People tend to become what they think they are. Studies validate this, but so do common sense and experience. For instance, which one of us can’t remember a fidgety grade school lad who ended up designated the class “bad boy,” who then proceeded to fulfill his own label?
The psychologists of ancient Babylon understood this. When Nebuchadnezzar’s army brought back the young Israelite captives Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah they quickly changed their names to names that meant things like “command of the moon god” and “Bel’s prince.” Can’t you almost hear the Phds plotting? “Give them new names, get them to see themselves as Baal worshipers. Once we have their identity, we have their souls!”
Before you dismiss ancient Babylon as pagan, morally bankrupt, and unenlightened, take a look at the gods placed before our own young people. Our celebrity “gods” embody the same pagan principles, living lives of excess, selfishness, licentiousness and pride.
Humans imitate. For instance, Lady Gaga’s recent video “Bad Romance” has sparked a sharp increase in the sale of circle lenses—contact lenses that cover part of the whites of the eyes, making the eye look much bigger. Authorities fill the news with warnings of their potential for causing infections and even blindness.
We identify with, then imitate, our role models. This phenomenon manifests itself in families, especially between child and same-sex parent. Mother role models for daughter, father for son. Daughter tends to identify with mother, son with father. Thank God for this; it creates a wide channel for parents to pass on their values to the next generation.
But even the best parents can’t pass on to their children what our heavenly Father can pass on to us in terms of identity. The best humans can do is still human. God can promise us a completely new, holy, victorious identity “in Christ.”
One psychologist describes conversion as, “a change in which the self becomes identified with the sacred.”[i] Paul said it this way, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come,” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It’s my belief that we all have a place in Christ, a place we merely need to step into by faith. Then we can see ourselves in a new light—the light that streams from the heart of God, a loving Father who sees in His children endless possibilities.
Thinking on this issue of the need for a positive identity, I put together a simple worksheet that helps us grasp all that we are “in Christ.” Reply to this email if you’d like one.
[i] Kenneth Pargament, The Psychology of Religion and Coping, p. 248.