Normally, I don’t share whole sermons. Just on a rare occasion. So I only share this one with you because of the critical nature of the issue. This is a simple and short overview of identity theft from a spiritual perspective. The devil himself is trying to rob you, the Christian of your identity in Christ. This message deals with the individual with their life. It doesn’t approach the fact that the devil tries to discredit Christianity through false religion that is seen in the public’s mind as associated with true Christianity, just from a personal perspective. And, I didn’t give every strategy the devil uses just four and we still took over 35 minutes to share it Sunday morning. You may listen to this message at http://www.newtestamentchristianonline.com/Sermons.dsp. My prayer is that you will grow in faith and hope and the strength of the Lord.
“This is the last one folks, the concluding message of the Identity series. We’ve identified God in our world and our lives, and we identified Jesus for who he is and what he does. Our focus for the past couple of weeks has been on our lives; where we were before we came to Christ and who we are in Christ.
But one issue is still before us; Identity Theft!
Remember the Citibank commercials. You see people who have been ripped off and see them talking but you hear the voice of the thief coming from their mouths bragging about what they bought with what they stole. They’re comical to watch, but the subtlety of comedy comes home hard when we’re hit with the reality of it.
Identity theft is one of the biggest problems in America right now. I am feeling the effects of it. My driver’s license is due to be renewed this month. In the past, I went in and my old license was enough to verify my identity with the license bureau. I got a notice a few weeks ago that now I have to show my birth certificate and social security card to prove who I am. My license that has verified my identity for almost 30 years is now not enough.
This stuff is serious. We’re talking great danger here. If someone can gain access to your bank account, your credit card account, or even your social security number, they can use your personal information and they can ruin more than just your credit. It is much more than financial ruin. If you have bad or ruined credit, it could keep you from getting some jobs even. It could ruin your life and livelihood.
According to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/ there’s several things identity thieves do with the information they’ve stolen:
- They open credit card accounts or even change the billing address without your knowledge running up bills that you don’t know about and that you may and probably will be responsible for.
- They open a phone account or even a utilities account in your name.
- They may create counterfeit checks, or open a bank account and write bad checks in your name, or clone your debit card and make withdrawals or even acquire a loan in your name.
- They may get a driver’s license or government ID in your name, use your SS# to receive government benefits, or file a fraudulent tax return. All in your name.
- They may get a job in your name, or rent an apartment or buy a house or even give your personal information during an arrest and when you don’t show up for their court date a warrant for your arrest may be issued.
Identity theft can ruin a person’s life and so there are things like “Identity Guard” and “Life Lock” – you know the guy with his SS# emblazoned on the side of a semi trailer advertised on national TV. You pay for their service and they help protect your identity.
These identity thieves are everywhere too.
- They dumpster dive and access your info from documents you throw away.
- They do what is called skimming. They steal credit card numbers with a special storage device when processing your card.
- They phish. Pretending to be financial institutions sending spam and pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- They divert your billing information to another location by using a change of address.
- They steal wallets and purses and mail, including bank statements, pre-approved credit card offers, new checks and tax information, personal records and even bribe employees who have access.
- And they do something called pre-texting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions.
It is widespread. It is nationwide. It is worldwide. And though we really want to talk about spiritual identity theft, let me encourage you to be careful and learn how to protect yourself from what the identity theft I just described to you can do to you.
Last Sunday, we realized that we are in Christ. If you are a Christian, you are in Christ. In Christ means that you are different because you’ve been changed by Christ! My preacher Kenny Washburn used to sing with Ed Erskine as the group, The Northmen. They did a song that went, “I’ve been changed, I’ve been new-born now, all my life has been rearranged. What a difference it made when the Lord came and stayed in my life, oh yes, I’ve been changed.”
Here’s what we pointed out from 2 Corinthians 5:14-19a last week ( http://bible.logos.com/ ).
#1) Christ died for all so we have died too. Christ died for our sins, he paid for every one of them, and when we are “in Christ” we have died to sin and sin no longer has power and control over us.
#2) Since Jesus died for us we no longer live for ourselves. That’s what sin does it makes it all about me. About my desires, about my longings and wants and reactions and feelings and all. I no longer live selfishly in Christ.
#3) We are no longer recognized according to the flesh. We are recognized according to the spirit of salvation. God sees us not as sinners but saved in Christ. And we see each other that way too.
