Well, there are not a lot of things that psychologists and theologians agree on a hundred percent. But psychologists and theologians all agree that from the time we’re very small, actually, until the day we die, we begin to consciously or unconsciously try to ask and answer three questions. Question number one: Who am I? Question number two: Where do I belong? And question number three: What am I supposed to do? These are the issues about identity, about security and significance.
And at the end of the day, we can call it all kind of different things, but Jesus made it very clear: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength, and love your neighbor like yourself.” And in Romans chapter 12, it just gives us a snapshot of what an authentic follower of Jesus looks like in everyday life.
And so in terms of loving God, he says: How do you love God? What does God want the most? He wants you and me, all that we are, all that we have, surrendered to Him. And then realizing that it’s a battle and the world system wants to seduce our heart away from our Savior. He wants us to be separate from the world’s values.
Well, now we’re going to move from verse 1 and verse 2 to verse 3 through 8. And here what we’re going to learn is: How do you come to grips with the real you? You cannot and I cannot love other people if you don’t love you. I mean that not narcissistically. I mean in a very healthy way. How do you look in the mirror, not just physically, but in the mirror of your soul, come to grips with who you really are, and say, “I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. I matter. God has a plan for me. I’m not too short; I’m not too tall. I have the right personality. I have the right gifts. I don’t need to be like anyone else.”
Here’s the fact of the matter: Most of us, spend a great majority of their time and energy trying to be like someone else or wishing they were someone else. And so we dress like someone else, we act like someone else, we have all these different models. And we spend all of our energy and time trying to be a copy of something that’s not nearly as attractive as the one unique person out of the almost seven billion people on this planet that have a unique DNA that’s yours. And you’re made exactly like you were made by the Creator of all of life, because He’s got a plan for you, and He’s gifted you, and He wants to do something great in you, and then something significant through you.
So we’re going to roll up our sleeves and we’re going to ask and answer the question: How do you come to grips with the real you? So open your teaching notes, if you will.
Question number one: Who am I? When you’re real small, you say, well, like in my family, I learned early: It’s family. Who am I? I’m an Ingram. My dad made it very clear that that name was important, so you better not go out and do anything that would embarrass the Ingram name. You get a little older and they say, “Who are you?” And we often give our profession or our work. Well, I’m a scientist, I’m a software engineer, I’m a stay-at-home mom, I’m a construction worker, I’m an electrician. And so who I am, my identity is around what I do.
As we get a little bit older or as life changes often, then it’s about our passion: “Well, I’m a mom. I’m a surfer. I’m an artist.” But it all goes back to from the time you’re small to those late teens to early adulthood, then especially a little shift in midlife, what’s our identity? You’re always asking this question. And by the way, for those of you who are parents, so are your kids.
The second big question we’re always asking: Where do I belong? This is about security. And so remember in school when there were cliques, you got the athletes, you got the nerds, you got the cool group, you got the in group, you got the really out group. And then there are clubs, so you join different clubs. Then sometimes where I belong, it’s my ethnicity, the people that look like me.
Other times where I belong is, well, “I belong to this country club and people like me go here.”
You need to understand that the same dynamics when you’re small or later, in every one of those is every person is made by the God of the universe to need to belong, to need to understand who you really are. And we go about it in some ways, sometimes, that are very dysfunctional. In fact–sometimes very dangerous.
The third question we’re asking is: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? It’s fundamental. It’s so fundamental and so overwhelming, sometimes we blow past this one. When is the last time you actually stopped and said, “Why am I on this planet? What is the meaning of life for me?”
See, me left to me, and you left to you, that’s sort of like, “Well, yeah, yeah, I mean, I’m sure it’s the most important question in life, so I’ll get around to that, but you know, there’s work and there are kids, I got to drop people off. And by the way, I got to get in and I got to get these good test scores and I need to…”
And it’s amazing how many people blow through life fulfilling all kinds of duties, responding to all kinds of demands that really are about identity and security, and you wake up 30, 40, 50 years later and you realize your whole life has been a grind. Your whole life has been for something that’s going to happen someday some way out there. And you’ve never stopped to ask: What am I supposed to do with my life?
