February 4-5, 2017
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Identity Theft
#1—I am loved, accepted, and forgiven

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

The Big Idea: The truth will set you free! Knowing who are in Christ is liberating and life-changing!

 

Introduction and offering:

Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? I haven’t but I’ve talked with people who have, and it can be a nightmare. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your name and other personal information for fraudulent use. Some people have had their bank accounts emptied, or their credit cards maxed out. It’s cyber-crime and it’s big business.

But I want to talk about another kind of identity theft—and it’s opposite, identity gift.

ILL: In her book Because He Loves: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life, Elyse Fitzpatrick writes:

Christian’s are, by definition, people who have someone else’s identity. They’re called “Christians” because they’ve taken the identity of someone else: the Christ. Not only have you been given an identity that you weren’t born with or that you didn’t earn the right to use, but you’re invited to empty the checking account and use all the benefits this identity brings! This is so much better than identity theft—it’s an identity gift!

Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life (Crossway, 2008), p. 51

One of the apostle Paul’s favorite phrases to describe Christians is that we are “in Christ.” When we are in Christ, we are new creations; we take on a whole new identity; we become new people.

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (together 2X)

This verse will be our text, our theme, for this 4-week series. I hope you’ll memorize this verse! For the next four weeks, we are going to look at what is true of you in Christ, who you really are in Christ. You are a new creation—a Christian with all that means.

Acts 11:26 The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

The early Christians were sometimes called “the third race”, meaning they weren’t Jews and they weren’t pagans—they were something new and different. They quickly took the name of their leader—the Christ—and became “Christians”—followers of the Christ. We take His name and His identity. To be in Christ means that you are a new creation, you have a new identity; it is an identity gift—not an identity theft.

But many of us forget who we are in Christ. We suffer from identity theft. Jesus told us in John 8 that the truth will set us free.

John 8:31–32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

When you hold to Jesus’ teaching, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. I want you to know the truth about Jesus, and the truth about who you are in Jesus.

Jesus went on to warn us that we have a spiritual adversary who lies to us.

John 8:44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The devil is a liar and the father of lies. His primary weapon is deceit. When he tempted Eve in the garden in Genesis 3, he questioned what God had said, and then openly contradicted it. “You won’t die,” he said to Eve. He lied. He’s always been a liar and the father of lies.

Many of us have believed his lies, and we suffer for it. This is the identity theft I want to talk about with you. On the one hand, God says who you are in Christ. On the other, the devil tells you, “That’s not true.” He lies and tries to steal your identity. And if he can get you to believe the lie, he can keep you in bondage. The truth will set you free.

So what we want to do in the next four weeks is look at what God says about who you are in Christ. We want to arm you with truth, with Scripture, to combat the lies, knowing that the truth will set you free.

The Big Idea: The truth will set you free! Knowing who are in Christ is liberating and life-changing!

Each week, we will give you three things that are true of you. I want you to say them to yourself often each week, and learn the Scriptures that teach them.

Offering here. We don’t beg, but we need.

 

  1. I am deeply loved. (repeat 2X)

In Christ, God loves you more than you can imagine. You are deeply loved. Yet many of us struggle to believe it. The enemy whispers in our ear that we are unloveable, that we don’t deserve to be loved. “How could God love you? Look at what you’ve done!” Have you heard those whispers? They are lies. Say the truth with me: “I am deeply loved.

What do we mean when we say that God loves you deeply? Do we mean that God feels affection for you? Yes—absolutely. Jesus taught that God is our Father. Parents, do you love your children? Of course. Does that mean that you feel affection for them? Of course. All the time? Not so much—but most of the time you feel affection for your kids. And God feels affection for you. God is fond of you. If God has a refrigerator, your picture is on it. If God has a smartphone, your photo is His wallpaper.

ILL: Take out your smartphone and show your neighbor your wallpaper. Who (or what) do you have on there? This is mine right now (Grandkids 1). But I’ve also had this one (Grandkids 2)…and this one (Grandkids 3)…and this one (Grandkids 4). Do you see a theme? I’m crazy about my grandkids!

