going to zoom out and look at the whole thing today with some final concluding thoughts. We’re going to see today the worship of identity, the weight of identity, and the wonder of identity, the worship, weight and wonder of identity. Those are our key thoughts for today. My prayer is that this talk will help us gain insights on what it truly means to live as a child of God.
Would you bow your heads? Let’s pray, and we’ll jump right in.
Father, we need more than anything to learn to really live as children of God. Some of us have been orphans in this life because we don’t know you, and so Father, I pray that today we would come home. Some of us have been living like orphans so long that even though we’ve come to trust Jesus as Savior and Lord, and we have all these resources available to us, our habits keep us from living as full sons and daughters of God. Help us to step into, to metabolize the deep realities of who we are as children of God. Free us from all that is taking us down and help us live with the faith of a child. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Number one, the worship of identity, worship of identity. Every single one of us has an identity. We have a sense of self in this wide world, a way that we conceive of ourselves, that helps us distinguish ourselves from others and helps us to have bearing, roots as to who we are in this wide world. So, some of us might say, “Well, I’m a mother.” “I’m a director,” “I’m a creative person,” “I’m a teacher,” and all of these sort of identity statements all provide us with three deep foundational needs, deep identity needs within ourselves. We’re all looking for significance. We need to know that we matter, that we have value.
We’re all looking for security. We need to feel safe and okay in the universe. We’re all looking for satisfaction. We want to be fulfilled and happy and so we build identities in order to meet these deep identity needs for significance, security, and satisfaction. But what’s interesting, and we haven’t had a lot of time to tease this out, is that those deep identity needs actually work on our hearts in very different ways. For example, we tend to serve the things that give us significance. We tend to trust the things that give us security, and we tend to love the things that give us satisfaction. Okay?
So, there are different modes, if you will, of the way that your heart engages in this overall pattern. We tend to serve whatever promises us significance. We tend to trust whatever promises security. We tend to love whatever promises satisfaction. So, for example, let’s say you’re looking to your career for significance. You really want to build your identity around making it big time in your profession. That’s how you’re going to know who you are in the wide world. And so, if that’s true of you, if you’re building your career in order to get significance, you’re much more likely to work excessively long hours, to give most of your energy to your job, to make sacrifices, including probably your family, in order to get ahead. You’re much more inclined to go the extra mile for the firm. You’re much more likely to try to keep score through promotions and paychecks. Right? In other words, what you are doing is you are serving, giving of your time, your skill, your life in exchange for significance. Right? That’s what you’re doing. In other words, we tend to give our service to the very things that we hope will give us significance in return.
In contrast, we tend to trust whatever it is that is promising us security. Let’s say you’re looking to romance for security. Okay? Let’s say you’re building your identity around finding the right person who will give you love and protection, and you’ll feel safe in their arms. And if that’s true, you are much more likely to wear rose colored glasses (right?), to sort of excuse away whatever faults are there, to develop co-dependencies in your relationship, and to do whatever it takes to have them. Whatever it takes!
So, what we’re doing there is we’re entrusting our hearts, our life, our self, who we are...We’re entrusting ourselves to them in exchange for a sense of security. So, we give our trust to whatever it is we hope will give us security.
And finally, we tend to love whatever it is that’s giving us a sense of satisfaction. We tend to love whatever promises satisfaction. Let’s say you are looking at fashion for satisfaction. So, you build your identity around having the trendiest look and the latest technology. Okay? This is how you’re orienting your life. If you do that, you are much more likely to be image-obsessed, to always be wanting more in life, to be chasing after the next thing, whatever it is. You are captivated, most likely, by niceties and you get a little spoiled and you live with a lot of malcontent in the world. Because what’s happening is your love is getting all wrapped up and entangled in all this stuff. Right? And in exchange you’re getting some sense of satisfaction. So, we tend to give our love, our affections, to whatever it is we hope will give us satisfaction.
Now just look at those words. Serve, trust, love. Those are words of devotion, aren’t they? They’re devotion words. And here’s the main point. Where we find our identity, we give our devotion. Where we find our identity, we give our devotion. This is where we render our service, our trust, and our love.
Now what I’m trying to show you here is there’s actually a deep connection between identity and worship. Do you see that? There’s a connection between identity and worship. Identity formation is actually an act of worship. We are what we worship.
