Review: Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self By Matthew P. W. Roberts

Pride: The False Anti-Human Identity

We have been wrestling with the word Identity and what it means now for decades, especially in our modern Western contexts. We are obsessed, it seems, with identification markers and belonging. Sometimes, the more identities we have, the better—no one wants to feel left out. Everybody wants a place to call home. But as we gaze out into this world of abounding identities, something is amiss. Rather than flourishing, things seem rather twisted. What drives this need and desire to mark oneself with an identity, not only in the West, but across humanity?

Matthew Roberts, in his volume, Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self, aptly diagnoses the issues with lucid systematic and biblical faithfulness and gentle pastoral care. The title gives away part of the diagnosis: the problem is our prideful sin. Thus, identity and the search thereof is a millennia-long struggle. The solution he outlines is knowing and living in a true identity and finding our purpose in right worship not centered on ourselves. Every human being must reckon with who we are, who we think we are, and whom or what we worship. Ever since the fall into sin, the answers to these questions have been distorted.1 The only rectifying power to change this distortion is found in Jesus the Christ.

Made to Worship

Roberts divides this volume into two parts which argue that: (1) human beings are definitive worshipers, and (2) we need to be restored to right worship, by God’s grace. One of the central arguments in Roberts’ book is that humanity bears God’s image. Any talk of “identities” must start with this foundation. “Who we are, and who we understand ourselves to be, are grounded more than anything else in whom we are made to worship, and whom (or what) we do in fact worship.”2 Herein lies the great disaster, for this is the root of our current distortion––our worship of self, our idolatrous pride of sin. The truest of identities was lost, distorted and corrupted. Yet, there is hope with the incarnate Lord Jesus. Christ’s full and perfect work restores the image properly unto corrected worship.3 Rightly, Roberts sources the true (and only) human identity in the Trinity’s creational work of making humanity in God’s image, and in the image’s renewal in Christ. Our right imaging involves right and proper worship through right love of God. In turn, this extends to our “sub-identities” which relate to rightly-ordered neighbor-duties.4

What has been discussed thus far is creation before the fall. The present distortion, however, looms large—the identity crisis so many are experiencing today stemming from this original sin-disaster. What Roberts succinctly puts his finger on is a displacement of worship: allegiance has been transferred, a covenant made in another’s image.5 This sin is idolatrous, and these self-created idols redefine who we are.6 God is robbed of his owed-worship—which is our good—by our insisting on our own self-worship in the image-creation of idols. Identity is maligned in the process; indeed, it is beyond repair if not for Christ.7

Our Current “Religious” Moment

The search for identity since our banishment from Eden is still very much a religious search. Sadly, it is not a search for our Creator, Redeemer, and Consummator, but a search of ourselves and for ourselves. We now seek to be the arbiters of any true definition of who we are and what we worship. Roberts extends his survey of this problem from its source at the error in the Garden to its heightened state in the Enlightenment, through to today’s current cultural climate.8 After a brief highlight of European Enlightenment philosophers, Roberts confronts our current dilemma in the West: the idolatry of self and our obsession with creating our own identities apart from God’s say. This, asserts Roberts, is exemplified in the Pride movement, aptly named.9

Desires: Part 1 and 2

The problem is sin. Our very hearts are turned in on themselves. Outside of Christ, we are helpless to resist. Yet even in Christ, we still struggle with temptation, and more so against our sinful desires. Roberts states, “The most important feature of idolatry is that it is the outward form of our corrupted desires.”10 And we are slaves to those desires.11 What Roberts does in this first part on desires is to show the seriousness of the root of sin, discussing original sin and that heresy of old, Pelagianism.12 Salvation is true freedom from such desirous bondage.13

It is exactly here that Roberts ventures into the second part on desires with a much-needed discussion on concupiscence.14 Wherein does sin lie: in the action or what lies behind it? This volume notes how the “gay Christian” movement has utilized this distinction for their cause.15 But Roberts rightly questions this line of thinking. Sin is at the root. Thus, the desire, even though it may not be carried out, is still sin and must be repented of: “The enemy to be destroyed is me, my own sinful lusts. My desires have enslaved me, and my desires have condemned me. But Christ died and rose again to set us free,” and because of that gospel truth, “Christianity is rescue from the prison cell of our desires.”16

