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Message Notes: Royalty


Pastor Paul McDonald                November 25-26, 2023

Confession is good for the soul…you’ve heard that, right? Confession is good for the soul…So I have a confession…Would you like to hear it?

This is it…In the mid to late 90s, I was involved in a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme. Over the course of several years, I stole millions of dollars from unsuspecting people in South Florida. For those who don’t know, A Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud that pays off early investors with money collected from later investors. The trick is to talk people into investing in an imaginary enterprise. They earn a huge return on their investment and, in turn, invest even more. All the while, I was funneling the majority of those funds into an offshore account. Over time, things started to heat up; investors were becoming suspicious, and regulators were starting to ask questions. In the end, I shut the whole thing down and disappeared with the cash. I created a new life in a new place. I had a job, I got married, and I lived a relatively simple life under the radar.

But of course, at some point, this all catches up with you, doesn’t it? Multiple federal agencies had been investigating. The US postal inspectors were involved because I had used the US mail, which made it mail fraud, and then finally, I ended up on the FBI’s most wanted list: Paul McDonald was wanted for mail fraud and theft by swindle.

I know that this is all really hard to believe, but this is what actually happened. I had finished work and headed home super tired and ready for a nap. I was crashed on the living room floor when I heard a loud pounding on the door. You know what it's like when you are suddenly awakened from a dead sleep. I jumped up and staggered to the door. The loud knocking continued, and I unlocked and opened the door a crack to see who it was. Immediately, the door was forcefully pushed into me. Now I am still half asleep, and here there are two men inside my house. They flashed their badges, identified themselves as FBI agents, and showed me the warrant. Only later did I find out from a neighbor who was a police officer that there were multiple agencies involved in serving this warrant, including the Rochester Police Department.

For a couple of hours at my dining room table, they interrogated me, all the while I proclaimed my innocence. But they had done their homework, they seemed to know everything about my life, my friends and family, even distant family that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. They had blurry pictures of me, and identification documents all linked to me. At some point, my wife, Peggy, arrived home. You can imagine her confusion as she joined us at the table. All of this was news to her.

At one point, as I continued to plead my innocence, one of the agents pulled out the best photo that they had of me during my time in South Florida and compared it to my face. Between the two of them, they started to express some doubts if they really had their man. After two weeks and another round of interrogation from the FBI, I was told that all of this was the result of Identity theft. Not only were my social security number, passport, and driver’s license recreated, but this very enterprising criminal had picked a person who could pass as his twin brother. I was the victim of identity theft.

Almost daily, we are faced with headlines about the latest security breach. retail chains, banks, and healthcare institutions are all targeted. Sensitive, personal data of millions of people are compromised. Firewalls are hacked, passwords are stolen, and confidential data is downloaded and traded on the dark web. Estimates of the number of victims are in the millions, and the economic impact is in the billions.

As careful as we are to guard our identity, many of us will face identity theft, large and small. If we are lucky, we simply cancel a credit card, and we are good to go. Others of us will spend weeks or months and a bunch of money recovering our identity.

The Federal Trade Commission says the average victim of significant Identity theft will spend $1,200 regaining and repairing their identity.

And so, we take precautions, we change our passwords, we buy software, and we subscribe to services that protect our identity.

But I would suggest that for all the time, effort, and money that we expend in protecting our personal data from identity theft, we have largely neglected a significant area of our lives. We have left ourselves vulnerable and wide open for another kind of identity theft.

As a child of God, you have a firmly established spiritual identity. The Bible tells us that we are created in the image of God, that’s our identity. From the beginning of time, God has defined our spiritual identity. But I am afraid that many of us have allowed other voices to define who we are. Now, to be clear, we NEVER actually lose our Identity in Christ, but for sure, we can live our lives as if we have. One of the most tragic states we can find ourselves in is living our lives as believers, not believing what God says is true about us.

I think we would be hard-pressed to think of any problem that we face which, at its foundation, isn’t the result of a failure to see ourselves as God sees us. A failure to believe what it is that God says is true of us... This is how I would define Spiritual Identity Theft

Spiritual identity theft: Forgetting the truth about who God says we really are.

