Helping People Form a Secure Identity in God

A Biblical Understanding of Who We Are

Why should we lead others in reading Scripture? What difference does it make? In this four-part series, we explore the Bible Cause: the transformative stages of leading others in Scripture engagement—1. Introducing others to Jesus 2. Restoring a secure identity 3. Transforming our attitude 4. Changing our behaviors.

“I hated God and everybody who stood before me to tell me about God.”

Carl’s life had been difficult from the start and it just got worse. Abused as a child, thrown out of the house at 15, he was homeless, sleeping in his girlfriend’s car. As an adult, he faced severe health issues and a marriage that ended in divorce.

Along the way, there were hints of God’s goodness—the family that took him in as a teenager, a Catholic church where he heard God’s Word, a second marriage that seemed promising. But then he lost his oldest son to a drug overdose, and Carl crashed emotionally. His heart was dead to the world.

The pastor at his new church sent him a Bible portion, the book of Job. This was a turning point. Carl devoured this story, and it devoured him. If Job could remain loyal to God after all he went through, Carl figured he could try to do the same. He signed up for an innovative Bible-reading program in which the church sent daily Scripture emails. The more he read, the more his heart was restored.

He didn’t always grasp the full meaning of what he read. “It’s not just your average book where you understand everything,” he says now. “It’s a tough go.” But he stayed with it, and soon he sensed the Lord speaking to him in its pages.

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer,” he read (1 Peter 3:12 NIV) and he learned to trust that God was with him in his difficulties. “The Lord is good; his love is eternal and his faithfulness lasts forever,” he read (Psalm 100:5). Despite everything Carl had gone through, he was learning to say that God was good. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” he heard Jesus saying, “for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8 NIV). As he felt his own dead heart beginning to beat again, he saw God working in his life.

Whether scrolling through the passage-of-the-day on his computer or curling up on the couch with a Bible in the early morning with a dog at his feet, Carl found new peace day by day in the words of Scripture. He and his family now give generously to the church and try to do “as much charity work as we can do.” They especially look for opportunities to help children, especially the abused and homeless. “I know what that’s like,” Carl says.

Longing for Security in God

There are some wonderful charities committed to feeding the hungry. At the end of the year, they can say, “We sent this many meals to these places and kept this many people from starving.” We all know how valuable food is, and we applaud this work as an expression of Christian love.

Yet Jesus said, “Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks” (Matthew 4:4). Doesn’t this tell us that Scripture is just as important as food, and even more so? We have no desire to undermine the practical ministries that provide sustenance, shelter, and other support for those who need it. The Lord has commanded us to do such things.

But people are also starving for God’s Word, and longing for a secure identity in their Creator.

They desperately need to be loved, to understand their value, to grasp a sense of purpose. Maybe their families are torn apart by hopelessness or addiction. These people long to know who they are, in the big picture, in some eternal picture. They want to know if they matter, and why.

In an earlier post, we began to ask, “Why challenge people to read the Bible?” And we came up with our first answer: It introduces us to Jesus. But what then? What happens when people begin to internalize Scripture? When the Bible starts to tell people who, and whose, they are?

A New Understanding of Ourselves

Our culture offers conflicting messages on the subject of identity. We’re supposed to have high self-esteem, the confidence that we can do anything we set our minds to. Yet we’re also told that we are little more than animals, following our instincts. Love is a matter of chemical hormones, some say, and faith is a spark leaping across brain synapses. Essentially, we’re just chemistry sets.

Scripture, of course, tells it very differently. Humans are created in God’s image. We’re granted authority over the earth and its creatures, given responsibility for them, but we’re also deeply flawed, marred by sin. Yet God still loves us, to the point of sacrifice. And as we receive redemption, we become “new creations,” redesigned for good purposes. We’re not just impulses or chemicals, but children of the Creator.

This picture of our identity gives us both a boost to our confidence and a check on it. We are wonderfully made, but not infallible. We find our full potential only in connection with Christ—and so the Bible-believer has reason for both courage and humility. We can accomplish great things, but only through Christ.

It’s fairly obvious that a person’s sense of identity forms a basis for his or her actions, choices, and relationships. Think for a moment about how the Bible could affect a whole family. What happens when children learn that they are created by a loving God with a purpose—knowing God, loving God, serving God? How would kids be affected by understanding that they’re not perfect, but God loves them? They’ll make mistakes, they’ll learn and grow, and through it all, God will still love them. What dysfunctions would be overcome as families foster this Bible-inspired sense of identity?

Or how would a community change if all the churchgoers reflected this biblical sense of identity, treating their neighbors as precious creations of a loving God, and willing to forgive themselves and others?

We saw the change in Carl when he began to internalize Scripture. Once a discarded teenager, he found in these pages a new understanding of himself. He now sees his value to God and others, and contributes meaningfully to a society that once had no room for him.

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Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen

Randy Petersen is Director of Scripture Engagement Content for American Bible Society. Writer of more than sixty books and hundreds of church curriculum lessons, he has also served churches as a Bible teacher, small-groups coordinator, drama director, preaching consultant and softball pitcher.

Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.

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