A big part of the whole midlife crisis is people looking in the rearview mirror and going, “I’ve not only not asked that question, when I start thinking about it very deeply, I don’t like the answer because I not only don’t know, but I haven’t given much energy or time or track record to what I think probably matters most.”
Now, before you get too down on yourself, right, because, honestly, those are big, aren’t they? Those are so big, isn’t it interesting the biggest issues in life you can sort of shove down because they’re so hard to answer. It’s like, well, yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, who here would say, “Who am I really and where do I belong and what am I supposed to do?” Come on, Chip, would you get to something serious? There are no bigger questions than that, and yet the great majority of people have not thought deeply or could give you good clear answers to that.
But let me tell you why. Let me explain why those are so hard to answer. Something happened, something happened to our first parents that we’ve inherited from them that make these three questions very hard to answer. That’s why the world has such a pull on us. It’s why we settle for lots of superficial answers to those things, knowing down deep in our soul they don’t really satisfy.
The passage is Genesis chapter 3. The context is the cosmic coup has occurred. The most loving being, the most generous being, the giver of all life, the creator of the universe, Yahweh God, has created mankind and told them that all that I have and everything’s available. There’s only one small limitation: Don’t eat from that tree. And our parents, first by deception, then by act of the will, it was a coup, it was a rebellion, and sin entered the world. The theologians call it “the fall of man.” And we pick up the story and we find out what happened. And as we pick up the story, you’ll discover why for you and me, it’s really hard to answer those questions well.
“They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” That’s the first time this has ever happened. They ran to meet Him. They lived in a perfect environment. They were naked emotionally, they were naked spiritually, they were naked physically. Some theologians think there was radiation of light that came out from them before the fall even. There was absolute complete intimacy with God, intimacy and vulnerability with one another, unconditional acceptance. Life was perfect.
And now they hear God coming, and for the first time, they hide. Then the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” By the way, this is not an informational question. This is diagnostic. God knew where he was. He’s going to ask a series of questions to help Adam discover where he’s really at. Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden. I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid myself.”
If you’ve got a pen, will you pull it out and circle “afraid,” “naked,” and “hid.” That’ll come back later. You’re going to find there’s a relational pattern in that that you have and I have and every human being has.
And God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I’ve commanded you not to eat?” And so he’s going to answer God, and it’s very interesting if you happen to be his wife, this is not a good moment. What you’re going to learn is you can’t trust this guy. For the first time ever, what you’re going to learn, when the pressure comes, what he’s going to do, instead of own his stuff and be a man, he’s going to be passive and he’s going to blame you.
And so Eve is probably standing there, knowing the whole story, and she’s going to hear her husband say to God, “The woman that you gave me to be with me, she gave me from the tree and I ate it.” Translation: It’s not my fault, it’s her fault, and by the way, You’re the one who gave her to me.” So let’s do the math: Not me, it’s her, it’s Your fault really, God.
And so God moves on with the progression of diagnostic questions. Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” And the woman, being a very quick study, says, “The serpent deceived me and I ate.” In other words, it’s not my fault either. It’s the serpent’s fault, and who made this garden and who made serpents?
And you know what, all the problems in life are God’s. Isn’t it interesting a lot hasn’t changed? Isn’t it interesting, as human beings, what I always hear is: How could God let this happen? How come every single day -- listen, how could God let me breathe? How could God give me this? We don’t list every good thing that He’s ever done, but if anything goes wrong, I’ll tell you what, right?
Three obstacles you’ll see in this passage about why it’s so hard to come to grips with the real you, first is fear rooted in shame. Notice he says, “I was afraid.” Well, why? “I was afraid,” because now for the first time ever Adam realizes he’s naked. And don’t -- of course, it’s physical, but well, well beyond that, he realizes he’s exposed. What he realizes, when he meets the eyes of someone who sees absolutely perfect through everything, he doesn’t measure up.
