What is your identity?
As September rolls around every year, almost everyone connects this time of year with Labor Day weekend festivities and the much anticipated beginning of college football season. To some it’s just a much-needed three day weekend, however for me, and for the masses, it typically brings home the stark reality that summer is drawing to a close. For a guy who enjoys doing anything and everything outdoors and being as active as humanly possible, the end of summer should represent a somewhat depressing time of year. But in all actuality, I’m different. To me, it’s not a depressing time of year; it’s actually the exact opposite of that. The reason I enjoy the end of summer and the start of fall has nothing to do with the gorgeous orange, red, and yellow leaves falling from trees, or the much anticipated relief from the days of Georgian 90% humidity, or even the pumpkin spiced lattes that are responsible for the local Starbucks employees knowing me by name. No, the reason that I really love this time of year is because it represents a season of lust and temptation is finally coming to a close.
Bikinis, halter-tops, summer skirts and sports bras: when it comes to summer, the struggle is real. Let’s be rational here, articles of clothing aren’t “evil” and contrary to the “Westboro Baptist” supporters, they were not created by the devil. I get it, I really do. But for me, life would a lot easier if bikinis were replaced by one-pieces, and skirts were replaced with long sundresses. Women are beautiful, no doubt about that. They were created in the image of our beautiful and glorious God, so naturally it makes sense that women are also beautiful and glorious creatures. But there is a huge difference in being in awe of the beauty of a woman, compared to the lusting after a woman to meet our own physical desires. There is a huge gray area here, and not every man struggles with these same temptations; praise the Lord. But the majority of men today do sit in this same dinghy of a boat as I do. We sit there, in the middle of the open sea of lust, our eyes looking out at the vast ocean before us and all we see is more and more waves of temptations. Finding the freedom and relief of a shoreline or even something for us to toss our anchor to is virtually inaccessible by worldly standards. Thankfully though, we don’t live by worldly standards and we have access to a Rock in the middle of the sea to tie our anchor to. Although our anchor secures us, the waves of scantily clothed women, lascivious product advertisements, and iconic celebrity sex appeal continue to beat against the panels of our boat. Our Anchor doesn’t remove all of external challenges; instead He holds us and secures us as we endure them.
If I dig down to the core of the issue I have with summer, it has more to do with my own struggles with temptation and the way culture has actively spread the lie that man and woman's identity is formed based on physical traits and social acceptance. The apostle John wrote “For everything in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life comes not from the Father but from the world” [1 John 2:16]. And Jesus’ little brother James, gives us this golden nugget of wisdom as we understand exactly where our temptations comes from, “but each person is tempted when they are dragged by their own evil desire and enticed” [James 1:14]. So the root of the problem has nothing to do with the articles of clothing themselves, the problem in lies with myself. The evil desires of my heart tell me that gazing at all of the bronze skin and tantalizing bikinis around the pool are ok. The evil desires of my heart tell me that doing a double-take at the cute jogger in a sports bra is normal. The evil desires of my heart tell me that the low-cut blouse is exactly where my eyes should fixate on. Well thankfully Jesus is strong enough to overcome our temptations. Thankfully he has been tested and tempted in every way and did not sin. Thank you Jesus, because I fail daily. So what can men and women do to aid in this persistent and annoying battle?
“You can’t stop birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from making nests in your hair.” –Martin Luther
Luther understands that we cannot control the urges of our sinful heart, but we can control what we do with them. So I beg to challenge women and men to start with the basic principal of controlling what we put into our bodies. Whether it’s the shows we watch on TV, or the music we listen to in our cars, or the conversations we have around the water cooler, each has an effect on the sinful desires of our heart. What we ingest into our minds sinks into our hearts and creates a snowball effect on how we conduct our lives. In our culture today, we’re spoon fed sexually solicited advertisements with half-dressed supermodels, racy entertainment stories about celebrity hook-ups and relationship failures, or the casual media propaganda that tells us “less is more” or “naked is the new normal”. The byproduct of all this is a society filled with sex appeal. The ramifications of this haven’t just evolved our culture into being more risqué in how we dress, what it’s really done has forced us to form a new identity of ourselves based on sexuality and appearance. Women are now told the lie that they are not a successful woman if they don’t have a mate, if they aren’t dating, or at the very least, if they aren’t “hooking up”. And the saddened reality of it all is that we as Christians seem to be “ok” with that assessment. We haven’t really done anything to change the norm. Instead of taking a stand against this god of sexuality and god of physical appearance, we openly endorse it by not taking up our own cross and screaming that each son and daughter is clothed in the grace and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Our identity should not be based on our sex appeal or physical attractiveness. Our identity is in Jesus Christ alone. That is where our identity is and always will be. With this mindset, women can start helping their brothers in Christ on the battlefield of temptation and lust. They can start with their own assurance of their identity in Christ as the measure of their worth, and move forward to adorning their bodies in a modest and treasurable way. Boys undoubtedly, will look at these women as merely too conservative or reserved for their liking. Men on the other hand, will see these godly women as more beautiful and attractive than even the most popular Victoria Secret model.