It’s failing to see ourselves as God sees us and failing to believe what God says is true of us. New Christian, Old Christian, not yet a Christian, we are all vulnerable.

And spiritual identity theft has real practical implications for our lives. Because when we suffer from spiritual identity theft, our behavior changes. This is hardwired into our nature. We will always live consistently with who we believe ourselves to be.

Our behavior and attitude tell the tale:

  • Do we believe we are loved by God, or are we all alone?
  • Do we believe God is in control, or are we calling all the shots?
  • Do we believe we are freed from sin, or are we a slave to our moral mess-ups?
  • Do we believe we have been forgiven once and for all, or do we still need to work to be forgiven?

So much of the pain and confusion in our lives is rooted in how we see God and how we see ourselves. And so this is our thesis for today:

A lie accepted as truth will be the truth you live by.

This is known as the Illusory Truth Effect, defined as the tendency to believe false information to be correct after repeated exposure. Study after study has shown a staggering inability for people to discern a lie once it has been repeated as truth multiple times. It turns out that this is an all too human trait. a lie accepted as truth will be the truth you live by.

We easily become victims of spiritual identity theft by accepting as truth the subtle lies and, sometimes, not-so-subtle lies of the culture around us. Look…sometimes even people we think of as friends tell us lies we eventually believe as truth. We live in a world that daily tries to steal our identity. A world that is telling us a lie, telling us something other than what God tells us.

Come on, we feel this, don’t we:

  • The world says, we are alone, and God says no, you are adopted. You have a family.
  • The world says, you are powerless, and God says no, you have unimaginable power.
  • The world tells us we are lost, and God says no, I have found you, you are mine.
  • The world tells us that we are a victim, and God says, no, you are a victor.
  • The world says you are slaves, and God says no, you are free.

I would argue this is a problem every one of us needs to confront because the downside is significant, The apostle Paul warns us about the downward spiral that our lives take when we live a lie like it’s the truth. In his letter to the Romans, he warns:

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, Romans 1:25.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie. So, the inevitable outcome of living a lie like it’s the truth is that we will mold and model our lives on a lie. Paul says will make gods out of the things we decide are ultimately important. That is called idolatry.

Here is the definition of Idolatry:

Anything, other than Jesus, that we look to for ultimate significance, security, and satisfaction.

So how is it that we guard against exchanging the truth about God for a lie?

I think it’s the company we keep and it’s the voices we listen to.

And sometimes, these are the voices that seek to steal our identity. Remember our definition? Forgetting the truth about who God says we really are. And if you have put your trust in Jesus, if you are seeking to follow him, the TRUTH is that our Identity in Jesus is permanently secure. But the company we keep and the voices we listen to have a powerful influence on our lives. The culture we live in has a powerful influence on our lives, and the tragic truth is many of us live our lives believing a lie. We live our lives as if our Identity has been stolen.

But we are not powerless to fight against this human tendency. But if we are going to battle the influence of the company we keep and the voices we listen to, it’s important to recognize that the voice behind the voices that seek to steal our identity belongs to our enemy.

I recognize that Satan or the Devil is not much in vogue these days. You may wonder if serious people can really take Satan seriously…   and I get that, but if we want to take Jesus seriously, we need to take Satan seriously…why? Because Jesus himself takes him seriously. The Bible records lots of examples of Jesus addressing the reality of Satan in our world.

As he did many times, Jesus uses the image of sheep to describe those who follow God. In one of his parables, Jesus says we should recognize and follow the voice of our shepherd. He cautions us to beware of the voices that seek to steal our identity. Jesus is comparing and contrasting voices we choose to follow or choose to ignore. The voice of the good shepherd, Jesus, or the voice of the imposter. This is how he describes the voice of the imposter.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,John 10:10.

The thief, Satan, comes to steal, kill, and destroy your identity, which will ultimately lead to destruction and death. But Jesus promises us that through him and him alone, you have your identity.

The theft of data, passwords, and our financial identity is a relatively recent phenomenon in our modern digital world, but we discover in the Bible the enemy has been the voice of spiritual identity theft almost from the beginning. In fact, the very first recorded instance of spiritual identity theft is found in the first book of the Bible. It will help us put into context how we all too easily fall victim to the voice of the enemy. It’s helpful to see the very origin of the great lie.

