Building your identity on Christ changes how you relate to other people. Peter talks about it in the next section of the letter:
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.
- 1 Peter 1:22It’s hard to love sincerely without a stable identity. Most Americans define ourselves through our relationships to other people, which is why we are so insecure. We are someone’s spouse, parent, child, sibling, and friend. We don’t know who we are without them. Loving someone else because of how they make you feel about yourself is one of the most selfish things you can do.
We all do it. I love my wife, and I love the way she looks. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem is when I love the way she looks because of how it makes other people look at me. Instead of wanting her to be happy with who she is, I want her to look a certain way for the sake of my own ego. It’s not the basis for a healthy marriage.
In those moments, I have to remind myself where my identity comes from. It doesn’t matter how other people look at me. It doesn’t even matter how my wife does. Our relationship is not the most important thing about me. My relationship with Jesus is. I can’t love her the way she needs me to if I need her love to be happy. Both people in a relationship have to be willing to say no to the other. One of two things happen when you get your identity from your spouse: either you let them walk all over you or you try to control them. You become more worried about losing them than loving them. It’s why parents spoil their children: they want to be their friends instead of doing what’s best for them. That mentality poisons relationships.
Anyone who loves their father or more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
- Matthew 10:37-39The movie I, Tonya is about a co-dependent relationship. It tells the story of the disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding, and the heart of that story is her relationship with her ex-husband.
The marriage was doomed from the start. Tonya needed a man to give her the affirmation she never got from her mother. Her husband needed a woman to give him the validation he never got from society. He didn’t have much else going on besides being married to an Olympic figure skater. When she tries to leave him, he threatens to kill himself. They were looking for things in each other that they could only get from Jesus.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
- 1 John 4:8-11There are two places we can look for love: from God or each other. The problem with depending on someone else for love is eventually they run out. They aren’t going to be able to fill all of our needs. They have needs of their own. We need perfection. We need God.
Knowing God changes you. You start to view other people differently. You don’t need as much from them. Their opinion becomes less important. You can love them not because of what they do for you but because they need it. You can give instead of take. Love goes from something you keep for yourself to something you give away. We are all on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean: we are dying of thirst and there is water all around us. We just need someone who can show us how to drink it.
Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
- John 4:14I didn’t really see the point of church before I became a Christian. It seemed like a boring thing people did because they felt like they had to. I preferred to watch football. Church isn’t a building, and it’s not an activity either. A church is ultimately just the people in it. You don’t go to hear a sermon. You go to experience the love of God with other people.
For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.
- Matthew 18:20At our church, people get together once a week in a smaller group in someone’s home to hang out, talk about their lives, study the Bible, and worship together. We call it a lifegroup. Other churches call it community group, or home group, or home church. The name doesn’t matter. Those small gatherings are the heart of the church. It’s hard to get to know people on Sunday mornings. There are a lot of people competing for your attention, and everyone has a million things to do after the service. You can go to the same church once a week for years and not really know anyone there, or be known by someone else. There’s no real point in doing that. Doing that misses the whole point.
I will never forget the first time I went to a lifegroup. It was unlike anything I had ever been part of before. I had three takeaways:
1. It was like a party, except with no alcohol. Alcohol used to be my crutch in social situations, particularly when I didn’t know people. I drank to lower my guard. I was self-conscious without it. I couldn’t enjoy myself without worrying about what other people were thinking about me. I felt like I was performing all the time. It was exhausting.
2. No one there had an agenda. The only reason me and my friends would even go to a party was to try and hook up with a girl there. We viewed the people we met, and each other, transactionally. What was the point of hanging out with random married people? We had moves to make.
3. When everyone started singing about Jesus, and how they loved each other, all I could think was: this is a cult. Who are these people? Why are they so nice to each other? And why are they so nice to me?
The only part of the night where I felt comfortable came at the end, when we split off into pairs and prayed for each other. Talking to just one other person felt less overwhelming. I prayed with a guy named Matt. He was nice, but he wasn’t weird about it. We mostly talked about college football.
I got to know a different guy every time I came back, but it still took me awhile to feel at ease in the group setting. Lifegroup ended at 9:00 PM, and I was out the door by 9:05. Things started to change when I began focusing less on myself and more on everybody else. As I learned more about them, and their lives, and what they were going through, I started caring more about them. Spend enough time with people and they go from strangers to acquaintances to friends. I went from being nervous about lifegroup to looking forward to it. It feels good to be somewhere where everyone cares about you. Sometimes you just want to go to a place where everybody knows your name.
It's kind of telling that the song was the theme for a TV show about a bar. Americans don’t really have a place outside of work where we can be known by a community of people. The closest things we have are bars, clubs, and social media. Looking for identity in those places leads to alcoholism at best and crippling depression at worst. Probably both.
Cuz them dudes that you went to school with / will catch you while you in your new whip / and turn your brains into Cool Whip / Dudes that you running around getting ass with / ain't gonna help you do nothing but carry your casket / Got the nerve to ask Kiss why I smoke so much / And how I'm such a young dude that seem to know so much.
- JadakissCollege has taken the role of church in our society. That’s where we expect to meet our closest friends, our future spouses, and learn about our place in the world. The reason most people say college was the best time in their lives is because it was the last time they were in a genuine community.
The problem is that it can’t last, and it costs more than we can afford. Giving 10% to a church is nothing compared to making student loan payments. They will garnish your Social Security checks to pay your student loans. You can’t get out of paying them unless you literally die, and even then they might go after your co-signers. That’s the way the world looks at you. You want anything different and you better look somewhere else. The only thing free in this world is the grace of God.
I had a great time in college, but I would be pretty lonely if I was still depending on the friends I met there for community. They are all over the world, and they are all in different seasons of their lives. Human beings are meant to live in close-knit communities. We all need a church. Not having one is why we are so unhappy.