God is crazy about you!

But God’s love is much more than just affection. God’s love is His determined commitment to do what is best for you. It is His consistent goodwill toward you. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs you. God is that kind of love. He wants what is best for you, and is always working in your life for your good. Let that sink in: Almighty God is committed to your well-being! He not only feels deep affection for you, but is actively and consistently working for your good.

God loves you. How much? So much!

ILL: Parents, do any of you do this with your kids? “How much do I love you? Sooooo much!”

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

How much does God love you? Sooooo much!

You are so loved! Some translations read, “For God loved the world so much…” Are you part of the world? So, how much does God love you? He loves you so much that He gave His one and only Son for you. Given the choice between Him dying or you dying, He chose to die so you could live. Jesus chose to die rather than live without you.

ILL: Patrick Morley, in Man in the Mirror, tells about a group of fishermen who landed in a secluded bay in Alaska and had a great day fishing for salmon. But when they returned to their seaplane, it was aground because of the fluctuating tides. They had no option except to wait until the next morning till the tides came in. But when they took off, they only got a few feet off the ground and then crashed down into the sea. Being aground the day before had punctured one of the pontoons, and it had filled up with water.

The seaplane slowly began to sink. The three men and a 12-year-old son of one of them, Mark, prayed and then jumped into the icy waters to swim to shore. The water was cold, and the riptide was strong, and two of the men reached the shore exhausted. They looked back, and their companion, who was also a strong swimmer, did not swim to shore because his 12-year-old son wasn’t strong enough to make it. They saw that father with his arms around his son being swept out to sea. He chose to die with his son rather than to live without him.

How much does God love you? Soooooo much! Jesus chose to die rather than live without you. What makes this even more impressive is that God showed this love when we weren’t even interested, when we were still running far from Him.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This means that you did nothing to earn God’s love—and you can do nothing to lose it. Run from God? He still loves you. Don’t believe in God? He still loves you. Ignore God? He still loves you. He has already died for you when you were a sinner—what else could you do that could stop His love? Nothing.  

Romans 8:35-39 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can stop Him from loving you, because He is love. His love for you doesn’t originate in your goodness, but His. He doesn’t love you because you are loveable, but because He is love. And nothing can stop Him!

Do you ever screw up? Make a mistake? Sin? Do you ever hang your head and wonder, “How can God love a mess like me?” Welcome to the club! Me too. This is why I stand in wonder. How much does He love me? Sooooo much!

ILL: One of my most vivid experiences of God’s love came at my first year at summer camp, as a new Christian. Toward the end of the week, as we were singing at bonfire one night, I was overwhelmed by God’s love. While everyone else sang, I sat there and wept, and when we were done, and everyone else left, I sat there and continued to cry, tears of joy and wonder and gratitude. I felt like God was hugging me. I knew deep in my knower that He loved me, that I was accepted.

I want that for you. I want you to know deep in your knower that you are deeply loved, that nothing can separate you from His love, that He always wants the best for you. A couple more verses about how He loves us.

Ephesians 2:4–5 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

You are so loved! And you are greatly loved! God’s love is great! One hymn imagines God’s love this way:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade.

To write the love of God above

Would drain the ocean dry.

Nor could the scroll contain the whole

Though stretched from sky to sky.

You are loved—greatly loved!

Ephesians 5:1–2 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

You are so loved! You are greatly loved! And you are dearly loved! Take the love a parent feels for a child—multiply that times infinity—and you get an idea how dearly loved you are.

I am deeply loved. (2X) Never let the devil lie to you and tell you differently. I am deeply loved.

 

  1. I am completely accepted. (repeat 2X)

In Christ, God has completely accepted you. I am completely accepted. Yet many of us struggle to believe that. Have you heard the whisper, “You are unacceptable. You are a reject!” That’s a lie. Say the truth with me, “I am completely accepted.