There’s a self-consciousness that has occurred. And could I tell you that this is how we relate to God often and this is how we relate to one another? The primary means of relating to other human beings and God is fear, and it’s rooted in shame.
If we get all the superficial sophistication and all the pop psychology out of the way, if I could remove every ounce of veneer from your life and mine, and all the image management, and all the ways you frame things, and all the levels of denial that you have. Down deep in your heart and your soul, if someone knew all of you, I mean, all of you, the thoughts, the envy, the motives, the things that you’ve thought let alone the things that you’ve done, down deep in your heart, you’re pretty convinced you’d be rejected.
And so we relate to one another in fear and spend an inordinate amount of energy posing and image-managing. And since we’re not sure who we really are, we want to be liked by other people, so I call them personality holograms. Because of your background, and your gifts, and the part of the country you grew up in, and all these factors, people in certain groups like this, and so you learn to act like that, and dress like that, and need to drive that, and your kids need to go to this school. And you have all these things that somehow, some way, if all that is lined up, because you get affirmation from that. You get approval from that. You’re admired by people.
Here’s the problem: What you know is this hologram that you’re projecting of this person that has it kind of together and is loving and is kind and is a good whatever. You know down deep in your soul that really doesn’t represent all of you let alone a lot of the real you.
And even when people love the hologram, you don’t get love because you know that’s not you. And that’s why we find some of the people that are most beautiful and the most successful, and we find them doing things that we scratch our head and say, “How could someone that has all the things we all long for kill themselves or destroy their life with an addiction?” It’s that discrepancy in their soul. It’s fear rooted in shame.
Notice the second thing that happens. Not only did they say, “I was afraid,” he says “hiding” – rooted in insecurity. See, when you’re naked, you feel insecure. You feel inadequate. And so you hide. Not only are we afraid, but I hide the real me from you, and you hide the real you from others and from God.
Isn’t it amazing when you don’t feel like praying, especially if you down deep feel, you know, that low-grade guilt in your soul? Maybe it’s not like really big sins, but sort of the little ones start adding up and you just don’t feel very motivated to pray. I don’t know about you, but what I realize is I don’t want to go talk to God right now because I know how this is going to go. He’s going to cause me to be honest, expose me for who I am, and I don’t like that. And so I play this game, like, well, if I don’t really talk to Him very deeply right now, He doesn’t really know.
But don’t you do that with your mates, those of you who are married? Don’t you do it with your roommates? Don’t you do that with your best friends? Don’t we play that game? We have fear that’s rooted in shame, and then we hide it in our insecurity.
And can I tell you something? Here’s a great little message to learn. This is a freedom message for me. Everyone on the earth is desperately insecure.
God put a book in my hands by a Swiss psychologist, Paul Tournier. The title of the book is The Strong and the Weak. And the thesis of the book is real simple. Everyone on the face of the earth is desperately insecure. And people that are desperately insecure that power up, guess what they do? They power up with strong reactions to create distance, because down inside they’re a scared little boy or a scared little girl, just like everybody else. And they hide behind it. They just have different fig leaves than other people.
And over here, you have people have weak reactions. And they have weak reactions and they stare at their feet a lot and, “I can’t do anything and I’m unworthy. I had a very terrible experience. I’ve been through a lot and you probably can’t understand it.” And when you first meet them, you try to help them.
They don’t really want help. They want sympathy and attention, but when they act like that, it creates distance. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. They figure a way to act in ways where people say, “I won’t get close to you.” It works. But there are not a nickel’s worth of difference between the two, the strong reaction and the weak reaction. Everyone’s desperately insecure.
And you cover it one way, I cover it one way, some people cover it with what they’ve done and their performance and their success, and other people with their story that they tell. But you know what, it’s called “the fall.” You relate in patterns, in little ways or big ways out of fear, and you relate and I relate by hiding. And we hide because we’re insecure.