Identity theft has become a legitimate threat in our digitized age. But it's really nothing new. Rewind the clock two millenia, and we're reading of the dangers of stolen identity. "Don't forget or forsake who you are," the apostle Paul exhorted. "Your identity as a Christian resides in your connection to Jesus. Period."
Being a husband, a father, a pastor, and, well, a human, Mark Driscoll has learned a thing or two about the threat of identity theft. "The fundamental problem [Christians] have in this world," he contends, "is that we don't understand who we truly are." Experts at misanswering the great "Who am I?" question, we exhaust ourselves chasing the fruit of sin rather than the root of sin, and living for our identity rather than from it.
But it doesn't have to be this way. In Who Do You Think You Are? (Thomas Nelson, 2013), Driscoll works from Ephesians to expose our insecure hearts to the Spirit's scalpel. Identity surgery isn't painless, but it is vital. With a pastor's touch, Driscoll shows how our identity before the Father is secure when we're tethered to the Son by faith—and how remembering this "one thing" changes "everything."
I corresponded with Driscoll, preaching and vision pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, about the uniqueness of Ephesians, how fatherhood has shaped his understanding of identity, common forms of "identity idolatry," and more.
Each chapter in Who Do You Think You Are? keys off a passage from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. How is Ephesians uniquely suited for "identity counseling"?
Ephesians is an amazing book. Church fathers Origen, Chrysostom, and Jerome were so drawn to the richness of Ephesians that each wrote a commentary on it. It was John Calvin's favorite biblical book; he preached 48 sermons from it, wrote a 172-page commentary, and quoted it some 275 times in his Institutes. Scottish Reformed minister John Knox kept transcripts of Calvin's Ephesians sermons at his bedside and had his wife read them to him as he was dying.
Across the theological spectrum, there's an understanding that Ephesians is about our identity in Christ. Sadly, as theologian Robert Letham writes, "From the middle of the 17th century on . . . this great jewel in the crown of God's grace [being in Christ] has gone into eclipse. Today not much is said about union with Christ from the pulpit, and until recently, little was written about it." For some reason, the subject, though prominent in Scripture, has become largely overlooked in everyday application. But by returning to Scripture in general and Ephesians in particular, we can recover a biblical identity and live new lives in Christ.
You've said this book is "the best thing I've written by a long stretch, and there's no landmine of controversy—just the stuff I tell my 15-year-old daughter regarding who she truly is." How has your understanding of the importance of identity developed through being a dad?
Our oldest daughter is 15. When it comes to identity, the pressure is immense on everyone in general, but especially for young women—from how much you weigh, to the friends you have, your grade point average, the music you like, the hobbies you enjoy, the sports you play, the clothes you wear, and the technology you own. All are identifying markers of who you are. On social media we create an identity only to have it scrutinized. Much of parental work, then, is knowing who we are in Christ and then helping our children understand who they are in Christ. In that sense, parenting is discipling.
How do you see "identity idolatry" particularly manifested in our culture—and in our churches—today?
It's a lifelong issue. When you're little, your family, your place in the birth order, your hobbies, your skills, and your nicknames (especially the negative ones) shape your identity.
In the teen years you feel lost and try to "find" yourself by trying on different identities, styles, belief systems, behaviors, attitudes, and so on.
Once you leave your family and friends for college, you have an opportunity to reinvent yourself: wardrobe, relationship status, hobbies, sexual conquests, drinking feats, and academic achievement.
In your single years, you're defined by how much you make, what you drive, who you date, where you live, and whether or not you're desirable enough to attract a spouse.
Once married, your independent identity is crushed by the reality of two people trying to figure out what it means to be one, and how to set aside some of your wants, likes, desires, hobbies, and preferences for the sake of your spouse.
If the blessing of children ensues, then there's yet another radical reshaping of who you are—especially for the mother who carries the child, births the child, and devotes much of her life to loving and serving the child.
Once the child or children leave home, another identity crisis sets in. We call it a midlife crisis, and it's as common as the adultery and divorce that often accompany it. As you get older and your health, spouse, friends, and energy begin to fade, your identity is once again called into question.
Needless to say, the issue of identity is a massive one that has significant implications for every season of life.
You observe that "appreciated people" exchange grumbling for praying, competing for celebrating, bitterness for thankfulness, performing for serving, and boasting for encouraging. What's an "appreciated person"? Isn't that what Joel Osteen wants me to be?
I am aware of the theological differences that exist between our tribe and Pastor Joel. I also know my Reformed brothers like to treat Pastor Joel like a piñata, but there are worse things than being happy and encouraging at a time when the most common prescription medications are antidepressants. A few guys in our tribe could learn to talk about something other than painful, arduous suffering once and a while—if nothing else than for the sake of variety. Our identity is not in our joy, and our identity is not in our suffering. Our identity is in Christ, whether we have joy or are suffering.
In any case, the big idea in my book (which never mentions Pastor Joel) is that God loves us, he is aware of our life, and he appreciates our grace-centered efforts to serve and obey him. When we grasp this, we're free to stop seeking appreciation and adulation from others and to work from purer motives without being discouraged or devastated when we're unappreciated by people. This contributes to our ability to be saints who persevere.
You explain that we're made internally new in regeneration, externally new in justification, and eternally new in glorification. How should the theological reality of newness practically inform our thoughts and actions?
Regeneration is exceedingly important. I understand and agree with the theological focus on justification to defend the biblical teaching of double imputation: that our sin goes to Jesus, and his righteousness comes to the believer (2 Cor. 5:21). But I fear we've focused so much on our external, forensic justification that we've neglected our internal, experiential regeneration. The Holy Spirit imparts new spiritual life in a Christian, giving her a new nature, new identity, new mind, new desires, and new power. If we don't understand this, or if we forget this, we see ourselves solely as sinners: we may be forgiven, but functionally we live as if meeting Jesus and receiving the Spirit effects no practical change in our perspective or life. That's not what any pastor wants for his people, nor what any father wants for his children. New life in Christ really means new life.