A fellow philosopher by the name of James K.A. Smith in 2016 wrote an amazing book titled You Are What You Love. You Are What You Love. And Jamie Smith writes this: “Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior flow.” Do you hear what he’s saying. Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, and it’s the wellspring from which our actions and behaviors flow. So, at the heart of identity is desire, and desire is a word for worship. You see that?
The reformer and theologian, Martin Luther, reminds us of this as he writes: “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god. This is profoundly important. Wherever we look for our deep identity needs to be met (significance, security, satisfaction)...Whenever we build our identity in pursuit of those deep soul longings we are, in fact, worshiping. We are worshiping. Identity formation is an act of worship,
Now, it’s interesting. In the enlightenment we labeled ourselves homo sapiens (Right?), the wise beings, the thinking beings, but it might be more accurate to label ourselves as “homo liturgicus,” the worshiping being, because we can’t help but worship. It’s who we are, and we are what we worship. Worship and identity are comingled and mutually reinforcing things. Our search for identity always moves us out and into worship, and it is through worship that we actually discover who we are.
So, I need significance, security, and satisfaction, and so I give my service, my love, and my trust in order to get it, and in getting it, that’s how I know who I am. You see how it’s all interconnected? Those words, service, trust, love—those are words of devotion. Those are words of worship. You can’t form your identity without doing theology. Do you see the connections? The question is, “Who are you worshiping?” And therefore, as a result, who are you becoming? Who are you worshiping, and as a result, who are you becoming?
The worship of identity! Okay? The first core idea.
Secondly, I want to talk about the weight of identity. Throughout this series we’ve been talking about the three primary strategies that we use to get our deep identity needs met. We looked for significance, security, and satisfaction through people, power, and possessions. Right?
Now, one thing we haven’t spent a lot of time talking about is that there’s actually, when it comes to people, power, and possessions. There’s an external version of that and there’s an internal version of that. External and internal! Here’s what I mean. Let’s take people, for example. I can try to find real significance, security, and satisfaction in people out there. Right? So, I’m living for romance, for applause, for approval, for promotions, for smiles, whatever it is. I’m looking outside at the people out there and that’s how I’m getting my sense of identity. So that’s an external-based approach, or I can actually flip it and start looking in here, trying to find significance, security, and satisfaction in the person that I am on the inside. So instead of looking at people out here, I can look to the person in here.
It’s like Ricky Nelson. I’m going old school on you. It’s like Ricky Nelson singing Garden Party. How many of you remember that song? That was a long time ago. I know. My dad loves it. He says in that line, “You can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.” Right? (sings) Anyway, you can’t please everyone. You’ve got to please yourself. Do you see that even in the line, instead of looking to people out here to know who I am, I’m now looking in here to know who I am.
The same thing is true of power. There’s an external internal dynamic. I can look for significance, security, and satisfaction through power out in the world, accumulating power. I can try to be large and in charge and try to be the boss of everyone, or I can try to find that sense of power and control inside. I can try to control me. I can try to control my body, my will, my freedom, my world, you see.
As Robert Tew says, “If you’re going to trust one person, let it be yourself.” Let it be yourself. And the same thing is true of possessions. You can orient your life around finding significance, security, and satisfaction in stuff that’s out here—cars, houses, fashion, stuff. Right? Or you can look for it inside, your inner possessions, your inner beauty, your inner personality, your creativity, the spark of who you are, all that you possess on the inside, because it’s, as they say, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” Right? It’s what’s on the inside that counts. And I think this distinction between external strategies for finding, you know, your sense of security, significance, and satisfaction versus an internal strategy helps us understand some of the big distinctions between traditional community-oriented cultures and late-modern individualistic cultures.
So, for example, in traditional community-oriented cultures, and some of you are from those kind of cultures around the world, the focus is largely on the external. So, if you want significance in the community (people), if you want security in the tribe or your nation (power), if you want satisfaction in life (satisfaction), then live into the expectations of your family, your people, and then you will receive honor and prestige and be rewarded with leadership in the community. You’ll have a happy and fulfilling life. You’ll get ahead.