It started in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis, chapter 3, Satan stole the identity of Adam and Eve and, in turn, all of us. Satan deceived Adam and Eve into believing that God had selfish motives for not allowing them to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan came to Eve as a serpent and subtly twisted the truth into a lie when he suggested to her that God had not really forbidden the fruit for HER good but was rather keeping good stuff FROM her. Sounds familiar, right?

The tricks of his trade were the same then as they are now: Lies, doubt, deception, envy, discontent, and pretense. His end game was clear…to cast doubt and suspicion in the heart of Adam and Eve. To steal, kill, and destroy the identity they had with God and cause them to doubt God’s love for them, to question his word, and to question his will for their lives.

And it worked. They believed Satan’s lies more than God’s promises. It was a cosmic betrayal, and it changed the course of mankind. That very first identity theft has been followed by a history of identity theft.

We are living in an age of great division. The voices are loud and growing louder. It’s confusing and stressful. But listen…you are not the person the enemy says you are. Remember that your identity is secure in Jesus. You have a choice; you don’t have to listen to the lies and the condemnation you experience in your life.

The identity thief says we are.

  • A Sinner
  • A Disappointment
  • A Failure
  • A Weakling
  • A Doubter

And the truth is most of us HAVE been all of those things at one point or other in our lives…BUT THEY DO NOT DEFINE US.

They are not who we are. Our true identity…the way God sees us.

  • A Sinner         Righteous
  • A Disappointment   Achiever
  • A Failure        Overcomer
  • A Weakling   Strong
  • A Doubter     Faithful

But God is here to remind us that we are a victim of identity theft. God is here to remind us our identity doesn’t rest in what you’ve done it rests in whose you are, and if you are His, THAT is what defines us. The world says our identity is rooted in what we’ve done. But God says our true identity is rooted in whom we know. Perhaps you have a church background or a spiritual understanding that tricked you into thinking that a relationship with God was about performance. This understanding is way more common than you think, and our own nature and the nature of our culture reinforce this notion. It’s the religion of works, and it’s a lie.

Timothy Keller was a pastor and author, and this is how he contrasts the difference between Religion and the Gospel :

Religion: 'My identity is built on being a good person.'
Gospel: 'My identity is NOT built on my record or my performance but on Christ's.’
     ~Timothy Keller

If we are to avoid identity theft, we must get to the foundation and answer the simple profound question…Who are you? Who does God say you are? Who does the Bible say you are? How are we to answer the question, “Who are you?”

The answer to this question is really written all over the Bible, but in one place, we find such a succinct and clear answer I think it’s worth spending some time there. We find the passage in a letter called 1 Peter chapter 2, and you will find it toward the very back of the Bible. If you hit the maps, you’ve gone too far.

Who are you?  This passage was written by a follower of Jesus named Peter, and I think Peter is maybe uniquely qualified to help us understand the question. You see, Peter had a chance to face that very question many times. “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” At times, he was more than willing to answer yes. Times when it was easy to be associated with Jesus. The feeding of the five thousand when a triumphant miracle was performed by Jesus. “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” That’s an easy yes. When Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” for sure, an easy yes.

How about the time Jesus walked on water and invited Peter to walk with him…“Aren’t you one of his disciples?” Come on…of course I am.

But then the going got tough. Jesus has been arrested, and he’s subject to a sham trial. Peter is lurking in the shadows, out of sight of the religious leaders, in fear for his life. “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” That was the actual question of a teenage servant girl as Peter watched the events unfold from a distance. “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” to which he answered Nope…don’t even know the guy...Peter was having an identity crisis.

You see, Peter had made some assumptions during his time with Jesus. Peter was convinced that Jesus was going to be a certain kind of Messiah—The kind of Messiah who would set up an earthly kingdom and rule. A Messiah who would kick some Roman butt…And Peter thought that perhaps HE was uniquely suited to be the chief of staff in the new “Jesus” government. Aren’t you one of his disciples? Nope…I don’t even know the guy. Now, in this moment in time, Peter is still 100% secure in his identity in Jesus, but he has been sidetracked by the events that surround him, and Peter has had his spiritual identity stolen.

