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What Mary Can Teach us about the Modern Self and Human Indentity

An excerpt from the sermon, "Fear of Inadequacy."

Today, we live in a culture which supports a way of life that each person bases his or her self-worth on something in us. According to this view, to discover the true self, we must look deep within to find it. We must create our identity and significance by individual achievements. We might call this the secular view of self.
This modern understanding is alluring because it sounds so empowering, but the downside is that it’s incredibly burdensome. In his book, Making Sense of God, author Tim Keller writes, “The self-made identity, based on our performance and achievement…makes our self-worth far more fragile in the face of fear and difficultly.” [1] What happens when we underachieve or don’t reach our goals? What happens when we don’t receive the validation we sought?

On the other hand, the Christian sense of self, Keller states, is not achieved but received. [2] We find ourselves by yielding ourselves to Christ.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is an exemplary model of the Christian view of human identity. Her response to the unexpected favor that she would miraculously conceive and bear the Christ child wasn’t one of begrudging duty.  She responded with humility—"See, I am the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38) and later expressed her joy in song exclaiming, “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because he has looked with favor on the humble condition of his servant” (Luke 1:46-48). Mary rested in God’s favor.

Mary’s joyous expression serves as a correction to our modern sense of self and identity. We receive a new sense of self by faith.  It’s a relationship based upon the favor of God—Jesus’ perfect record, His perfect life, sufficient sacrifice, and victorious resurrection. When we rest in His favor, we don’t have to fear whether we’re favored by man. The good news of Christmas is that Jesus came to us so that we could come and find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-30). When we heed his call to rest, we experience what the modern sense of self longs to enjoy but finds elusive—freedom.

When we choose to rest in the savior we are freed from the fear of being enough because Jesus is more than enough for us. When we rest in Christ, we won’t fear missing out on anything because Jesus is working out his purposes for us. When we’re resting in the favor of the Savior, we’re freed from the endless pursuit of finding our worth in the approval of others (or my work) because in Jesus, we are approved by God.

If you’ve been crushed and burdened by trying to find yourself on the basis of achievement, STOP! The greatest gift God has for you this Christmas is to rest—to rest from chasing an illusion of someone you can never be, apart from Christ. To find this freedom, like Mary you have to yield yourself to God.  You have to get small, and humble yourself.   You do so by confessing to God, “I’ve been doing this all wrong.” And secondly, trusting in God who provided Jesus the Savior to liberate us from that old way of life and burdensome sense of self corrupted by sin. When we do that, God imparts to us this new sense of self that is secure, significant, and free.  This Christmas, my hope for you is that you aren’t filled with the fear of inadequacy, but a cheer that sings, my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Pastor Tim Zuck

[1] Tim Keller, Making Sense of God—An Invitation to the Skeptical (London, Hodder & Staughton, 2016), 129.
[2] Keller, 136.

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