In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller describes his search for an identity as an atheist who had just graduated from high school:  I’ve always been the kind of guy who likes to be seen as smart. It’s not as bad as it sounds because I don’t go around saying all kinds of smart-guy stuff to make other people feel like jerks or anything; it’s just that I was never very good at much of anything else. You know, like I would try basketball for a while, and when I was a kid I played soccer and tennis, but I was never very good at any of that. And then I learned to play the guitar, but got very bored because what I really wanted was to be a rock star, not to actually play the guitar. So about the time I told God he didn’t exist, I was desperate for an identity. While this was taking place in my life, I happened to attend a lecture by the chairman of the American Debate Team, who was about 25 or so, and there were a lot of girls in the audience because he was very rich and good-looking. The people at the school were going to videotape him talking about China or something, but the video camera was having trouble. The chairman of the American Debate Team had to stand on the stage for about 20 minutes with his hands in his pockets.. so what he did while he was standing there was recite poetry…this guy recited about a million poems, such as Kipling’s The Vampire and parts of Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. He was very good at it and said the poems with the right spacing so it sounded like he was speaking beautiful spells, and all the girls in the audience were falling out of their chairs on account of their hearts were exploding in love for him. So then the people at the school got the camera working and the chairman of the American Debate Team gave his lecture about China, but the whole time I was sitting there, I wasn’t thinking about China; rather, I was wondering how I could get my hands on some poetry books and start memorizing them right away, on account of how much the girls liked it when the chairman of the American Debate Team recited poems. What I really began to ponder, I suppose, was whether or not coming off as a smart guy who knows poems could be my identity, could be the thing that made me stand out in life. It’s a transparent account of a young man searching for an identity, trying to answer the question, “Who am I?” Here, Miller sought his identity in things besides God, things besides Christianity.
And sometimes even we Christians do the same. We find our identity in things besides Christianity. For example, I recently signed up for our church Twitter account. If you are not familiar with Twitter, it is an Internet-based software which, in Highland’s case, sends news from Highland directly to your email account or to your phone as a text. When you sign up for Twitter, you write a brief description of yourself. You can only use a certain number of characters to describe yourself on your Twitter account. So, when I was signing up and reached this point in the process, I paused and wondered: how do I describe myself in a few words? After some thought, here’s what I wrote: husband of Kendra, father of Jordan and Jacob, preacher for Highland, author of 4 books. I thought that captured my identity. Then, I noticed that one of my friends was on Twitter. I clicked on his picture and noticed how he had described himself. His description began this way: “follower of Jesus…” Suddenly I realized what I had just done. When I had tried to summarize who I am for my Twitter account, I had completely left of my relationship with Jesus. I had defined myself by everything else but Jesus.
I’ll bet I’m not alone. Sometimes our identity is wrapped up in things besides Jesus. When we think of who we are or who we want to be, we often think of things besides Jesus.
Paul opens 1 Corinthians by pointing to just such a group: 10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor. 1:10-17 TNIV)
Some from “Choe’s household” have travelled to see Paul so they can tell Paul about division taking place within the church at Corinth. Paul has already received a letter from some of the Christians in the congregation at Corinth. Now he also receives this verbal report from “Chloe’s household.” It is possible that Chloe was a businesswoman prominent in the congregation. Those from her household may either be members of her family or servants of hers whom she trusted. They report that there is a group of Christians caught up in party loyalties. They are grouping themselves into parties which define themselves by their admiration for a particular church leader: Paul, Apollos, or Cephas, that is, Peter. It’s not that these Christians have divided from one another over doctrine or theology. It’s more that groups are aligning themselves with a particular church leader and defining themselves in terms of their devotion to that leader.
