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How I am is not who I am

June 2019 | by Paul Smith

Struggling for the right words, the prop forward tried to answer the question. Talking about his feelings obviously didn’t come easily. ‘I really loved my wife and children’ he said, ‘but then I started to have these urges – and I had to be true to my urges’.

The BBC interviewer obviously approved – he did not ask why. The media believes ‘who I am’ is who I feel I am. And since my strongest feelings are sexual, I must define myself by my sexual urges. Not to act to gratify these urges is repression, a denial of who I am.

But as Christians we must ask why people should be true to their urges. The devil wants us to act as we feel, to do what feels right for us. But God determines what is right and wrong in the Bible.

The married prop had made a covenant with his wife. Whether he experienced urges towards another woman, or (as in this case) towards another man, he was forbidden from acting upon them. Nor should he define himself by the sinful urges he experienced. Christians must reject society’s demand that we define ourselves or others by how we are rather than who we are.

Who are we? Creatures made in the image of God. When we look at the queen’s head on a coin, which part is her image? All of it! All of us is made in God’s image – soul and body. Our maleness or femaleness is part of that image, as if neither sex could image the Triune God alone.

But the beauty and glory of the image has been ravaged by sin. Sin has destroyed the core of God’s image. Like the centre being punched out of a coin, the core of God’s image in humans – knowledge, righteousness and holiness – was lost at the fall (Colossians 3:10; Ephesians 4:24).

Like deep scratch marks across the rest of the coin, so the rest of the image of God in us has been defaced. How tragic for the living replicas of the living God to have his image so destroyed and defaced!

We must distinguish carefully between who we are (in God’s image) and how we are (how sin has shaped us). Despite the Fall, people remain precious image-bearers (Genesis 9:6) but the image is badly defaced by the deep scratches of original sin.

Just as we have different physical attributes and personalities, so original sin affects each person differently. Each of us struggles with desires toward particular sins, sometimes called ‘besetting sins.’ The more natural a sinful desire feels, the more we want to excuse it – and the more urgently it needs to be put to death.

This sheds light on discussions of sexuality. Biblical identity is straightforward: we are made in God’s image, male or female, in Christ or not in Christ. This is who we are. We must reject the Freudian idea that we define ourselves by our sexual urges.

A man who dubs himself ‘heterosexual’ could be taking pride in his sinful urges for other men’s wives! He must not despise or label another man ‘homosexual’ because of the desires he experiences. We define ourselves by who we are, not how we are.

We should also be on the front foot in telling people we value them. If someone defines themselves by how they are, using LGBTQIA+ terminology, we can understand why they might feel Christians hate them. We must constantly explain that we do not define people, or attribute worth to them in any other way than the Bible does – who they are as image bearers of God.

Only in Scripture is there an objective foundation for identity. It does not depend on societal consensus or personal affirmation. Only by valuing people for who they truly are will we earn the right to discuss with them how they are. And how they are now is not how they always have to be – as we will see next month.

Paul Smith is Pastor of Rehoboth Grace Baptist Church, Broadstairs, Kent