The answer our culture craves for its burning identity crisis

Tim Chester | August 9th 2018

“Who am I?” Our modern culture invites us to ask this all the time. Identity has become fluid or malleable. A century ago, who you were was determined by where you had grown up and who your parents were. You were likely to do the job your mother or father did and live in the same area.

But now we can invent and reinvent ourselves almost on a daily basis. We switch careers. We move around. We join subcultures. We have online identities. It’s a world of opportunity— but it also creates angst and anxiety.

Moreover, there is nothing bigger than us to form our identity. The breakdown of families, national identities and belief in God all mean we ourselves have become the measure of our lives. In the past, you might have had a humble job, but you were proud to be part of the company, and proud to be part of your nation. But those corporate identities don’t matter so much now. Now identity is down to me. Identity has become something you achieve rather than something you receive.

What if your identity is questioned?

Consider Moses’s identity crisis in Exodus 3. The questioning of his identity was prompted by a task he felt unable to complete. It’s the same today. We enjoy creating our own identity, until we find ourselves unable to deliver. For many people the pressure to achieve and sustain our self-built identities becomes too much. Rates of depression are higher than ever before, and part of that is caused by the brittleness of our sense of who we are, which means we are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our identity, striving to confirm it and dealing with failures to live up to it.

So the question is: Who am I? God’s answer? “I will be with you” ( v 12). Is that an answer?! How does knowing that someone is with you help you know who you are? I think it is an answer—in fact, the answer. God is saying to Moses that his identity is tied to God’s identity. Moses says, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” We might have said, “Moses, you’re the ideal person. You were brought up in the Egyptian court. You have seen your people’s suffering. And you have been protecting and providing for your flock for years. You can do it.” But God says, “I will be with you”. God is the One who will make the difference. Moses does not need to have higher self-esteem; he needs a greater sense of God’s presence.

You can be a self-made person. And for a while, you may enjoy your autonomy. But it’s hard work. Whether you’re trying to fit in at school or prove yourself in your career or keep up with the latest fashions, eventually the cracks will appear. Always the question remains: Will my self-made identity withstand the pressures of this life, and then the test of divine appraisal beyond this life?

And God says to you, “I will be with you”. You can walk through life with me. You can base your sense of self on your knowledge of me—find your confidence and worth in knowing that I am there for you, and here with you. You can know that I am with you, and your achievements and your failures will not affect that status. “I will be with you.”

Today you can go out with confidence—not in what you can do, but in who is with you.

Divine privilege

Imagine trying to visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace. You’re going to be asked, “Who are you?” In other words, “What gives you the right to be here?” Most of us are not going to get past the front gate. But what about Kate Middleton? When she was 15 years old, she would have got no further than us. Now, she can say, “I’m with him. I married the prince.” Who is she? She is Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. She gets that identity from her husband. In the same way, we get our identity from Jesus our Husband. “I’m with him.” United to Christ, we are children of God the Father.

Moses here is a picture of Israel. This encounter with God takes place at “Horeb, the mountain of God” (v 1). Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai. God tells Moses that the “sign”—the proof that he is with Moses—is that “when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (v 12). This is what happens when Israel comes to Mount Sinai in Exodus 19. Israel will repeat the experience of Moses. They will encounter the holy God, tread on holy ground, and hear his voice. Israel as a whole will receive their identity from God, becoming his “treasured possession ... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:5-6).

In 4:22, we’ll hear God say that “Israel is my firstborn son”. In the New Testament, we hear God say that to those who received him when he came among us in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus: “To those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Who am I? One of the children of God. We are the people who are defined by our God. Yesterday you may have been a great employee or you may have had a terrible day at work. You may have been a great parent or child, or a selfish one. You may have been praised, or mocked, or ignored. You may have been mainly obedient or horribly sinful. But if you have received Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you are a child of God—and nothing can change that. That means that today you can go out with confidence—not in what you can do, but in who is with you. Who am I? I am a child of God. “I am with you”, God says to you.

This is an extract from Exodus For You, part of the God’s Word For You series of expository guides which walk you through books of the Bible verse by verse. In Exodus For You, Tim Chester shows how this foundational book foreshadows Christ, points to the new creation, and calls us to radical discipleship.

Tim Chester

Tim Chester is a pastor at Grace Church, Boroughbridge, UK; a faculty member of Crosslands Training; and is the author of over 30 books. He has a PhD in theology and was previously Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK. He has been an adjunct lecturer in missiology and reformed spirituality. Tim is married to Helen and has two daughters.

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