Recognizing Who You Are
Text: 1 Peter 2:9-10
Let’s call her Bonnie, but there are many people who could fit her description. She was strikingly beautiful. She was intelligent. She was well dressed. Yet she had the appearance of a frightened bird. She talked of her loneliness and of her hunger to find love. She desperately longed for someone who would give her love.
As I listened to her story, I thought, “Surely, a woman as good-looking as this must have plenty of dates and many opportunities to fall in love.”
How was it that Bonnie possessed so many outwardly beautiful attributes, but lacked the self-confidence to draw men? It came from her old memories of rejection. When Bonnie was nine she grew five inches, and during junior high school she was always the tallest girl in the class. At 5’10” she stopped growing, and now, as a woman, her height sets off her good looks. But she cannot believe that, and she cannot remove from her mind the memories of school dances when all her friends would be chosen and she would be left alone. She recalls the hurtful words of classmates calling her names. “Maybe you don’t know what it’s like,” she said, “to be in a group and be the only one that’s not chosen. It makes you feel like a piece of junk.”
A multitude of studies in the last forty years indicate that the way we see ourselves determines to a large degree the way we act and react in life. That one’s self-perception, self-worth, self-esteem tends to be a governing factor in our life. If we see ourselves as a loser, we end up to a large degree acting like a loser. If we see ourselves as a victim, we tend to let people victimize us. If we see ourselves as uncreative, we never come up with any creative ideas. If we see ourselves as a piece of junk, we begin to think that we are garbage. If we see ourselves as successful then we tend to repeat successes that we’ve had in the past. Like Bonnie, we set ourselves up. Our beliefs about ourselves determine our behavior.
As Bonnie’s story indicates the beliefs that we have about ourselves originate in childhood. Unfortunately, some or many of those beliefs are false. Many people have a negative view of themselves because of erroneous information they have received from misinformed and unauthorized sources in their lives.
We need to look at ourselves from a different perspective. We need to hear from an informed and authorized source. A student in architecture entered a nationwide contest for building design. Judged by a panel of architects, her design received Honorable Mention. She was utterly depressed. She believed hers was the best design. At lunch on the last day of the convention she was sitting over her uneaten sandwich, looking at her creation. An old man was looking at it, too. At last he remarked, not knowing who had designed the building, “This one, I think, is the best of the lot.” Judges had merely given her work Honorable Mention, but one old man had liked it. The young student went home elated. Why? Because the old man was Frank Lloyd Wright, probably the greatest architect of the time.
When the authority tells us something we can count on it. God is the authority on who we are. He is our Creator. He gives us the correct information. He is the one we should be listening to about who we are. Peter, in the first chapter, says what God has done for us. In chapter two, he talks about what God says about us. As believers in Jesus Christ, he informs us of who we are.
I. You are acceptable (v. 9, “a chosen race”)
Eugene Petersen paraphrases “You are the ones chosen by God . . . from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted” (1 Peter 2:9-10, The Message). Most of us spend our entire lives trying to earn acceptance. We seek it from our parents, peers, partners. We seek acceptance from the people we respect and the people we envy. Our desire to be accepted influences the kind of clothes we wear, the kind of car we drive, the kind of house we buy, and even the career we choose.
Why are we so driven by acceptance? Because we love the feeling of acceptance. We love to know that someone has chosen and accepted us. Remember playing baseball as a kid and dividing up the teams? Usually the two best players would be captains and as they were choosing up sides you were thinking, “I hope I get chosen by this team, because they are the winning team.” If you were chosen by that team, remember how great you felt to be chosen by the best player? On the other hand, remember how bad you felt when they got down to the last two or three and you still were not chosen?
When you are chosen, accepted, it raises your self-esteem.
Some parents on the East Coast received a telephone call from their son during the Korean War. They were thrilled, because they hadn’t heard from him for many months. He said he was in San Francisco on his way home.
“Mom, I just wanted to let you know that I’m bringing a buddy home with me,” he said. “He got hurt pretty bad, and he only has one eye, one arm, and one leg. I’d sure like him to live with us.”
“Sure, son,” his mother replied. “He sounds like a brave man. We can find room for him for a while.”
“Mom, you don’t understand. I want him to come live with us.”
“Well, OK,” she finally said. “We could try it for six months or so.”
“No, Mom, I want him to stay always. He needs us. He’s only got one eye, one arm, and one leg. He’s really in bad shape.”
By now his mother had lost her patience. “Son, you’re being unrealistic about this. You’re emotional because you’ve been in a war. That boy will be a drag on you and a constant problem for all of us. Be reasonable.”
The phone clicked dead. The next day, the parents got a telegram: their son had committed suicide. A week later the parents received the body. They looked down with unspeakable sorrow on the corpse of their son – who had one eye, one arm, and one leg.
Even with our disabilities, character flaws, shortcomings, insecurities, and immaturity, God accepts us as we are. He invites us home. No conditions. Nor restrictions. He chooses us for his team. We don’t have to get cleaned up or stitched up or made up to be accepted by God. He accepts us with one eye, one arm, one leg – feeling like a piece of junk.
II. You are valuable (v. 9, “a people for His possession”)
How much do you think you are worth? I am not talking about net worth, but self worth. We should never confuse valuables with value as a person. To answer the question, how much do you think you are worth? we need to ask another question, what determines value? There are two things that determine value in life: Value depends on what someone is willing to pay for something. A house, a car, a piece of art, a baseball card are only worth whatever someone is willing to pay for them. Value depends on who has owned an item in the past. The recent auctions of Jacqueline Kennedy’s and Princes Diana’s personal possessions reveals that value is enhanced by previous owners.
