Every year Dictionary.com chooses a word that they feel encapsulates the theme of that year, especially for those of us who speak the English language. From the official Dictionary.com website this statement was released; “In 2015, Dictionary.com saw a number of themes emerge in the words that gained enough traction to be added to the dictionary along with words that trended in user lookups. The most prominent theme across both of these areas was in the expanding and increasingly fluid nature of conversations about gender and sexuality. Additionally, the theme of racial identity led to some of the most notable headlines and new additions to Dictionary.com this year. Encapsulating the most robust fields of language evolution and user interest this year, Dictionary.com’s 2015 Word of the Year is identity.”
As I read this statement it became evident to me that, as a part of the Millennial Generation, the issue of identity that I have been noticing among my peers is far greater than I had ever imagined. The question, “Who am I?” is one that haunts every person from the moment that we become self aware until the moment that we die. Who am I and why was I created? These questions reverberate within the thoughts of every human being as we search for meaning and purpose in a world seemingly swept away by an epidemic of fame. Fame, from a westernized context, is a shallow promise of validation and fulfillment that can only truly come from our creator. We have pursued these needs even to the deterioration of our bodies and souls yet still find not relief.
We can see that this issue is not limited to this current generation. The scriptures are the place where we as believers can discover our identity in Christ. The truth is that the more we discover who Christ is and what he has done for us, the more we will discover who we are and what we have been assigned to do here in the earth. This is why it is important for us to take note of the eight “I am” statements that Jesus made about himself in the book of John, seven of which were attached to specific metaphors.
To a Jewish person, for Jesus to declare, “I am” was more than just a declaration of a present state of being; it was a declaration of deity. With the term “Lord” or “Jehovah” being too holy to even be uttered; for someone to use this same context to describe himself was making a bold statement. Jesus was literally pointing to the Old Testament as a mirror and reflection of himself. He was speaking to those confused about purpose and reason of being and he is still speaking to us today with this same message. For those suffering with an identity crisis, whether it be your gender, sexuality, race, physical appearance, or your purpose in general, your cure cannot be found in surgery, make-up, Facebook likes, or sexual gratification. The source of our identity is found secured in these statements that Jesus made about himself.
Out of all of the “I am” statements, the one that I believe centralizes them all is found in John 14:6 which says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” I believe that our identity stems from our source, and our first natural source is our natural father and mother. We discover about who we are through understanding who our parents and grandparents were. In that same way, we discover our purpose for life by reconnecting to our Heavenly Father, and the only way to do that is through Jesus Christ. Leon Morris gives a good context for this scripture, denoting that, “In the upper room on the eve of the crucifixion, Jesus spoke of his imminent departure, finishing with “and where I am going you know the way” (14:4)” (Morris 1989) As Jesus speaks to Thomas the disciple, we are given clarity as to why these “I am” statements are important. In essence we are now because Jesus is. When he said “I am”, he was including us within that purpose.
Leon Morris refers to the writings in John by saying, “He is not saying that Jesus shows the way, but that he is the way. This points us to the significance of his saving death. By dying for sinners he brings them to God.” (Morris 1989) This statement of “I am” revealed the deity of Christ as the Son of God and the only way of reconciliation to the Father. This is evident as the conversation continues with Jesus speaking to the disciples of not only his mission to go to the cross but his authority in fulfilling this assignment because of how interwoven He and the Father were. He said in verses 9-10 saying, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.”
To the disciples sitting there listening to these words, they were far more controversial than you and I reading them thousands of years later. These men had been steeped in a Jewish culture that says that the way is found in abiding by the law as defined by Torah, the truth is the law written in the Torah, and the only way to experience life is through the law. Steven P. Wickstrom clarifies this thought by breaking each one of these statements down from an Old Testament perspective. Highlighting on the first, he says, “Jesus’ first statement was I am the way. To the Old Testament Jew, the way was the Torah, or the Old Testament. The only way to God was through the law. Psalms 119:1 says, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the LAW of the LORD.” Psalms 32:8 says, “I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel.” They were also very familiar with Exodus 18:20 ”And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.” In the Jewish mindset, that way was the law and the prophets. In Jewish tradition, the way to find the path to God was to study the Torah.” (Wickstrom 2004-2015) This was a change in their paradigms to know that in Christ the law was being fulfilled! Not only was he making a declaration of deity, Jesus was eradicating the cycle of death that was attached to striving that each person was doing to fulfill the law.
What does this powerful statement mean for you and I who are living in a world inundated with gender confusion and stereotypes, racial injustices, and the hamster wheel pursuit of fame and admiration? It means everything! We don’t have to stay on the path of the destruction. We don’t have to be confused about who we are. We are not abandoned and purposeless. We are children of the most-high God, redeemed through the blood of Jesus and given freedom from sin through his sacrifice on the cross. As Jesus declared His identity our identity was secured. We are fearfully and wonderfully created in the image of God and are no longer bound to sin as long as we accept this free gift of salvation. Jesus declared his deity through these statements and he also made a big statement about the Old Testament. The same God that was revealed in the Torah is the same God that came to the earth in the flesh as a man named Jesus. The way that we have been searching for is only found in Him. As we pursue Christ and discover more about who he is, the more we will see the identity confusion disappear. This is the heart that I have for my generation and my assignment. To point them to a creator who is not confused about His love for us. We are secured because Jesus is the Christ, great, “I am”.