#4) And so, anyone that is in Christ is a new creation. Your life is changed. It’s different just like the song said.
We are identified by Christ if we are in Christ. That is why we own the name “CHRISTIAN!” One who belongs to Christ!
Now . . . our identity in Christ can be compromised and you know who is behind it, the Devil! His name is our first indicator that he is trouble. It means, “deceiver.” Jesus told us that the devil is a liar. He has been one since the beginning. John 8:44, “…the devil – was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” His mode of operation is to deceive. That’s what Jesus means by saying he is a murderer. He is killing people’s souls as he leads them astray and he’s the best there is when it comes to deceiving and what he wants to do with you is to steal your identity so that at least two things are accomplished.
- He makes you an ineffective witness. You will either suffer guilt and fail to be a witness to Christ, or your witness is scoffed at by others because you’ve become a hypocrite.
- And/or He will lead you away from faith in Christ and God will no longer recognize you.
Do you know what he does?
- “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8. His purpose is destruction and he rarely comes with a frontal attack like in battles we read about during the Revolutionary or Civil Wars. “Charge!” He is subtle and sneaky, like the identity thieves I described earlier using all their tricky methods to steal from you . . . with your permission.
- He has schemes. You probably knew that. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” Ephesians 6:11. His schemes are not productive strategies like a corporation planning growth and effectiveness, his are tricks and lies and he lays them as traps for you.
Let me warn you that even you don’t have to be a new Christian or a Christian that is in the early stages of maturity for the devil to trick you, for you to fall and the devil to take your identity in Christ and twist and pervert who you are in Christ, hoping to ruin your salvation, hoping to stop your witness.
Obviously, new Christians are susceptible, but long-time Christians can be too. Ones who believe they’ve arrived already, that heaven is the only thing left for them, even believing the devil can’t trick ME!
Just because you know and understand a lot does not mean the devil cannot trick you.
Let’s see some of the devil’s strategies.
Strategy #1 – Getting Us to Believe that We are Our Behavior.
Bad experiences or painful pasts can negatively affect our present. The devil wants us to believe that we are the only ones who suffer with these issues and that it is unchangeable. This is simply not true. Too often our sin and emotional baggage gets linked to what we believe about ourselves. In other words, our personality and identity becomes associated with the things we struggle with.
The strategy of the enemy is for us to believe that we actually “are” how we feel or behave, which is not true at all. Satan wants you to believe things like: you “are” depressed, unhappy, worthless, unable to change, stupid, a failure…the list could go on and on. It is important to realize that our feelings and behavior are situational and we can change them—the truth is feelings and behavior are not who we really are. They might be things that we struggle with, but they are not our identity, or who we are in Christ.
This includes the things that you may think about yourself at a deep level. You might not consciously believe them, but you find yourself thinking them or saying them about yourself on a regular basis. Most people don’t see that there is a direct connection between the way they view themselves and their destiny.
“For as a person thinks in his heart, so is he.” Proverbs 23:7
Strategy #2 – Getting Us to Believe that We Don’t Measure Up Spiritually
This is seen in a couple of ways. I became a Christian but after a while, a year or two, I haven’t been as good a Christian as I should have been, or I’ve sinned a lot and I need to be baptized again. That happened to me and fortunately, I have a wise man for a father. He directed me to realize that I simply needed to ask forgiveness and be truly repentant and let God effect lasting change and holiness in my life. You know 1 John 1:9 (http://bible.logos.com/) .
Another way is that I never seem to do all the spiritual things I think I see others doing. Reading their Bible everyday and studying and meditating on it and appearing to keep themselves pure and sinless all the time. My life doesn’t seem to be transformed, enough.
If I don’t measure up in a way that I seem to think is the only correct way to holiness than I am defeated and lose interest and passion for Christ. I still try to be a Christian, but I am less than excited that I am.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….” Romans 12:2
Strategy #3 – Getting Us to Believe Differently Than the Bible Teaches
We live by grace, yet there are still commands and ways that we are to live in Christ and the Bible, the New Testament especially, provides that understanding for us.
But how many times have you and I heard of Christians who purposely pick and choose what they want to believe and obey. There is a cartoon that shows a church sign that says “The Lite Church. We only require 7 Commandments and you can choose the ones you want to obey.” We see that cartoon in Leadership magazine and chuckle, but every joke possesses some truth.