At the time when our passage was written, Peter’s identity crisis was long over. There is a marvelous narrative in the Book of John chapter 21, and you should take time to read it for yourself. Jesus has been resurrected from the dead, and he is hanging with his followers on the North shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was like old times. Peter, for his part, was deeply remorseful for his betrayal, and Jesus powerfully restored him and gave him grace. And Peter was stronger because of it. He went on to be bold in proclaiming the Gospel. So, Peter is perhaps uniquely qualified to give us all advice on our spiritual identity.

Let’s read it together from 1 Peter 2, beginning in verse 9. Peter is going to give all of us six foundational stones to build our identity upon.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul, 1 Peter 2:9-11.

You will also notice that much of the language used in this passage is a little unfamiliar, even a little archaic, and there is a reason for this. Peter is speaking to people who are firmly rooted in an Old Testament understanding of God. Phrases like royal priesthood and holy nation are drawn directly out of the context of the Old Testament. Peter is simply seeking to apply a new understanding of these images through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. He is showing us how these things apply directly to those who have put their trust in Jesus.

And in quick succession, Peter gives us six descriptions of our true identity. Six ways of answering the BIG question of who you are.

First, he says you are: chosen people.

When Peter says you are a chosen people, he is pointing out that you have been called out or chosen from among many different people. God called you out of an almost endless variety of races and cultures to be a newly chosen people. And what is the distinctive here? It’s not the variety of races or the variety of cultures it’s the chosenness. We are chosen…That’s our identity in Christ. If you have put your life under the authority of Jesus, you are now part of a chosen people. Nothing you have done or ever will do got you chosen. You didn’t earn it, you didn’t jump through any hoops to get it. NO…God himself chose you. I don’t know about you, but that simply stuns me. It humbles me and gives me a deep sense of joy.

Some of you may share the experience I had as a kid growing up in elementary school. I was a skinny, scrawny kid, and when it came time for a recess game of kickball, I was often one of the last ones chosen to be on a team. If your experience in this world is being left out. If your identity in this world is NOT being chosen. If you struggle in any way with feeling like you don’t fit in like you don’t belong, please listen. You are invited to live life in a new reality of your new identity in Christ, which declares you to be part of something of ultimate importance. Your true identity? You are a chosen people. God has said yes to you.

SO First God has said yes to you and then we find:

We are part of a royal priesthood

The cultural context of this lies in the fact that priests, before the time this was written, were a necessary middleman between sinful people and the Holy God. The priest and, in particular, the top priest, had access to God that no one else had. But because you are a people chosen by God, you can fire the human middleman. You don’t need a human priest to approach God on your behalf because God himself provided Jesus as the one and only Mediator between God and Man. As a royal priest, you now have direct access to God.

The role of Royal Priest is also a teaching and sharing role. Jesus himself told us that our chief aim as chosen royal priests is to:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, Matthew 28:19-20a.

We are to become Gospel fluent…able to speak truth from the Bible. In our homes, at our workplaces, and in our neighborhoods.

Your true identity? You are a Royal Priesthood. You have direct access to God.

And so we see that God has said yes to you and you have direct access to God. This chosenness, this priesthood, places us in the very presence of God, so our passage goes on to say that:

We are a Holy Nation.

You may know this: Holy simply means set apart of God. When we are told that we are a Holy Nation, our new identity is a people set apart for God’s purpose, set apart by God for good works, to serve him and worship him. This separates us from the world. Look at what Paul said about believers:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” Ephesians 2:10.

Your true identity? You are a A Holy Nation, set apart for God’s purpose in your life. Because God has said yes to you, and because you have direct access to God and because you are set apart for God’s purpose, we find out that:

You are God's special possession.

God has taken possession of you. Perhaps a better understanding is that you are God’s inheritance; He chose you to spend eternity with him. This is an amazing truth that should drastically change how we see our identity. When the world steals our identity, we can feel mocked, abused, and rejected. But our new identity in Christ says we are owned and treasured by God. It’s vitally important for us to live in this truth because if we don’t, we risk adopting the mindset the world has about us. We risk having our identity stolen.

