The Devil’s Formula for Trashing Your Identity

Mark 1:21-28

Matt and Tim talked about identity in Episode 29, The Adorned Identity, so we thought we’d take a few minutes here to see what the Gospel of Mark has to say about the subject of identity.  There are striking truths to learn from what we’ve covered so far in chapter one of Mark, but we’re going to concentrate on our most recent passage of Scripture, Mark 1:21-28, which is very important for understanding identity.

The Setting

There was a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue the day Jesus showed up to teach.  Because Jesus taught with authority, the unclean spirit in the man immediately recognized the Lord.  Read these verses carefully, paying particular attention to the pronouns “he/him” and “us” and “I.”

“And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit.  And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—Holy One of God.’  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!”  And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him.”  

He and Us

The Bible states he was “a man with an unclean spirit” (23).  There was a difference between this man and the thing that afflicted him.  He was a man and the unclean spirit was with him.  He was not his problem, in other words.  This is a crucial observation when it comes to discussing our identity: you are not the thing that afflicts you, though it may be with you.

However, the unclean spirit wants you to believe that you are your problem.  The demonic spirit wants you to make the affliction your identity.  Can you see how the demonic spirit does this?  Look at the pronouns (thank God for grammar!).  There was a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit, and “he cried out.”  Who cried out?  The unclean spirit is doing the talking here.  The unclean spirit (he) cried out, “What have you to do with us?”  Did you notice the switch in pronouns?  The unclean spirit turned “he” into “us,” as if the man were one with the thing that afflicted him.  

That’s what demons always want!  They always want you to lose your identity as a unique individual and become a generic “us,” in which you can’t think of yourself apart from your problem.  They want you to merge your identity with them.  

The unclean spirit continued, “Have you come to destroy us?”  Again, the unclean spirit, using the voice of the man to speak, wanted the man to think Jesus would destroy him (the man) along with the demon.  The demon wanted the man to fear Jesus had come to destroy him, because, after all, the man had an unclean spirit.  But Jesus didn’t play along, for Jesus did not come to destroy sinners, but save them.  Jesus knew the sinful man was not the same as his demonic problem.  Jesus knew the identity of the man and the identity of the demon with him. 

Jesus Doesn’t Fall for It

Did you notice the demon let down his guard when he switched pronouns again?  The demon said, “I know who you are” (24).  By switching to “I,” the demon showed it was really the demon doing the talking, rather than the man.  So, Jesus spoke directly to the demon, rather than to the man, when he said next, “But Jesus rebuked him [the demon], saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him [the man]!’”  Jesus rebuked the demon, not the man.  Even though the demon tried to merge the identity of the man with itself, as indicated by the pronoun “us,” Jesus knew the true identity of the man.  

After convulsing the man and crying out some more, the demon came out of him (26).  Jesus was able to separate the unclean spirit from the man, releasing the man from the demonic spirit that wished to absorb the man into his problem.  Surely this is an appropriate way of understanding being absorbed by issues in life!

Unclean Means Rejected

What exactly is an unclean spirit, you ask?  The word “unclean” reminds us of the laws in the Old Testament, concerning clean and unclean things.  Clean things were acceptable and unclean things were not acceptable.  The unclean things somehow made a person unacceptable before God in worship, so they were forbidden.  For our purposes in Mark 2, an unclean spirit is an “unacceptable” spirit, which tries to separate you from God.  It plays on your mind, emotions, and experiences.  It’s goal is to get you to think you could never be accepted by God.  It’s goal is for you to absorb rejection into the core of your identity, so you become that which afflicts you.  And it’s goal is to get you to believe God wants to reject and destroy you.  How does it do this?  Again, by merging your identity with it, going from “he/she” to “us.”

The Formula

Thus, the simple formula of the demon goes something like this: 

Individual (I) + Rejection (R) = Rejected Individual (RI)

or 

I+R=RI

But, as you can see, it doesn’t take a math wizard to notice demons are bad at arithmetic!  Because, I+R never equals RI.  Remember our man from the story; he was an individual (I) with (+) and unclean spirit (R).  But that doesn’t mean he was a rejected individual (RI), for Jesus accepted him and got rid of the thing afflicting him.  Jesus never thinks of you as a problem; but, he knows you have some problems he can fix.  