But you notice in a traditional society, community-based society, it’s mainly external where you’re building your identity. You’re mainly looking for security, significance, and satisfaction in the world around you. That’s how you know who you are.
In late-modern individualistic cultures it’s just the opposite. So, this is the world we live in. This is the West. The focus shifts to the internal. If you want significance, value yourself. If you want security, trust yourself. If you want satisfaction, treat yourself. Right? Be true to yourself. Find yourself; follow your heart. Be yourself. You do you. It’s everywhere. It’s all looking internal, looking for significance, security, and satisfaction somewhere on the inside of you. It’s a shift from the outside to the inside.
So, in traditional community-oriented cultures, the question is, “Who do I need to be for my community?” but in late-modern individualistic cultures, the question is, “Who do I need to be for me?” And I think in the west, in the last century in particular, we’ve been experimenting with this shift to move from external based strategies for identity formation to an internal strategy of looking to the person, power, and possessions that I have in here to know who I am. And it’s not without reason that we would make that shift because if you build your identity externally, if you base it out here in creation, you are vulnerable. Do you realize that? You are vulnerable. A creation-based identity is vulnerable. A creation-based identity is vulnerable.
If you live for people’s approval, you’ll die by their rejection. Right? If you live for power, you’ll die when you lose control. If you live for possessions, you’ll die when they get taken away. In other words, if you tether your identity to anything in this world, you’re always going to be vulnerable because it can always be lost. You’ll be vulnerable to manipulation. You’ll be vulnerable to control and rejection. You’ll be vulnerable to grief and loss, and then you’ll wonder, “Who on Earth am I?” Who on Earth am I? With a creation-based identity, friends, you always carry the weight of vulnerability, and it’s a heavy load. It’s a heavy load.
So, it’s not without reason that people in the West have been shifting to a more internal-based strategy to find identity. It sounds so much easier, right? You can’t please everyone. Please yourself! Don’t trust other people. That’s scary! Trust yourself. Forget all the shiny things. Shine from within. That’s what really matters. Move over, creation-based identities. Let’s have a self-created identity instead. That’s where it’s at. But here's the reality, friends. The experiment is coming home to roost and we’re increasingly discovering that a self-created identity is crushing. A self-created identity is crushing. It turns out that this idea of forgetting what other people think and just pleasing yourself sounds really good on paper, but in reality our own opinions just don’t carry enough weight to secure our own identities. All of the self-acceptance, self-approvals, self-applause that we summon always comes up short. We can’t escape the need to find some validation outside of ourselves. We’re not good at naming ourselves. We’re not good at naming ourselves. Oh, we may reject the voices of our parents or our tradition, but when we finally summon the courage to declare to the world, “This is me!” it’s amazing how fast we collect a little group of cheerleaders around us to validate the decision that we made. We just changed the group of cheerleaders we’re looking to. We can’t live in the vacuum of our own approval for long. And when you only trust yourselves, friends, it gets incredibly lonely.
It gets so lonely when you push everybody away in order to be yourself. Oh, you may be free, but it’s a freedom in isolation and the silence is deafening because you’re all by yourself in there. And it’s an enormous amount of pressure, this “being yourself.” When you try to be yourself, to find your unique self, to shine and shimmer from within, do you realize how much pressure is loaded on you in those kinds of things? Go be yourself; follow your own heart! My kids and I, we were at Disney World this last year, and the theme for the year was, “You Are the Magic.”
You are the magic! And there are people serving fries. I wonder if they believe they’re the magic. (laughter) Do you realize the absurdity of it. They don’t even buy what they’re selling. It’s great marketing, a terrible lifestyle. Crushing expectations. Go be unique. Go be awe-inspiring. Go be yourself. Glimmer and shine. Be unique. There’s like a whole bunch of billions of us. It’s so hard to be unique. No wonder we’re so dominated by anxiety, always wondering if we’re enough. Am I special enough? Am I real enough? Am I authentic enough? Am I unique enough?
And while a few people go off and go viral and become superstars, the rest of us are left carrying around the crushing weight of being selves that we can never measure up to. The people we’re supposed to be. We’re haunted by the selves we wish we were, and we’re never enough. And it turns out, in the end, we’re still vulnerable. We’re still vulnerable because one day the inner spark of who you are will be lost. I hate to tell you, but one day you’re going to get old, and age and infirmity are going to take their toll. Mental decline will set in, and you will be left without a whole bunch of beauty that you used to think was who you were. Friends, you need an identity that will survive the loss of your great beauty, or in the end you’ll lose yourself.