This is a pair of shoes, and they sell for a little under $200…It seems like a lot of money for a pair of shoes, but earlier this year, this actual pair of shoes sold at auction for 2.2 million dollars. What could be the possible reason why someone would pay 2.2 million dollars for a 200-dollar pair of sneakers? What makes a 200-dollar pair of shoes worth 2.2 million? Well, that particular pair was once worn, once owned, by basketball legend Michael Jordan during the 1998 NBA Finals. 2.2 million simply because of who had owned them. As believers in Jesus, we may feel like we are a cheap pair of sneakers. But we are actually a 2.2 million dollar kind of people, simply because we are God's possession.

If we truly understand that we are God’s inheritance, his very own special possession, it will deliver us from all our insecurities and fears. The world says you’re not enough; you’ll never be enough. You’re not smart enough, fast enough, rich enough, young enough, old enough, Attractive enough…But God has chosen you as his own special possession, which makes you infinitely valuable.

Your true identity? You are God’s special possession: You belong to God.

Because God has said yes to you, because you have direct access to God, and because you are set apart for God’s purpose. Because you belong to God, we discover that:

Once, you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

When God chose us and made us royal priests and set us apart as holy, he FIRST saw us in a sin-soaked world. He saw us in the middle of our moral mess-ups, and he didn’t treat us with the judgment we deserved, That’s the definition of mercy. The amazing truth is that when God chose you, he didn’t turn away in indifference or judgment; instead, he showed mercy to save.

Because God has said yes to you, because you have direct access to God, and because you are set apart for God’s purpose. Because you belong to God and daily benefit from his mercy, we discover our final identity in Christ:

We are foreigners and exiles.

Now, that might not seem like a blessing…but it truly is. The reason Peter chooses to use these words to describe our new identity is that we need reminding that this world is not our home.

Because our God-given identity is that we are chosen, set apart, royal priests, a holy nation, showered with mercy…we are distinct from the world around us. Our lives are, at times, going to show sharp contrast with the world around us. We will feel, and often, we will be treated as foreigners and exiles. Here’s the deal: we are enlisted as believers to build God’s Kingdom because THAT’S our citizenship.

And now, Peter gives us a powerful summary.

He says God has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

God has called us out of the darkness of a stolen identity to the light of a new identity in him. Can we be powerfully encouraged by that? God himself has called YOU out of darkness into his wonderful light. And if we are encouraged by that, we can be motivated to carefully examine the company we keep, and It’s the voices we listen to.

And when we are firmly established in our identity in Christ, then we pursue our destiny without distraction.

And what is our destiny? Peter tells us in verse nine:

  • God chose you for a purpose.
  • God set you apart for a purpose.


That you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.

This is your calling…this is your destiny. To make a big deal out of Jesus. To proclaim, to shout out just how excellent He is. To give Him all the glory and honor.

Spiritual Identity theft is a reality in this world that we need to guard against. The day I sat at my dining room table being interrogated by FBI agents, I didn’t for a minute believe what they said was true of me. I didn’t believe that I was a con artist and criminal. If you have given your allegiance to Jesus, then your spiritual self-identity is forever secure. It cannot be defined in terms of who we are in and of ourselves and in this world. Instead, our identity is radically God-centered. God is the one who acted. God is the one who gave you purpose, God is the one who brought us into a relationship with him. Listen:

God made us who we are to show the world who he is.

That’s what we do…

  • We show the world who he is when we worship together. Singing, praying, studying his word, and preaching.
  • We show the world who he is when we gather in our small groups and demonstrate what deep spiritual friendship looks like.
  • But we really show the world who he is when we reflect his love to a lost world.
  1. When we put our allegiance in Jesus, we can live the life God intended for us to live.
  2. The world will struggle with identity theft, but as a believer in the crucified, resurrected savior, your identity can never be stolen.
  3. You have an identity protection plan that was purchased by the blood of Jesus.
  4. His victory is your victory over the voices that seek to steal, kill, and destroy.
  5. With Jesus, your identity is safe and secure.

Let me pray.

Father, we give you all the praise and honor for the truth that our identity is forever secure in you. Father, I pray for all of those who have listened to other voices for far too long. I pray that you would powerfully break the chains that have kept them captive to voices that have told them lies about who they are. We so desire to live our lives in the freedom that comes only through our trust and faith in you. Thank you, Jesus. Amen