Have you ever met anyone who excelled in absolutely everything? She did. Nothing existed that she couldn’t master and become the best at. She was a fantastic artist and churned out amazing drawings and paintings before third-grade that were better than the vast majority of adults will ever produce. As she made her way through junior high and high school, she excelled in every sport she entered and became a leader in the student body, taking the titles of class president and “Ms.
I’d lost touch with her after my sophomore year in high school, and it was many years later that I learned through the grapevine that she had gotten married to some guy and had started a family. I could only imagine what other things she’d added to her impressive list of accomplishments since high school. I hoped he knew what a gift he received.
Jarring isn’t a word strong enough to describe the next set of news I got about her. She has left her husband because she was being physically abused. What’s worse, it had evidently been going on for a long time. Perhaps the most incredible fact I learned was that he was physically beating her prior to them getting married. When confronted by loved ones and asked why she had committed herself in marriage to someone who had previously abused her, she confessed the same hope that so many other women like her have before: “I thought he’d change.”
What Something Is
The world of logic is built on four foundational laws:
- The law of non-contradiction – something cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense.
- The law of excluded middle – something must be either A or non-A.
- The law of rational inference – for example, all men are mortal, and I am a man, therefore I am mortal.
- The law of identity – A is A.
The last law is particularly important – the law of identity. Attributed to Aristotle’s teaching, but not really becoming widely known in the theology camps until Thomas Aquinas came long, the law of identity makes rational communication among human beings possible. For example, if I tell you that I’m going to the gym, the law of identity is what keeps you from thinking that I’m going to the movies. In addition, the law of identity acts as a wonderful protective mechanism in that it keeps us from, for example, drinking a bottle labeled “rat poison” as we don’t mistake the container to be a bottle of lemonade.
But the law of identity can only do so much. It only protects us insofar as we choose to believe the reality of what something is. The stone cold fact is that something is what something is, no matter how much we think it is something else or how badly we want to believe that it is something else or for that matter, that it could one day be something else. Yes, things can change shapes and forms, but rarely does a thing change its actual essence or identity. Atypical radical breaks do exist, such as when a sperm and egg unite to become an entirely new thing (a zygote), but more often than not, change is more like a block of ice becoming liquid or gas – it still continues to be H2O.
I can’t stress how important it is in this life to comprehend the true identity of what something is. But as important as the law of identity is in our everyday life, it is absolutely crucial in the spiritual realm. If you approach most any non-Christian person and ask, "Who is God?", there is a near perfect chance of their response beginning with, "I like to think of God as ..." It's as if they can somehow realistically swap the true identity of the Creator with one that fits what they want/believe/hope God to be. Needless to say, this can't be done. God is Who He is. His identity is unchanging and does not conform to what we think Him to be or what we want to reduce Him to. This act of God alteration is nothing new and is something Christ dealt with when He faced off against the religious leaders of His day.
I AM Who I Am
Jesus had just finished rescuing the adulterous woman from the Pharisees in John 8, when He stopped to communicate a critical truth to the disbelieving religious leaders that hammers home the importance of the law of identity. “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24). Jesus is telling them that, quite literally, if they didn’t believe that He was who He was, they would suffer eternal consequences.
Jesus’ words are as valid today as when He first spoke them. Understanding, believing in, and accepting the real Christ – comprehending His true identity and acting upon that truth – is what causes the actual salvation experience to occur in the life of the believer. Any other belief, no matter how sincere it is, falls short and places a person in spiritual jeopardy. This being the case, is it any wonder that the primary thing all the cults and false religions sell is a fake Jesus? The enemy knows that a counterfeit Christ doesn’t save anyone from God’s wrath and so he works hard at obscuring the real identity of Jesus. The Christ of Islam who didn’t die on the cross and come back from the dead, the Jesus of the cults who is not God in the flesh, and the Messiah of the New Age movement who is nothing more than one of the many incarnations of the Christ through history all miss the mark where a real saving faith is concerned.
Amidst all the invalid responses that come back from the various other religions on who Jesus is, His question put to the disciples still stands as the single most important question everyone who has ever lived must answer: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). Your answer and the law of identity function together to produce either a true saving faith or else a false safety net that will one day prove to be of no use to you when you stand before Christ at the Bema seat. Make no mistake, it takes wisdom to spot a fake. As A.W. Tozer said, "So skilled is error at imitating truth, that the two are constantly being mistaken for each another. It takes a sharp eye these days to know which brother is Cain and which Abel." (How to Avoid Serious Error in That Incredible Christian).
She knew full well what he was, but hoped he would actually turn out to be something else. Sadly, this didn’t happen. A lot of grief, sorrow, and burdens could have been avoided if she had just understood his actual identity. She learned the hard way that just hoping something is different doesn’t make it so. Recognizing a bad but real identity and making a break is tough for sure, but sometimes it’s best to pull the band-aid off quick and early. Scottish preacher Alistair Begg said in a sermon once, “Missy, you can cry now because you lost him, or you can cry a whole lot more later because you got him.”
Can identities ever be changed? Yes they can, although real identity change requires the supernatural intervention of the Creator Himself to make it happen. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Sometimes it happens near-instantaneously in a Saul-to-Paul styled conversion, and other times, the Spirit of God works gradually upon the heart and soul of an individual until Christ is eventually seen in their actions and attitudes.
But such transformation – whether immediate or slow – can’t happen without the true identity of Christ being acknowledged, believed in, and accepted.
He really is who He said He was. Do you believe it?
"To believe on Christ savingly means to believe the right things about Christ. There is no escaping this."