What does that mean? These verses will help us unpack what that means.

Romans 14:3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

In this passage, Paul is addressing a problem in the Roman church. There were Jewish Christians who believed that you had to keep the Jewish law to be acceptable to God—the food laws and the Sabbath. Paul encourages these Christians to follow their own conscience and be considerate of each other. Here in verse 3 he reminds them that God has accepted all of them—the ones who eat and ones who don’t. God’s acceptance isn’t based on keeping the law, but on Jesus. In Christ, they have been completely accepted. He goes on:

Romans 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

They are to accept one another just as Christ accepted them. Don’t miss what these verses clearly say: God has accepted you. Christ has accepted you. You are completely accepted. Now accept one another. The word “accept” translates a Greek word that means “to take to oneself” or “to receive or welcome.” Rather than pushing us away, God receives and welcomes us. God takes us into the circle of His friendship.

Prior to Jesus, it was believed that God only accepted certain people. He accepted Jews, but not Gentiles. That’s what Peter thought. Then one day, he had a dream at lunchtime, and saw a sheet lowered from heaven, filled with animals that were unclean—not kosher. A voice said, “Rise Peter, kill and eat.” Peter said, “Never Lord. I’ve never eaten anything unclean.” The voice responded, “Don’t call anything unclean that God has called clean.” About that time, some Gentiles showed up and asked Peter to come with them to Cornelius’ house. They explained that God had spoken to Cornelius and told him to send for Peter to come to his house. This broke all the rules that Peter had lived by. As a good Jew, he never had Gentiles into his home, or went into theirs. But the Holy Spirit told him to go with these Gentiles. At Cornelius’ house, the penny dropped.

Acts 10:34–35 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.

God accepts people from every nation—not just Jews, but Gentiles too. This was a huge step. In Christ, the unacceptable were now accepted.

God has accepted you. He has taken you to Himself. He has welcomed you into His family. You are completely accepted in Christ.

Ephesians 1:6 (NKJV) to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

He made us accepted in the Beloved. The Beloved is Jesus—God’s Beloved Son. He made us accepted in Jesus. Notice that He made us accepted in Christ. On our own, we are not so acceptable. And there’s the tension.

To say that God accepts us does not mean that God looks at you and me and agrees with everything we do. In fact, there’s a lot that He doesn’t like or agree with. But we’re accepted, we’re welcomed, we’re received anyway. He accepts us to Himself, and starts making us acceptable.

Hebrews 12:5–6 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

The Lord disciplines the one he loves; He chastens everyone he accepts as His child. Acceptance is not agreement. God doesn’t agree with everything I do—or He would never correct me. Acceptance is taking me in just as I am, and loving me enough to help me get better. If you only accept those with whom you agree, you won’t accept many people. Acceptance is not agreement. I don’t accept you because you’re perfect—you’re not. I accept you because you are God’s dearly loved child, accepted by Him.

ILL: In one of my all-time favorite books, Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness, by Jerry Cook, he tells this story.

A pastor in his community had committed adultery. His marriage and ministry both went on the rocks. His wife divorced him; his church splintered and scattered all over the city.

A year and a half later, Jerry’s phone rang at 7:30 one Sunday morning. It was this disgraced pastor asking if he and his new wife could come to Jerry’s church.

“Of course!” Jerry said. “Why would you even ask?”

The man described how they had been trying to find a place to worship, and he had repeatedly been met at the door and told to leave. Some churches had heard he was looking and called ahead telling him not to come. By now, he was weeping. “I know you have video; if you want, you can put us in a room where no one can see us.”

“You come,” Jerry said, “and I’ll welcome you at the front door.”

What compounded the situation was that many of the people who had been hurt by this man were now part of Jerry’s congregation. Jerry welcomed him anyway. And a long, slow, very tearful process of healing began.

