Have you ever asked yourself, “What is the biggest struggle my students are facing?” Maybe that should be a rhetorical question. We probably ask ourselves that question in one form or another on a regular basis. I suspect there are many answers to it, but there is also a commonality to those answers: They all involve our students’ deep need for Jesus!
One of the foundational ways our students need to understand this need for Jesus can be found in how they see their identity. One of the ways I regularly challenge my students in the area of identity can be found in the story of The Lion King. Like so many stories, we see the gospel message clearly articulated in the tension and redemption of this movie.
As the story begins, Simba is living in the peaceful grandeur of Pride Rock and the surrounding lush green plains.He lives carefree, protected by the power and kingly reputation of his father, Mufasa. But this all changes the day that Mufasa is killed, and Uncle Scar convinces Simba that it was all his fault. Broken hearted and filled with shame, Simba runs out into the dessert and nearly dies before his newfound friends, Timone and Pumba, come to his rescue. For years, Simba is able to hide from his past while he and his friends do their “hakuna matada thing” – living with no worries. However, eventually Rafiki, the wise monkey, discovers that Simba is alive. This leads to a scene where Simba chases Rafiki through the oasis until at one point he ends up out in a field. This is where everything changes.
Simba looks up into the sky to see his father in the clouds. His father has a couple of profound things to say to Simba, but ends by saying to him, “Remember who you are!” What is Mufasa reminding Simba? You are the child of the King! You are royalty! If you remember your identity, it will shape you – what you believe, how you act, what you do. And it did! When Simba remembered who he was – a child of the king – he went back and lived out of his true family indentity!
What would happen if our students bought into the fact that they were sons and daughters of the King? What if they truly believed that they were co-heirs with Jesus himself? What if they truly believed that they were adopted into the family of the living God, and that He was inviting them to call Him Abba, Father? Wouldn’t this change everything for them? Wouldn’t this address every heart need? Wouldn’t this shape the way that they live?
I recently attended a soccer game of some of my students. They were playing their rival school. It was intense – on the field, and off. As I watched fans of both schools make fools of themselves rooting on their teams, it dawned on me: Not one of these people is having to stop and think how to act or respond right now. Each one is responding by cheering on the team with which they identify. Their identity shaped their behavior, it shaped what they believed about the fairness of the referees’ calls, it shaped what they believed about the people around them, and it gave them confidence to act and respond in ways that they may not normally act and respond. Identity shapes everything!
The Serge Mission Organization puts out Gospel Identity curriculum that highlights this theme. The contrast that is noted is that as Christians, we are always acting as either “sons” or “orphans”. When our students begin to buy into the sonship concepts found in Galatians 4, they will stop wandering aimlessly as orphans, living in fear, insecurity and shame – living life like Simba did when his identity was shaped by his belief that he was simply an orphan with no hope or purpose in this world.
The approach of “identity shaping” ministry is a much better approach than “behavior modification” ministry. We can tell our students to start respecting their parents, to love others who are different than them, or to stop messing with pornography; however, if they are not first convinced about their identity, then changes are only superficial. Identity shapes behavior.
The reason I think that our students’ biggest struggle is living in their new identity, is because my biggest struggle is living in my new identity. Daily, I have to say to my Kingly Father, “Please help me not to live as an orphan today, but to live as your son!” For this reason, I remind my students almost weekly, “Remember who you are!” Your identity is tied up with the identity of Jesus, and as such you can live in a hope and confidence like no other! You are sons and daughters of the King!