So, a creation-based identity is vulnerable. We’re orphans, you see, worshiping the creation. Connect that back to point number one. We’re orphans worshiping the creation, trying to find security, significance, satisfaction in the world around us, and we end up vulnerable because the world is not a dependable place. And a self-created identity is crushing because we’re orphans worshiping ourselves. Do you see? We’re making ourselves our own gods, and it’s a crushing weight to be your own god. You’re just not up to the task. And so, it crushes you in the end.
It’s what David Foster Wallace was trying to tell us in 2005 in his commencement address at Kenyon College. He’s not a Christian man but listen to these words. “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there’s actually no such thing as atheism. There’s no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if that’s where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing you’ll die a million deaths before they finally plant you. Worship power and you’ll end up feeling weak and afraid, and you’ll need ever more power over others to numb your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, and you’ll end up feeling stupid, a fraud, and always on the verge of being found out.”
That’s so good. It’s so insightful. Creation-based identities, friends, leave us vulnerable. Self-created identities are crushing. They’re orphan-hearted strategies that are too heavy a weight to bear. What is our only hope, friends? If those kinds of identities, identities without and identities within, if those don’t work for us, what kind of identity can actually give us life? Where do we build our identity?
The worship of identity, the weight of identity!
Now let’s talk about the wonder of identity, the wonder of identity. Friends, what if we don’t have to live like orphans? What if we don’t have to scrounge around after whatever security, significance, and satisfaction we can find around us or within us? What if we don’t have to go get it? What if we actually have a heavenly Father who knows us completely and loves us utterly and has forgiven us entirely? What if Jesus came and died in our place and for our sake, and bore our sin and shame, and rose again to make us right with God so that by grace, through faith in Christ you don’t have to be an orphan, but you can be a beloved child of a good Father? (applause)
What if the Scriptures are true? What if they’re true?
John 1:12, “But to all who did receive him (Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Galatians 3:26, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God (Ladies, that includes you.) through faith.”
Galatians 4:4-7, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba Father.’ So, you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
Second Corinthians 6:18, God says, “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
Romans 8:14-17, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then we are heirs—heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (applause)
One of my favorite verses in the Old Testament is Zephaniah 3:17. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exalt over you with loud singing.”
Your Father sings over your life. It’s who you are.
First John 3:1-2, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears (Jesus) we shall be like Him, because we shall see him as he is.”
Friends, we are children of God. We are adopted into His forever family, which means you are significant. You are significant. You are a royal son or daughter. You are called by name. You are chosen in Christ. You have been bought by His blood. You are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. You are an heir of all the universe. And you are secure. You are embraced by your Father’s love. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit. You are kept every day of your life for Jesus Christ, and never will He leave you, and never will He forsake you, and nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And you are satisfied in Him. The joy of the Lord is your strength. You have Christ in you, the hope of glory, so you rejoice in the Lord always, and again we say rejoice, for these light and momentary sufferings are producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, and one day the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father and there will be no more weeping, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain...for the old order of things will pass away, and all things will be made new, for in His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. (applause)
Friends, don’t you see what a gift we have been given in Jesus Christ? Christ is in you, and you are in Christ forever, which means you have an identity that is true, and full, and deep, and thick, and durable, and resilient.
A Christ-graced identity is abundantly life-giving, friends. A Christ-graced identity is abundantly life-giving. A creation-based identity is vulnerable. A self-created identity is crushing. But a grace-based Christ-based identity is abundantly life-giving. As Jesus says in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly.”
Friends, do you realize what you have in this identity in Christ? This is not something you have to reach out and get. This is not something you have to reach down and find. This is all something you have to reach up and receive.
The pressure is not on you to go get an identity, to go find an identity, all you have to do is receive the greatest identity the world could ever know. And friends, I really believe this. I believe that if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ underneath all of the sins that plague you, the addictions you can’t seem to quit, all the behaviors that are messing you up, I think that at the root of all of this is a matter of identity. If you get your identity straight, I think it takes care of most everything else. You get this right...Because, friends, in Christ we become ourselves. In Christ we become ourselves.