It may sound strange to us, but this was actually quite common in that culture. Similar party loyalties existed in ancient times. It would be common for people in that culture to identify themselves with a financial supporter or a philosophical leader they admired. For example, we know that orators and philosophers were greatly admired in Paul’s day. One, Dio Chrysostom, records that when he visited an ancient city he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds who flocked around him. Chrysostom writes of seeing in ancient Corinth crowds of people gathering around their favorite orator or philosopher and fighting with people who followed other orators or philosophers. Though this may be a silly analogy, we might think of the way today that some people are loyal to and fight over their college football teams. You fill a room with some fanatic Auburn fans, Ole Miss fans, Tennessee fans, and Alabama fans and you’ll eventually have some fussing and fighting. Why? Because these are people who have come to define themselves by their loyalty to a favorite team.
And at least some of these Christians were acting similarly when it came to Paul, Apollos, and Peter. They viewed these Christian orators with great respect and fought with the Christians who did not “follow” or admire their church leader.
Thus, what we have is a group of Christians whose identity is wrapped up in something besides Jesus. When church member “A” fills out a Twitter form about himself, he writes, “Acquaintance of highly respected and renowned speaker Paul. Attended all of Paul’s conferences. Read all of Paul’s letters.” And just like these Christians, sometimes our identity is wrapped up in things besides Jesus.
But not only is our identity often wrapped up in things besides Jesus. Often, we use these alternate identities to gain status. What drew these Christians to these speakers was the fame and renown of these speakers. Ultimately, they hoped that the fame and renown of these speakers to rub off on them. These Christians sought identities that would make them superior to other Christians. Those “of Paul” saw themselves as better than those “of Peter” or “of Apollos.” They were wrapping themselves in these identities because these identities promised a certain status.
In the old film “All About Eve,” a woman named Eve is a theater fan, star-struck by Broadway actors like Margo Channing. When Eve is introduced to Miss Channing, she befriends the actress and the actress’s circle of famous friends. But Eve’s “innocent young fan” appearance is actually just an act. In the months that follow, Eve maliciously destroys Channing’s career, and takes center stage on Broadway for herself. And in one scene, Eve reveals why she’s done this. After a director admires how actors work so hard for so little, Eve responds: So little? So little did you say? Why, if there’s nothing else, there’s applause. I’ve listened backstage to people applaud. It’s like…like waves of love coming over the footlights and wrapping you up. Imagine, to know every night that different hundreds of people love you. They smile, their eyes shine; you’ve pleased them. They want you. You belong. Just that alone is worth anything. There is something that many of us want above anything else: attention, status, prestige, or applause. And we often pursue identities which we think will give us those things.
In the movie “Rocky,” Rocky’s girlfriend asks him why it is so important for him to “go the distance” in a boxing match. His answer? “Then I’ll know I’m not a bum.” Rocky found his identity in the status that would come by winning boxing matches. Similarly, in the movie “Chariots of Fire,” one of the main characters explains why he works so hard in preparation for running the 100 yard dash at the Olympics. He says that that when each 100 yard race begins, “I have ten lonely seconds to justify my existence.” His identity was wrapped up in running the race because he believed the race might justify his existence, it might give him status.
In light of this, Paul points the Corinthian Christians and us back to baptism: 10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas “; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Cor. 1:10-17 TNIV) Paul points to baptism because in all this identity-seeking and status-seeking we’ve forgotten who we became in baptism. Paul reminds us: through baptism God gives us our greatest identity—that found in the name of Jesus.
Because baptism was such an important part of the spiritual experience of these Christians, they almost naturally assigned great importance to the person who did their baptizing. Paul does mention that he did baptize Crispus and Gaius and Stephanus. But though Paul did baptize them, his focus was more on preaching than baptizing. Paul’s statement in 17 is not meant to minimize the importance of baptism. It should be seen as something similar to the way that Jesus criticized pious acts like prayer and giving in Matt. 6 or the Old Testament prophets criticizing temple worship and fasting in places like Is. 1 or Jer. 7. The problem wasn’t the act itself. It was the way in which the act was being done. Paul says what he says about baptism because these Christians were assigning too much importance to the ones who baptized them.
