In our home we have a nice file cabinet where we file away our receipts from bills we pay each month. We retain this level of detail for a few years and then once a year we dispose of an entire year’s worth of old receipts. For security reasons we don’t just toss these documents in the trash, they’re shredded first. Shredding paper is not exactly a speedy task and I really don’t like to spend my day doing it. Fortunately my son loves to watch the paper get shredded and when he was old enough, he wanted to do the shredding for me. With that in mind I have learned to call upon him when its time to get rid of a bunch of old files.
This year as he was shredding some old records, we were talking about why we have to shred all these papers. Our conversation lead me to think about an incident that occurred a few years ago.
One day while driving to work, I took a few minutes to stop at a local service station near my home to buy some gas. After pulling up to the pump, I got out of my car, located my debit card, and inserted it into the card reader to start the purchase process. Instead of the normal prompts the reader came back and informed me that my card was declined.
“How could that be,” I thought to myself. “There’s plenty of money in the account, I wonder what’s going on?”
I ended up using my credit card to complete my purchase. After arriving at work, I took out my debit card and called the 800 number on the back to speak with my bank and find out what was going on with my debit card.
After several minutes of proving who I was, they informed me that the bank’s anti-fraud software had determined that my debit card had been compromised in the early morning hours.
My card had been used in another city at several locations where I had never visited before. I was told my card had actually been physically duplicated by a special counterfeit machine that can make cards from data that identity thieves are able obtain in any number of ways. In most cases these thieves never actually need to see your card to duplicate it and use it fraudulently, they only need the number that’s printed on the card. Typically they can obtain these numbers from anyone that handles cards and are willing to commit a crime to sell the numbers to identity thieves. (Today’s cards have embedded chips which greatly reduce the ability to duplicate credit or debit cards in this manner.)
In the end the bank issued me a new card and informed me that I would not be liable for the fraudulent charges that had been incurred.
As I learned more about identity theft and fraud, it turned out I was one of the lucky few. Many people have had it much worse, loosing a great deal financially.
In 2015 there were 13.1 million victims of identity fraud. Over the past six years fraudsters have reportedly stolen $112 billion, that’s about $35,600 per minute in fraudulent transactions. An absolutely staggering figure!
With the right personal information, fraudsters can wreak havoc on the lives of their victims. All of this has made detecting fraud a multi-billion dollar business unto itself.
Businesses and government agencies are constantly tasked with determining if the identity of the person in front of them is valid and trustworthy.
As believers we too have an important task in front of us. Protecting our own spiritual identity. Our spiritual identity is under constant attack by the one of the greatest fraudsters of all times: Satan himself.
Jesus described Satan as the “Father of all lies” and as one who’s native language is the lie. (John 8:44)
It turns out that one of the greatest and most ingenious acts of deception ever foisted upon humanity is the belief that Satan does not exist.
A nationwide survey conducted by the Barna Group and published on April 13, 2009, revealed that 40% of individuals who profess to be Christians believe that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” (Barna Group, 4/13/09)
The fact that such a lie has managed permeate mainstream Christianity is a testament to its deceptive power.
What’s even more interesting is that the same study reported that about “half (47%) of the Christians who believed that Satan is merely a symbol of evil nevertheless agreed that a person can be under the influence of spiritual forces such as demons.” (Barna Group)
These are disturbing statistics and they suggest that God’s people and the church body have failed to take steps to prepare themselves adequately against this most fundamental level of spiritual identity theft.
Max Anders, author of the “Holman New Testament Commentary,” shared that we as believers need to be able to recognize when deception is at play in our spiritual lives.
He suggested that in some ways we need to follow the model of the banking industry. Anders shared that banks often train employees to recognize a counterfeit bank note by having them only study real bank notes. They never study counterfeit currency. This approach trains their minds to easily spot the counterfeit when it shows up.
It follows then that believers need to study God’s word, and meditate on His word with such frequency that they will easily be able to identify and address erroneous statements, viewpoints, opinions, or worldviews.
Of course facts themselves are not enough to ensure adequate protection against spiritual identity theft. We must also be in a close relationship with Jesus. We worship a God that invests Himself personally in our lives. (John 3:16) Relationships take work to be successful. We need to have such a close relationship with God that we are able to quickly hear and know his voice when we hear it. Jesus said; “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
It’s important that we be able to hear and be able to discern God’s voice with confidence when He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, scriptures, prayer, fellow believers, and through life circumstances.
In the end our true spiritual identity is rooted in the fact that God created people to live in fellowship with Him.
The scriptures share that when God created humanity, he did so by creating us in His own image.(Gen 1:26) In this way we are inextricably linked to our creator.
Our challenge then is to not allow anyone to steal that which God desires for us. Protecting our spiritual identity is not without work and investment on our part. We need to become so familiar with scripture and God’s very character and nature, that we will immediately recognize when Satan is floating a fraudulent concept past us.
There are at least five things we can do to protect our spiritual identity:
1. Read the Bible daily: Pick a reading plan of some sort or use one of the many “read through the Bible in a year” resources that are available.
2. Study the Bible: It’s one thing to simply read the Bible, but another thing to study it. There are numerous resources available, many through local bible based churches. Dedicate a once a week deep dive study session for yourself.
3. Pray daily: Prayer is a time to connect with God in real time. A time to speak and to listen to God.
4. Connect with a church: Plug into a local church family where their foundation for faith is based upon the Bible.
5. Participate in Bible studies: Engage with a small group Bible study group or Sunday school group.
These are only a few ways in which you can deepen your relationship with Christ and your understanding of God’s word.
It is my prayer that at a minimum you would take the above ideas to heart, and overtime become mature enough to be able to discern for yourself those instances where ideas and proposals are in opposition to God’s very nature. And in so doing, protect your spiritual identity.