“2-5 There are husbands who, indifferent as they are to any words about God, will be captivated by your life of holy beauty. What matters is not your outer appearance—the styling of your hair, the jewelry you wear, the cut of your clothes—but your inner disposition. Cultivate inner beauty, the gentle, gracious kind that God delights in. The holy women of old were beautiful before God that way, and were good, loyal wives to their husbands.” [1 Peter 3:2-5]
I know what you’re thinking, “But physical attraction is important, especially in relationships. You can’t be happy with someone you aren’t physically attracted to?” You’re right, well partially. Tim Keller writes, “Physical attraction is something that must definitely grow between partners, and it will grow as time goes on if you start with a deeper attraction than merely the physical.” Attraction of the opposite sex should be emphasized in three equal components of comprehensive attractiveness: the spiritual, the emotional, and the physical. If we followed through on Keller’s insight, more relationships and marriages today would flourish, and divorce rates would be dropping rather than rising. At the beginning of creation, God created woman to be a companion for man, or to be his "helper". “The Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” [Genesis 2:18]. God’s design was to make a partner for man. His intent was not for man to simply use woman for personal gain, dominion, or sexual fulfillment. She was created in the image of the Almighty God, to be a pure, holy, supportive, and encouraging helper in the journey of life. But that’s not how we view relationships today. We think of relationships as a means for us to get something out of. To make matters worse, we are unable look past worldly characteristics as we judge the opposite sex by trivial and childish standards. Are they too skinny or too fat? Are they too they too short or too tall? Are they wealthy or are they poor? Are they successful or are they not? We have essentially put the opposite sex on a scale that allows us to qualify or justify our potential compatibility based on the shallowest and most degrading measures possible.
Jonathan Edwards the famous eighteenth century theologian stated that, “true virtue in any person through contentment, peace, and joy from the gospel, is beautiful.” In short, Edwards is showing us that true beauty is in a person’s character more than their appearance, or social status. Who they are in Christ is their true identity. Therefore if our attraction is based on a person’s character, then by design, we will be looking at the opposite sex through God’s intended lens of a companion being a “helper” on our journey. In Keller’s book “The Meaning of Marriage”, he states “Screen first for friendship. Look for someone who understands you better than you do yourself, who makes you a better person just by being around them. And then explore whether that friendship could become romance and a marriage. Within this Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be a part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to His throne.”
You see it all goes back to where our identity is rooted. If we start remembering that we are created in the image of God and we are created for a specific purpose far surpassing our own self-fulfillment, then we will stop seeking pleasure and identity from the things of the world. We will stop seeking to find our worth in our appearance or our social class. Our women will understand that modesty is more than the clothes they wear. It is their character, their language, their humility, their service, their kind and gentle spirit, and most of all; it is their belief and devotion to Jesus Christ as the Lord of their life. On the flipside, our men must battle the temptations of the world with the One who has already been established as victorious. They must stand firm in their own identity in Christ as they simultaneously reaffirm their partner’s identity in Him. They must see each of God’s daughters as beautiful, adored, cherished, holy and blameless. And with hands raised high to the heavens, beg Him to allow them the opportunity to journey to His throne side-by-side and hand-in-hand.
In closing, I would like to challenge whoever may be reading this to read this excerpt from Proverbs each day until its truths sink into your heart. For those who may be newer to Scripture, the Book of Proverbs is commonly referred to as the “book of wisdom”. God is so intentional in penning this final chapter of the book. His last words of wisdom center around what a godly woman looks like in His eyes. A godly woman, by his definition, is true wisdom and that is what He wishes women to imitate, and men to pursue.
10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies. 11 Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
13 She finds wool and flax and busily spins it. 14 She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
16 She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. 18 She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.
19 Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber. 20 She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. 21 She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.
22 She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns. 23 Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders. 24 She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. 26 When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness. 27 She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.
28 Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: 29 “There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised. 31 Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise. [Proverbs 31:10-31]
Now that is a Godly woman! This is woman who is known by her Creator. Her identity is secure in Christ. Women are called to learn from this woman’s qualities and by her examples of hard work, fear of God, respect for spouse, insight, encouragement, care for others, wisdom, and stewardship. Through this passage, God is giving each of us, man and woman, a final reminder, to remember why He created woman and what His purpose is for their lives. As men of God we have an equal and important role to play in this story, it is our job to promote these qualities in our sisters in Christ on a daily basis. A revival of sorts needs to occur in the Church today. It’s not a revival of tents and folding chairs, it’s a revival of our identity in Christ. We need less Christian boys and girls in this world and more Godly men and women. Let’s do our part by remembering our true identity in Christ and let that thought begin to shape every single part of our lives; how we work, how we serve, how we lead, how we act, how we talk, and even how we dress.
A HUGE thanks to Adam for sharing this beautiful truth today. What an amazing reminder! God works in some amazing ways and I love that you touched on Proverbs 31. Because starting NOVEMBER 1st we will be on a 22 week journey studying the 22 verses found in Proverbs 31:10-31.
I believe God has a lot in store for these 22 weeks and I hope all of you join us on this journey. Happy Monday.
In His Love