We can take away from the Scripture, at the same time, we can add to the Scripture. We’re warned in Revelation not to do that. That’s kind of what the Pharisees were doing, adding their ideas that were interpretations of how to obey the Law of God, given my Moses but they made the teachings equal in authority as Scripture.
Jesus said “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words, will never pass away.” Matthew 24:35
Strategy #4 – Getting Us to Give Up and Reject the Faith
We all know someone who was a Christian and for whatever reason, they turned their back on Christ and the Church. The man whose wife was killed in a tornado, the preacher’s son who rejected his father’s faith because he was a tyrant, the son who prayed that his mother would get well but still died and rejected God, and the list is endless of Christians who have turned away from the faith.
If we are truly saved and we turn our back on God, then the devil has renewed our old identity in us.
If he can instill doubts about our faith, then it is possible for him to drive a wedge between us and Christ. It is possible for him to lead into faithlessness.
A couple of the soils in the parable of the Sower are this very situation. “Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them.” Matthew 13:5-7
Peter told us that the devil is like a roaring lion looking for those he can devour. Those he can destroy and turn away from God.
How do we overcome? How do we protect ourselves and keep the devil from stealing and changing our identity in Christ?
The simple answer is the principle of faith – maintain faith and trust in God and Jesus Christ, obeying all that he says. But let’s be a little more specific.
Protectant #1 – Romans 12:1-2 http://bible.logos.com/
- Commit yourselves completely to God. He is your focus. He is your only source for life and for what is right.
- Do not allow yourself to be caught up in the “sinful, ungodly” ways of this world.
- Be transformed by letting God renew your mind and that is done mostly through knowing and living the word of God (it has to be both, you can’t have one without the other), and faithfulness and prayer.
Protectant #2 – Ephesians 6:10-13 (cf. 14-18) http://bible.logos.com/
- Let God strengthen you to stand firm. You will fail on your own or if you follow some other way but God alone can provide you with strength to withstand the devil’s missiles.
- Put on all of God’s armor. Not just this or that piece, but every piece; truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, God’s Word, and prayer. Don’t leave any part out. You’ll be sorry.
- If you do this, you will be able to resist devil. In fact, we are told that if we resist the devil, he will flee from us (James 4:7). This is the stuff of resistance.
Protectant #3 – Galatians 5:16 http://bible.logos.com/
- Walk by the Spirit of God. If we are led by God’s Spirit, the works of the flesh, the evil desires of sin will not have a hold of us and drag us away into spiritual death.
- The characteristics of those who walk by the Spirit are the fruit of the Spirit, vv. 22-23; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.
Protectant #4 – Matthew 22:37-40 http://bible.logos.com/
- First of all love God with all your being. With how you think and feel, with what your desires are and with what you do. Love God so much that your only desire is to worship and please him through faith in Jesus Christ.
- Second, love each other. We need to be there for each other, caring for each other, helping each other, holding each other accountable to God’s word and way and letting others care for us in the same way.
- This is fellowship with God and fellowship with God’s people. We are a community of faith and if we let one person stray, well, let’s just not go there.
We could spend a lot of time giving the devil’s strategies and the ways to protect ourselves from the devil stealing our Christian identity.
Let me conclude things by pointing out that God sees us as who we are becoming, through his love and power. He looks at our lives and he knows our past and understands our present and can see us in the future. Imagine what the possibilities are if we would see ourselves as God sees us.
That is where the “Principle of Faith” allows us to trust that there is something special and unique for us. There is certainty in who we are. “Now faith is the being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
The foundation of my life is this: In Christ, I am a new creation, and all the old thoughts and behaviors no longer have power over me. I am being renewed every day with God’s love and character. I share in God’s divine nature because God’s Spirit lives in me. I am free from condemnation and have the strength to live my life free of despairing thoughts and the competing desires of the flesh and the world.
I am God’s workmanship, created to do good works, which God has prepared ahead of time for me to accomplish. I am more than a conqueror through God who loves me. I am increasing daily in faith, strength, wisdom, and love and I am able to love others because God has loved me first.
Is that your identity? That is the identity God wants to give you and the devil wants to take from you. If you are in Christ, than you belong to God and that is what we offer to you today….