To be in Christ is to be a child of God, and the more we become like Jesus, the more we become ourselves. Let me say that again. The more we become like Jesus, the more we become ourselves. You don’t get batched up in some sort of generic category where everyone is like the Borg in Star Trek. Remember the Borg? Remember how everyone just kind of became the same? You’re not some sort of Jesus clone.
In becoming like Christ, you actually become your true self, your real self, your created identity with a unique thumbprint of identity markers that God placed in you at the dawn of creation. He’s calling that out. You become your true self. You become more of yourself. As you lay down your orphan identity, you step into your identity as a child of God and your unique beauty as a creation in the image of God. A child of God comes to life, and it is beautiful, and it is unique, and you find yourself by losing yourself in Jesus Christ.
So, we look to our Father to remind ourselves who He is so that we can remember who we are, so we can learn to act like ourselves. That’s how it works. We look to our Father, so we remember who He is, so we remember who we are, so we learn to act like ourselves.
So, who are you? Who are you, Philip?
- I’m a husband.
- I’m a father.
- I’m a son.
- I’m a brother.
- I’m a pastor.
- I’m a neighbor.
- I’m a student.
- I’m a creative.
- I’m a leader.
- I’m a procrastinator.
- I’m an over-eater.
- But more than anything, I’m a child of God, a child of God. (applause)
I pray that this series has been helpful to you. I pray that in this series maybe you’ve begun to recognize some of your own orphan-hearted tendencies. And I hope you are beginning to see the resources in the Gospel that directly shape who you are, and that from who you are you can then live your life.
My good friend, Eric Arnell, and I have been working for the last few weeks on collecting 15 verses for each of the deep-soul needs—significance, security, and satisfaction—and we put them together and they’re just...
- As child of God, I’m significant.
- As a child of God, I’m secure.
- As a child of God, I’m satisfied.
And there’s three of them, one for each. Okay? And we didn’t print these for all of you, but they are available in the bulletin. If you look at the Pastor to People there’s a link there, and you can look it up. It’s moodychurch.org/id-verses.
ID hyphen verses (id-verses)! Okay?
If you are not tech savvy and you want to go to the “Connection Center” we do have a few. Okay? But please only grab one if you need them. Everybody else go online and download these. The vision is you can print them off, put them in your Bible, and on your worst days you can remember who you are.
Use the Scriptures to tell you who you are. Let the voice of your Father ring out with loud singing over your life so you remember who you are, and you’ll remember to act like yourself because at the end of the day, in Jesus Christ, we are children of God. Amen? Amen. (applause)
Father, I just think in a room this large there’s probably somebody here who just wants more than anything to know this reality, to come home in Jesus Christ, to live as a child of God.
And if that’s you, I just want to show you the way. Coming home to our Father is as simple as A-B-C.
- A, we admit that we are sinners,
- B, we believe that Jesus has done everything to make us right with God when He died in our place and for our sake and rose again,
- And C, we commit our lives to Him. We say, “Here I am. Be my Savior, be my Lord, be my King. Be my everything.”
Admit, Believe, Commit!
And I’m just going to pray now, and if you want to come home, would you just pray after me in these words? Let’s pray.
Father, I admit that I am a sinner. I’ve wandered far away from you. I believe that you sent Jesus to die in my place and for my sake, to rise again so I could home, and I commit my life to you. Would you be my Savior, be my Lord, be my King, be my everything? I’m yours.
Father, I just thank you that the reality is, you promise that when we come to you in faith like this you welcome us as forever children of God. And so, for my brothers and sisters who have just prayed this prayer, I pray that You would fill them with your Holy Spirit, that you would remind them who they are, that you would change them. Make this point a pivotal moment in their story.
And Father, for the rest of us who need to learn to live more deeply into our childlike identity, teach us to have the faith of a child, to look to You for significance, security, and satisfaction to remember who we are, that you are our beloved Father, and we are your beloved children, and nothing in heaven or on Earth, even death itself, will change who we are.
We thank you for all that Jesus has done, for it is in His name we pray. And all of God’s people said, “Amen.” Amen.