During her adventures in Wonderland, Alice comes across a Caterpillar who asks, “Who are you?”
Her response is interesting:
Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar sternly. “Explain yourself!”
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”
“I don’t see,” said the Caterpillar.
“I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,” Alice replied very politely, “for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.”
We find ourselves in a position like Alice’s. We create identities for ourselves on social media (perhaps we present different sides of ourselves on each platform), we are one person at home, another at work, and still another with friends. We have identities rooted in our careers, accomplishments, trauma, and failures.
So, if we are pressed, as Alice was, with the question “Who are you?” It is not surprising to see that we are confused.
Identity is a “hot” topic in our culture and in our churches, and we pastors ought to be able to speak biblically on the issue while remaining aware of and being sensitive to the cultural dialogue going on that our people are engaged in as participants and/or spectators.
I preached on this topic recently and learned a few things that helped me as I prepared my sermon and in engaging with people who had questions afterwards.
We need to Remember that Identity Means more than Sexual Identity
Given the volume of the media, it is easy for pastors and congregants alike to think that the sum of the issue of identity is that of sexuality. There are great pressures on pastors to preach to topics that the world thinks are vital rather than what Scripture tells us is vital.
Here is a caution – never let the world dictate your preaching schedule. I have found that if I faithfully preach through books of the Bible, I will touch on every culturally relevant topic naturally as opposed to manipulating my preaching schedule to fit the cultural narrative. If you are from a more topical-preaching tradition the issue remains the same – let Scripture guide you, not the culture.
I find that when I look at what Scripture says about identity, I see that sexual identity is but a part of the issue we are facing today. The Bible reminds me that we are prone to creating identities rooted in any and everything other than God. This means that any sermon I preach on identity needs to get to the core of our desire to be something other than what God has made us to be. The identity crisis in modern Canada is not less than our sexual identity crisis, but it is certainly more. Keep this in mind as you craft your sermons.
We need to Know how Culture Shapes Identity
Culture has and always will shape identities. We preachers need to be students of our culture, understanding how and where the world is trying to persuade us to understand who we are. I confess a shameful fondness for sappy Christmas movies, and one of the many narratives these films try to persuade us to accept is the idea that we will know who we truly are when we find Mr./Mrs. “right”. The big city doctor will finally know who they were meant to be when they meet the small-town innkeeper or farmer who can help them see what really matters!
These narratives are everywhere, and they are powerful, and they inform and shape our identities. We need to help people to see the lies of the world’s narratives and then point them to the truth of the Gospel. There are many other factors that shape and form our identity that we need to be aware of. To name just a couple, think of how family tradition gives us a sense of who we are. Think of how biology tells us that we are male or female, tall, short, etc., and thereby give us blocks to build identities from.
We need to Accept the Identity God Gives us
Most importantly, we need to know how God’s identity for us is greater than any we could possibly make for ourselves. Every identity we create for ourselves is our (unsuccessful) attempt to reconcile how we feel about ourselves with who we are.
But the Gospel comes and accomplishes this in a way we could just never manage. The Gospel tells us that we are no longer rebels but children, that we are new creatures!
We are not primarily the sum of our failures or successes, of our family traditions and expectations or even our sexual preferences, but that we are children of God. There is no confusion. For everything else we may be, we are first and foremost children of God. This identity has objective and subjective aspects.
Objectively we are sons and daughters of God. That is who we are.
Subjectively we are relieved of the emotional and spiritual baggage of our modern identity crisis. Our identity confusion is gone – we know who we are!
Our feelings of worthlessness are gone – the Cross shows us how valued we are! Our sense of meaninglessness is gone – we know why were created (to glorify God and enjoy Him forever)! Our hopelessness is gone – we know where our lives are headed, namely, to be with God forever.
In my sermon on identity, I ended as I will end here. Canadians who don’t know the Gospel can only see themselves as Madonna neatly sums things up: “I am my own experiment. I am my own work of art.” But in Christ, we can agree with George MacDonald who wrote, “I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
 Lewis Carroll. 2000. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Chicago: VolumeOne Publishing, 60.