How It Looks in Our Lives

However, we human beings believe in the devil’s math every day of our lives.  Here are ten examples of how this plays out in our lives.

  • Your parents failed to show you love, so you believe you’re not worthy of love.  “I am unlovable” is your identity.
  • Your friend is mad at you, so you believe something is wrong with you.  “I’m a bad friend” is your identity.
  • You fail to get good grades or a good job.  “I’m a loser” is your identity.  
  • You struggle to overcome a sin or addiction.  “I’m unforgivable” is your identity.
  • You’re not in a relationship, so you think you’re unattractive.  “I’m pathetic” is your identity. 
  • You struggle with a physical or mental affliction, so you think, “I’m inferior to everyone else.”
  • Your mom was always angry, so you think, “I’m a problem.”
  • Your dad was always uninvolved, so you think, “I’m not worth pursuing.”
  • Your neighbor abused you, so you think, “I’m guilty.”
  • Bad things keep happening to you, so you think, “I’m cursed by God.”

Can you see the devil’s math, turning you into the thing that afflicts you?  I+R=RI.  The unclean spirits that afflict us cause us to be unable to separate ourselves from what the world around us says about us.  “Me” is turned to “We.”  Your life is absorbed into the trauma of life around you, so that you become, by some magical force of the universe, a problem to be erased.  “Have you come to destroy us?” (24).  

Gollum’s Voice

But you are not the environment you grew up in or the hardships that afflict you or the ways you’ve failed.  You are not even the good things you manage to do.  Your identity is still you, not “them.”  You don’t have to sulk around like Gollum from Lord of the Rings, referring to yourself and your rejection in the first person plural, “we.”

Just like the unclean spirit used the man to give it a voice, so do our afflictions wish to use us to give them a human voice.  Our afflictions wish to speak louder than our individual identity.

Archie Williams on AGT

I just saw an incredible story of a man who refused to let his demons steal his voice, taking ownership of his identity.  On America’s Got Talent last night, Archie Williams shared his tragic story of being wrongfully accused of a crime.  He spent 37 years of a lifetime sentence in bloody Angola prison, before DNA proved his innocence and he was released.  Speaking of his story prior to singing on AGT, Williams said, “Freedom is of the mind; I went to prison, but I never let my mind go to prison.”  Can you see how he fought against the devil’s math?  The devil wanted him to believe he was cursed or shameful or unloved or rejected, just because of his affliction, but Archie Williams wouldn’t let the devil absorb his true identity.  He wouldn’t let his “me” become a “we” with his experience of rejection. Somehow, he maintained his true identity. 

The devil consumes our liberty by assuming our identity.  

Our Deepest Identity

In reality, you are an individual with an affliction that God can heal in this life or the next.  There’s another place in Mark 1 that speaks powerfully of our identity.  It’s Mark 1:11 at the baptism of Jesus.  When an unclean spirit is trying to take control of your voice, remember another Voice.  The Voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved.”  True, the Father first said these words to Jesus, for he was God’s Beloved.  However, this identity does not just belong to Jesus, but it can belong to us all.  Those who put their faith in Jesus become the beloved children of God.  You are not the object of God’s condemnation, but of his love.  While the devil tries to steal your identity and absorb it into that which afflicts you, God rescues it, embraces it, and loves it.  The devil wants only to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), but God wants to heal, fill, and enjoy.  

God still wants us to take ownership of our afflictions, as we’ve seen so far in Mark, through confession and repentance, but he does not want our afflictions to take ownership of us!

You can tell you’re believing the devil’s math when you start thinking of yourself in terms of your affliction or when you think God wants to destroy you because of your affliction.

“Cast all your burdens on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  You are not your affliction, for you can separate yourself from it and give it to God.  When you look in the mirror, you are looking at the face of God’s beloved.  That’s who you are. 

The Breakdown

  1. What are some of the things afflicting your life right now (whether caused by you or someone else)?  Write them down, be thorough.  Ask God to help you name them. 
  2. Because of these various forms of rejection, how has your sense of identity been affected?  What names do you call yourself when nobody is listening?  How about when people are listening. 
  3. On a piece of paper, write down the heading “I am God’s beloved.” Then below it, write down at least 10 implications of this truth. If you have trouble thinking of them, then ask for some guidance on our Holy Ghost Notes Facebook Group page.

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