“Who are you?” the caterpillar asked Alice in the Disney’s Alice in Wonderland movie.
It’s an insightful question which cannot be answered quickly or easily.
Who we are determines our values and how we see ourselves. And the person who determines who we are is extremely important. We can decide—or allow someone else to decide our identity for us.
Recently, my wife read me a quote from a book that more or less said, “One of the greatest dangers to the well-being of our nation is the self-esteem movement.”
The self-esteem movement damages our well-being? Sounds almost like an oxymoron.
Dr. Nathaniel Brandon’s self-esteem movement teaches that people must search deep within themselves in order to ascertain our value. Everybody is special and no one is different. Proponents advocate that by protecting people’s feelings from being hurt and making people feel good about themselves, we’ll all play nice.
Unfortunately, recent studies indicate that the hypothesis didn’t work out in real life. “The false belief in self-esteem as a force for social good can be not just potentially but actually harmful,” wrote Carnegie Mellon University psychology professor Robyn M. Dawes in a recent publication.
But if our value doesn’t come from within, where does it come from?
Please join me in today’s conversation.
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Deuteronomy 7. God commanded his people to have nothing to do with the men and women of the surrounding nations, even totally annihilating them in battle. These are hard words to stomach, especially in light of Jesus’ example to love everyone. While we can’t and shouldn’t live completely separate from people who share our faith (and certainly not kill non-believers), the words in this chapter remind us to be aware of the pervasiveness of this world’s values. As believers, we should have an uneasy friendship with our culture.
Deuteronomy 8. In verse 2, Moses explains the purpose of wilderness experiences: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Since we looked at this topic a few days ago, I won’t belabor it beyond this: the purpose of wilderness experiences is to build humility and determine what is in our hearts.
Next, Moses explains the tendency in all of us once we reach our Promised Land: “your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God” (verse 14). The New Bible Commentary wisely advises us that “great wealth can lead to the delusion of self-sufficiency.”
Luke 7:36. At a minimum, any woman with her hair exposed to public view would be considered promiscuous, but the woman in the story was probably a prostitute. So, the expensive bottle of perfume which she used to anoint Jesus’ feet was likely purchased with her “earnings.”
The irony of this passage is that the “sinner” was more aware of her sin than the righteous Pharisee.
Psalm 69:1-18. This is the most frequently quoted of the psalms in the New Testament:
- Verse 4 (John 15:25)
- Verse 9 (John 2:17; Rom. 15:3)
- Verse 21 (John 19:28; cf. Mt. 27:34, 48)
- Verse 22 (Romans 11:9ff.)
- Verse 25 (Acts 1:20)
Proverbs 12:1. “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge.” The word for “discipline” here means “correction. The most beneficial lessons often come at the price of pain.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
In Deuteronomy 7:6-8, God established the basis for Israel’s identity:
The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers.
Israel was God’s treasured possession–not because they did anything special, not because they were more emotionally healthy than the other nations, not even because they behaved better than the surrounding nations.
God chose Israel because he chose them. Granted, he agreed to follow through on his covenant commitment to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—but God chose Israel to be his chosen people out of all the nations of the earth…for nothing.
This is a good reminder for anyone who follows Jesus. We’re not better than anyone else. This underlies the importance of humility, a theme that’s interwoven throughout Scripture. But also, our value in God’s eyes doesn’t come from what we do but from simply being chosen by him.
When we fix our value on our ability to love and accept ourselves, we end up riding a roller coaster that follows our emotions and actions. But God doesn’t ride roller coasters. He remains faithful when we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). He cannot and will not be moved.
Who are you? A child of God, created in his image, chosen.
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- With whom do you most identify in Luke 7:36-50—the Pharisee or the prostitute? Why?
- What do you tend to look to in determining your value? Why?
- If you really believed that your identity came from God, how would it change the way you think and act?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.