Then the phone started ringing. Other pastors called and were upset that Jerry’s acceptance of this man would be interpreted as approval of what he had done. Jerry assured them that he didn’t approve of what he had done; they were simply loving him.

One church leader asked Jerry, “Do you know what you’ve done?”

Jerry assured him that he did not.

“Well,” he said, “you’ve opened your doors to every broken down pastor with ethical problems there is.”

Jerry responded, “Praise the Lord! If they can’t come here, where can they go? If people can’t be healed in our church, where can we send them? Someone has to be the end of the line for messed up humanity! We’re not in a popularity contest!”

Jerry wrote: “Never labor under the misconception that such acceptance will breed license. To the contrary, our very acceptance of others can make them strong. It will never confuse them in questions of right and wrong if our teaching and personal lifestyle establish clear standards.”  

“Acceptance is not based on approved behavior. It is based on the value of the person. But if we communicate personal rejection, they will never be around long enough to be touched by God through us.”

This is how God has accepted us. It’s not that He agrees with what we’ve done. Jesus died to forgive us! And now in Christ, in the Beloved, we are completely accepted.

I am completely accepted. (2X) God has welcomed you as His child. Never let the devil lie to you and tell you differently.

 

  1. I am fully forgiven. (repeat 2X)

In Christ, God has fully forgiven you. He has forgiven us all our sins. Yet many of us struggle to believe it. The enemy whispers in our ear, “Remember what you did? You’re terrible! You’re not forgiven.” That’s a lie. Say the truth with me: “I am fully forgiven.”

Colossians 2:13–14 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

In Christ, God forgave us all our sins. You are fully forgiven.

Jesus took “the charge of our legal indebtedness” and nailed it to the cross. Paul is using a commercial metaphor. He pictures our sins as a debt we owe God, and the bill—the charge or our legal indebtedness—is paid in full. In fact, when Jesus died on the cross, He shouted in triumph, “It is finished!” The Greek word, tetelesthai, meant, “Paid in full.” This was the word stamped on your bill when it was paid. “It is finished.” It is paid in full. All our sins were forgiven. All of them are paid in full.

ILL: I was paying my bills this week, and I noticed that I sent two payments for our car insurance—I paid it twice—one day apart. Brilliant! It’s why they don’t let me sign checks here—I’m dangerous. When I noticed this, I put a to-do on my list—get a refund from my insurance company. Happily, I received a check in full the next day.

But if you had paid your bill in full, and then got another bill, what would you do? Would you pay it? “Oh I love overpaying!” You’d say, “That’s paid. It’s finished.”

Jesus paid it all. It’s paid in full. It’s finished. You’re fully forgiven.

The enemy loves to whisper in our ears, “You’re not forgiven.” Revelation 12:10 says the devil is “the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night.” He not only accuses us before God; he accuses us before ourselves. “You’re not forgiven. God forgave you before, but not this time.” This is a lie. I am fully forgiven. God has forgiven all my sins. My debt is paid in full. It is finished.  

ILL: I’ll finish with a personal story. This truth became clear to me when I was in college. I was fighting a battle with temptation, and one day I lost. I gave in. Later, I was in my car, praying. I told God, “I’m so sorry. How can you forgive me? I’ve done it again.”

The Lord said, “Done what again?”

I said, “You know…I did that again.”

God said, “What do you mean, again? I don’t see again. I have forgiven everything, so there is no again. To me, it’s as though it’s the first time—and I simply forgive you.”

I realized that I was keeping score, and God wasn’t. He really had forgiven all my sins—everything—and wasn’t keeping score. “There you go again.”

I can’t tell you how liberating it was to know that I really was fully forgiven—that God wasn’t holding any sins over my head, that He wasn’t keeping score.

I am fully forgiven. (2X) God has fully forgiven you. Don’t let the devil lie to you and tell you different.

This week, I hope you’ll repeat this sentence every day—better yet, multiple times a day. Remind yourself that:

In Christ, I am deeply loved, completely accepted, and fully forgiven.

 

Prayer and invitation.