Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Idolatry of Identity Politics

In the opening of his classic novel, The Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens writes:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

Dickens was discerning his times, which eerily sounds like ours.

The Bible mentions two groups who discerned their times - the men of Issachar and the men of Berea.

1 Chronicles 12:32:
the men of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do.

They were culture warriors who could discern and judge with wisdom the zeitgeist – the spirit of their times.

Acts 17:11

The Bereans were more noble and received the Word of God with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

The Bereans plowed the Scriptures for wisdom and truth in order to live out their faith.

These brothers were not passive or isolated but gladly studied God’s Word in order to boldly engage the pagan cultures around them. We must do the same against an ancient foe and the territories he occupies.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:16
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

We need this kind of wisdom, and courage to take back the stolen ground from one of today’s most pernicious and dangerous lies. And that is identity politics, which is tearing the nation apart. I’ve talked about this before in terms of gender and sexuality. Today I want to cast a broader net and throw down a bigger challenge.

“E Pluribus Unum”
is the traditional motto of the United States. Literally it means “Out of many, one.”

United States is one country (its unity) made up of many states (its diversity); It’s also one country with many citizens (its diversity)YET with an overriding structure, a unique creed of shared values, beliefs and dreams that pulls us together (its unity).

The phrase recognizes America as a mysterious union from many different individual people.  A unity and diversity kept in balance became the heart of America – a nation that has produced the greatest good in the history of the world.

Rooted in what the Founders knew from Scripture about the nature of God and the fallenness of man, our Republic was designed to restrain abuses of power and to promote individual human flourishing.

This E Pluribus Unum concept echoes in the bible in that:

God has revealed himself as a Trinity of three persons in one God;

The family is revealed as a union of three relationships - husband, wife, child; 

The church is defined as one body with many members;

As Americans, we’ve been able to be both team players and individualists without contradiction. We’ve been an interdependent, community members working for the common good at home and abroad; as well as independent individuals pursuing life, liberty and happiness.
So the identity politics awash in the land today is a counter-narrative to all this.

It is the modern equivalent of tribalism – in which the interests of individuals are subservient to their preferred or assigned tribe. Identity politics categorizes or divides human beings for “political” advantage into tribal groups, according to:
race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, family affiliation, social-economic-cultural class, partisan affiliation and so on. It assigns different meanings to words and claims its own facts, truth and reality – all the inevitable result of decades of rampant relativism.

A person’s identity (value, worth) is to be found in his tribal membership, not in his personhood. People should be able to identify as anything they want, for example – trans or non-binary genders.

Those deemed to have a victim or aggrieved status are to be granted special rights or privileges. Yet in its culture of death, those deemed inconvenient or impractical have no rights except to be aborted or euthanized.

Identity politics breeds not only a culture of death but a culture of contempt, blame and outrage. We could say identity politics is ex uno plures – out of one, many.

Identity groups inevitably fragment over the pursuit of power, advantage and entitlement. The division shows itself – both on the political left and political right - in the forms of "us" against "them’ politics, blame games, labeling, stereotyping and animosity toward fellow human beings who are different.

In its inception the American republic (the One) emerged from the people – out of the many. It was first about the individual, then emerging oneness while striving to maintain a healthy balance between individualism and a collective solidarity.

Identity politics breeds contempt, outrage, discord, and disenchantment. It demeans and then destroys what it means to be human.

Identity politics is a form of idolatry.

Don’t get me wrong. Identity matters. The problem is identity idolatry.

The Bible does not deny the reality or the importance of identities. However, it does begin with what unites all humanity — the Imago Dei – the Image of God. The biblical worldview starts with sameness, not differences.

The Bible grounds the value of an individual in something more transcendent than race, gender, nationality, experiences; it starts with the image of God that resides on every human being.

Identity politics denies the common bond that beats in the heart of every human: we are all made in God’s image.

Genesis 1:27

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Our common identity as fellow image bearers of God is why every person has equality, value, worth and dignity. 
Therefore, we of all people are to show no partiality for any reason, whether social, cultural, national, racial, or gender to fellow image bearers.

Ephesians 2:15
God has made one new man [Christ] out of the two so he might reconcile fallen rebels to himself through the cross.


Acts 17:26

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.”

This sacred status as image bearers is not granted by government but given by God. When government or anyone in authority moves to redefine or repeal (and they are) what God has sovereignly bestowed on every human being they will face the eternal wrath of God. God will not be mocked.

Genesis 3:5

“You will be like God.”

Of course this is the lie our first parents bought into lie when they defied God and chose self-worship; the new human default identity became ME! – I’m the master of my life and destiny.The nest was messed. Sin, rebellion and death entered the world.

