Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? Identity theft occurs every two seconds in the United States, and could happen to anyone at any time. In 2014, 17.6 million people, 16 and older, had at least one incident of identity theft.*
Identity theft is an illegal, injurious act in which an imposter steals key pieces of one’s personal information in order to deliberately impersonate the owner. Stolen information is then used to provide thieves with one’s image and identity to make false credentials, obtain credit, merchandise, bank accounts, and provide false identification to police, or create a criminal record. If your identity is ever stolen, you will discover that it is a most frightening and frustrating experience. You may not know for months or years if or when your identity is stolen; and the burden of proof of your innocence is on you!
Spiritual identity theft occurs when we have some of God, but not all of Him.
Although identity theft is a most despicable crime, there’s a far more dangerous form that threatens our passion for and purpose in Christ. It is demonstrated when: (1) pastors, leaders, and officers prefer programs over people and call unending committee meetings, conduct long surveys, polls, and panel discussions instead of going out and getting involved in real, life-changing ministry; (2) congregations mingle the Bible with human traditions to rob others of freedom in Christ; and (3) there’s insensitivity to the voice of God, the guiding impressions of the Holy Spirit, and loss of usefulness as God’s instruments in the mission of seeking and saving those who are lost.
Satan was the first spiritual identity thief. His purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy believers (John 10:10). One of the many ways he steals our spiritual identity is by convincing us that Jesus cannot remove effects of our checkered past. He employs some to repeat unfounded, unproved accusations, to find fault, criticize mercilessly, gossip incessantly, betray confidences, and break up friendships or fellowships. He convinces us of his lie that we are unworthy to be called children of God and must work to win the love, forgiveness, and acceptance of God.
Although Satan’s hand is in every evil, he’s not always the only spiritual identity thief. We ourselves can be spiritual identity thieves—imposters—especially when we present ourselves as Christians, yet are unwilling to live up to our claims, or incapable of demonstrating that we are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Spiritual identity theft occurs when we have some of God, but not all of Him; and God has some of us, but not all of us. Such pious pretensions cause us to live as tepid Christians who disguise spiritual destitution with fake smiles; happy, insincere greetings; snappy contemporary choruses in worship; and vain repetitions in prayer.
So how can we protect ourselves from spiritual identity theft, from being spiritual identity thieves? It is written: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
* Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Hyveth Williams is a professor at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.