What Paul wants them to understand is that when they were baptized, they were baptized into the name of Jesus. These Christians are all concerned about the names of Paul, Apollos, Peter—names they hope to associate themselves with and thereby gain status. But they’ve forgotten that at their baptism, God associated them with the name of Jesus—the greatest, grandest, highest, and most renowned name of all names. At baptism their identity became wrapped up in the name of Jesus. Here they are trying to gain an identity connected to names like Peter, Paul, and Apollos. But they’ve forgotten that at baptism they got an identity connected to a person far above those three—the person of Jesus.
In the movie “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” Larry Daley is a night guard who follows some of the artifacts from his museum as they are transported to the Smithsonian in Washtington, D. C. Once at the Smithsonian, all the artifacts come to life, including a 3,000 year old mummy named Kahmunrah. Kahmunrah hopes to open the gates to the underworld, unleashing its supernatural army. He sees himself as a king above all kings. Not everyone, however, gives that status to his name. Here’s a clip in which Kahmunrah tries to explain who he is to night-guard Larry Daley. Kahmunrah had a name which he thought would bring him renown. But it did not. Often we strive for names and identities which we think will bring us renown. But we’ve forgotten we’ve already been given the name above all names—the name of Jesus. There is no name with greater renown.
CNN once carried the story of Wilfredo Garza.  For more than 35 years, Wilfredo lived the life of an illegal immigrant. Year after year, he crossed the border from Mexico into the United States—some days finding work, some days not. He was caught by the Border Patrol four times and bused back to Mexico each time. The cycle would likely have continued for years if not for an amazing discovery. One day, Wilfredo walked into an immigration lawyer’s office. There, he found out that his father had actually been born in Texas and that he and his son Wilfredo were actually U. S. citizens. All these years Wilfredo believed he had one identity—and that caused him to live in fear and anxieity. But in fact, he had a completely different identity—one that opened up a whole new way of living. Too many of us live as if we have one identity, an inferior identity, one that gives us fear and shame and anxiety. But in fact, through baptism, God’s given us a new identity. He’s given us the name of Jesus , his own son, the greatest identity ever given to a people.
William Willimon writes about a young friend named Clayton who was asked what he wanted for his five-year-old birthday party. Clayton responded, “I want everyone to be a king or a queen.” So Clayton and his mom went to work creating silver crowns from cardboard and foil, purple robes from crepe paper, and royal scepters made of gold-painted sticks. On the day of the party, as each young guest arrived, they were given their crown, their purple robe, and their royal scepters. Each was dressed as a king or queen. Everyone had a great time. After eating ice cream and cake they had a royal procession up and down the block. That evening as Clayton’s mother was tucking him into bed, she asked him what he wished for when he blew the candles out on his birthday cake. “I wished,” he said, “that everyone in the whole world could be a king or queen—not just on my birthday, but every day.” Paul is saying, “You’ve forgotten, haven’t you? You’ve forgotten that it’s possible for everyone to be a king or a queen. On your spiritual birthday, the day of your baptism, you became a king. You became a queen. You became associated with a royal name, the name of Jesus, the King of all Kings. And every day since that day, you have been royalty. Why would you seek an identity in anything or anyone else? Why would you strive for any other renown? You’ve already been given the greatest identity possible.
Each week in this series, I want us to make a confession and a pledge together.
Let’s say it together: I struggle with amnesia, but this week I will remember who I’ve become through my baptism. Remember that you’ve been given the greatest identity possible. You’ve been given the highest name available—the name of Jesus. So go, and live out that identity.
 Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What (Nelson Books, 2004), 41-42
 Ben Witherington III Conflict & Community in Corinth (Eerdmans, 1995), 99.
 Richard Oster, Jr. 1 Corinthians College Press NIV Commentary (College Press, 1995), 52.
 Oster, 50.
 Witherington, 101.
 All About Eve (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1950), written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
 Quoted in Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton, 2008), 162.
 Oster, 58.
 Anderson Cooper, “360 Degrees, On the Border” CNN (5/25/06).
 William Willimon, Remember Who You Are (Upper Room Books, 1980): 30-31.