Based on these two criteria, what’s your value? How much are you worth? The Scripture say, “You have been bought and paid for by Christ, so you belong to him” (1 Cor. 7:23 NIV). Who owns you? What was paid for you? Christ owns you and paid for you with his life. God exchanged his own Son for you. The cross proves your value. God says I love you this much. Jesus gave his life for you. And Jesus didn’t die for junk.
A frightened woman found her place in a lifeboat that was about to be lowered into the raging North Atlantic from the Titanic. She suddenly thought of something she needed, so she asked permission to return to her stateroom before they cast off. She was granted three minutes or they would have to leave without her.
She ran across the deck that was already slanted at a dangerous angle. She raced through the gambling room with all the money that had rolled to one side, ankle deep. She came to her stateroom and quickly pushed aside her diamond rings and expensive bracelets and necklaces as she reached to the shelf above her bed and grabbed three small oranges. She quickly found her way back to the lifeboat and got in.
Likewise, as believers in Jesus we have been rescued into his lifeboat of salvation. Like the woman going back for the oranges, Jesus went to the cross for us. Why? Because we are such incredible value and worth to him. One cannot begin to comprehend the incredible worth we are to Jesus. In society’s value system we may seem like nothing more than an orange in comparison to a diamond. But to Jesus, we are the most precious treasure in all the world.
III. You are capable (v. 9, “a royal priesthood”)
Now that may sound a little scary to us. A priest. But Peter is saying that the two benefits that priests have are now available to everybody who is a believer in Jesus Christ. One, we have direct access to God. We have the right to go directly to God. We don’t have to pray through anyone else. We don’t have to confess our sins to anyone else. We don’t have to experience God through anyone else. We can go directly to God. Two, we have a responsibility to minister to the needs of other people. Every Christian is a minister. Not a pastor, but a minister. God says that you and I have been gifted for ministry to serve other people. We are “God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for us” (1 Peter 2:9, The Message).
The Latin word for priest means bridge. The priest is a bridge builder between God and man. Or as the old preacher said, “We are saved to serve.” If we are not serving what in the world were we saved for?
Bill Hybels puts it this way: “I would never want to reach out someday with a soft, uncalloused hand – a hand never dirtied by serving – and shake the nail-pierced hand of Jesus.”
Can you imagine the feelings of esteem when one realizes that God has entrusted his work to us?
IV You are forgivable (v. 9-10)
In other words, you are forgiven. There are no three words that communicate self-worth than: You are forgiven. God doesn’t rub your sins in, he rubs them out. He doesn’t rehearse your sin, like we do, he releases it.
When we come to Christ our sins are wiped out. We will not be held accountable for them. They are forgotten. Gone. Erased. Treated as though they never existed.
God is in the business of forgiving sin. He can take all our sins and wipe our slate clean. Immediately, our past can be purged.
A wealthy English merchant was very eccentric and satisfied with only the best of everything. So naturally, he had to drive a Rolls-Royce coupe. It was his pride and joy. But one day, after years of perfect service, he hit a deep pothole and his rear axle broke. This Englishman shipped the car back to the Rolls-Royce plant and was surprised when the car was repaired overnight and returned to him without a bill. Although his warranty had run out, there was no charge. The car was fixed perfectly, all for free.
The owner called the company and inquired about the repair. The reply said, “We have absolutely no record of your Rolls-Royce axle ever breaking. There can be no charge.” The company’s commitment to excellence would not permit a flaw to be made known. Therefore, they had repaired the injury immediately and without charge. As if nothing had ever gone wrong.
So it is with God’s mercy. When we confess our sin, Christ forgives us immediately and without charge. As if nothing had every gone wrong.
So there you have it. The four pillars of self-esteem. I am acceptable. I am valuable. I am capable. I am forgivable. Because of what God has done for us we can “so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We are God’s handiwork, his masterpiece, his creation. Therefore, we declare praise to him for who we are. Peter goes on to say, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). We are his own – we are chosen, we have worth, we are found capable, we are forgiven. When we have that and know that the world’s judging system just doesn’t matter. We know we are not junk. We are God’s.
Family therapist Paul Faulkner tells of the man who set out to adopt a troubled teenage girl. One would question the father’s logic. The girl was destructive, disobedient, and dishonest. She was believed she was determined to be this way, and her behavior was carrying out the false and erroneous thoughts she had of herself. One day she came home from school and ransacked the house looking for money. By the time he arrived, she was gone and the house was in shambles.
Upon hearing of her actions, friends urged him not to finalize the adoption. “Let her go,” they said. “After all, she’s not really your daughter.” His response was simply. “Yes, I know. But I told her she was.”
God, too, has told us that we are his children, if we trust and believe in him. We may rebel and abuse our rights and privileges, but God still tells us that we are his.
I’m reminded of the humorous story of a visit by the president of the United States to a nursing home. The president entered the facility with his entourage and was received with delight by the elderly residents. As he went from person to person in the living area, he noticed a woman in a wheelchair who seemed rather disinterested. Months of campaigning for election had taught him how to “work the room,” and he did not want to offend someone who might be around to vote in the next race. He approached her, smiled, patted her shoulder, and gently squeezed her frail hand. She smiled back but said nothing. “Do you know who I am?” the president asked. “No,” she replied, “but if you’ll ask the lady at the nurses’ station over there, she’ll tell you.”
Do you know who you are? If you ask Jesus he will tell you. As believers in him we are accepted, valued, capable, and forgiven. What more could we want?
Rick Ezell is the pastor of First Baptist Greer, South Carolina. Rick has earned a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology in preaching from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Rick is a consultant, conference leader, communicator, and coach.