When God came on his rescue mission to redeem, He put forward his Law – the Ten Commandments, which revealed his holy, righteous character and how people were to live.
The very first commandment is:

Exodus 20:3
“You shall have no other gods before me.”

We never break one of the other Ten Commandments unless we are also breaking the first commandment. Think of it:

We don’t lie, curse, commit adultery, covet or steal unlessfirst we are making something more fundamental, more ultimate to our hope, joy and identity than God.

We always sin when we trust something besides Jesus to be our real, functional Lord and Savior.

John Calvin famously wrote:
“The human heart is a factory of idols. Every one of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.”

The danger of idolatry is taking good things and making them ultimate things whereas the only ultimate is God. 

Paul writes in Galatians 2:20 of himself and us:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The bible says that our union with Christ becomes the most fundamental thing about us. It’s all-defining for our true, ultimate identity.

Only through your union with Christ do you gain all the benefits of Christ. His life is your life, his death is your death, his righteousness is your righteousness. All because you are united to him – adopted into sonship.

This unity, this oneness is also seen in Galatians 3:28-29:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

The Apostle John writes in his letter 1 John 5:21:

“keep yourselves from idols”

The greatest temptation is worshiping of idols; what we can call counterfeit or false gods. People worship just about anything - ministry or church or theological position or religious experiences or a political party or government or a politician or celebrity; one’s spouse or family; hobbies instead of worshiping the God who made them.

For instance, there are those whose ultimate identity is their nationality. We see this in the Book of Jonah (Jonah 4:1–11). When Jonah doggedly puts his Israel nationalism ahead of God’s plan to save the racially different, pagan city of Nineveh, God takes him to task for idolatry.

The supreme, ultimate idol is the sinful self— putting self where God ought to be. When the Apostle John warns us and commands us to “Keep yourselves from idols” we’re to constantly guard ourselves against the idols of the heart.

In this incessant battle, we need to remember certain things about identity:

We belong to God, set apart for him to love, adopted intohis family and bearing his name. Having been purchased by the infinite cost of his blood, we’re destined to see him face to face forever.

There is nothing in this world that lasts. Everything is fleeting. There’s nothing of this corrupted, counterfeit world system that’ll survive and thus it’s unworthy of our worship, loyalty, allegiance and love. There is one alone who is worthy, and that is God Almighty.

Truth is about the character of God. His truth keeps us from being manipulated by idols. God defines what is true, good, beautiful, and reality. And none of these are found in counterfeit, fake gods. They will not deliver their promised satisfaction and significance because they cannot. They lie – they’re born of and manipulated by the Father of Lies.

Jeremiah 2:13

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

How can we identify, deny and expel our idols and to love God with everything we’ve got? Here’s a key:

Thomas Chalmers – the 18th Century Scottish pastor and theologian – wrote about the expulsive power of a new affection:

“We only cease to be the slave of one appetite because another taste has brought it into subordination. A youth
may cease to idolize sensual pleasure, but it’s only
because the idol of material gain has gotten the
ascendancy. There is not one personal transformation in which the heart is left without an object of ultimate
beauty and joy. Its desire for one particular object may
be conquered, but its desire to have some object is
unconquerable. The only way to dispossess the heart of
an old affection[idol] is by the expulsive power of a new one.”
Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847)

That expulsive power is the Gospel of God - which dispels self-idolatry and replaces it with an overriding, overwhelming affection for God.

Today’s problems are really not political; there are no political solutions for they are matters of the heart – desperately wicked hearts. Religious good works or moral improvement will not save dead people walking.

The only transformative power is gospel of God. It is the power to expel sin, to make us right with God and to give us new affections and delights for God and the things of God.

The gospel is the awesome Good News that proclaims:

In his 33 years on this earth, Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness, of perfect obedience to God, not for His own wellbeing but for His people, those who repent of their sin and fully trust in him. Jesus has done for me and you what we couldn’t possibly do for ourselves. Not only did He live that life of perfect obedience that I can’t and won’t live, He offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy the justice and the righteousness of God. He bore upon himself the wrath that I justly deserve. I am made right – you are made right – justified - with God – only by Jesus’ blood and righteousness. He lived for me and died for me – my substitute. He is my lightening rod absorbing the wrath for my treason requires and He robed me in his righteousness – so that I’m in Christ, inextricably united with Him.

Brothers, in light of this amazing, wondrous good news, we’re empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to boldly pursue lives of self-denial; sacrificial, unconditional love; repentance; gratitude; freedom and joy – in behalf of others and for the glory of God almighty.

by Dave Brown, Pastor and Director, Washington Area Coalition of Men's Ministries