Only Two Sexes Is Good

Part two of this volume investigates how the image of God is restored so that one can worship rightly, properly understanding true identity and ordered desires. Roberts looks to creation once more. Man is made male and female (and these only) as God designed and directed through nature and duties for creative flourishing and rule.17 As Roberts says poignantly regarding our current cultural situation:

Now as God designed us to be, before the fall, there was a true and good connection between our true identity, our desire for the God who made us, and our desire to act as His images in marriage, fatherhood and motherhood. Unfallen sexual desire is part of our identity as the images of God. But fallen sexual desire leads only to false identities.18

Roberts then calls out the false-identifying concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”19 Only the evangel delivers one from this faulty conception.20 This is what all humanity needs to extinguish the corrupted desires inherent now in the flesh. Only the Spirit can reverse this aspect of the curse. God has a greater purpose for the redeemed through Jesus. “Christ re-establishes our core identity before God and in so doing sets in order all the legitimate sub-identities which God has ordained should be part of the life of His images.”21 Through Christ, our image-bearing responsibility and duty is restored, issuing forth right worship which glorifies God.

Redemption and the Family of God

God does not redeem individuals to remain as islands unto themselves. Rather, he brings them into a thriving community, a family. Our triune God stamps his name upon us. This is our identity in union with Christ, that together in communion with the saints, his glorious bride and body, we are the church. We are identified as God’s children in Christ and no longer with our idols. Indeed, “it is foundational to Christian discipleship that we repent of false identities.”22 Considered properly, sanctification is just as important as justification and adoption.

After listing the errors of insufficient approaches to transforming from false identities, Roberts gives us the biblical approach: we are what we worship, and the one worshiped must be the triune God.23 It takes faith (which is a gift) in the one true God and repentance. God gives the power to repent, repentance being a fruit of faith.24 In no way is this easy, but Roberts gives us a healthy perspective into the Christian’s life of repentance: “Abandoning sin is not part of the cost, but of the blessings, of discipleship.”25 This is the only response we can give to such a gracious Savior––a life of exuberant gratitude and thankfulness.

Conclusion: Worship

Roberts concludes just as he began: humans are made for worship. They should worship rightly, meaning they should worship the Trinity in unity. Sin has distorted that worship. We desire instead our “Free Self.” But Christ redeems us, truly freeing our self to worship rightly.26 On display in the last chapter of this volume is that six-day-and-one worship lifestyle of the church. Yes, we worship with the whole of our lives. But we specially worship on one day that the Lord of the Sabbath has called for his name’s sake: the Lord’s Day.27 With the Word preached, the sacraments rightly administered, and singing and prayers, we find our purpose and meaning—“both the denial of self and the discovery of self.”28 Things are not perfect this side of the eschaton, but in the here and now, “worshipping the living God we return to, and discover, our true identity.”29

This book takes a long hard look at our falsified identities and the idolatry of pride which produces them. Roberts has done a superb job of investigating the biblical material systematically and pastorally. The diagnosis is grim, but the cure is sure: the gospel restores all things. For the many societies plagued with identity confusion, this volume serves as a helpful aid to the pastor, teacher, parent, or student as they defend the way in which the Lord of all identifies his creatures.

Notes

  1. Matthew P. W. Roberts, Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self, (Ross-shire, GB: Christian Focus, 2023), 8.
  2. Roberts, Pride, 15.
  3. Roberts, 19–22. “So the duties of man and what it means to be man – who we are – are inextricably linked. Our duties flow from who we are, and who we are is expressed in and defined by our duties” (20).
  4. Roberts, 23–4.
  5. Roberts, 25–7.
  6. Roberts, 28.
  7. Roberts, 31. “We have a true identity, though we deny it and seek to suppress it; and we have a false identity, centered around our idols, which we cling to fiercely even though it diminishes our humanity.”
  8. Roberts, 36–48. Roberts highlights key words of the new religion such as, Freedom, Liberty, Self, Equality, Autonomy, and Desire. Roberts’ preferred descriptor to the current cultural movement is seen here: “The idolatry of the Free Self is, if you like, idolatry in its purest and simplest form” (43).
  9. Roberts, 46. “It is our understanding of identity which most profoundly needs to change” (47).
  10. Roberts, 51.
  11. “Our problem is in our desires.” Roberts, 52.
  12. Roberts, 56–67.
  13. Roberts, 55.
  14. Roberts, 71–5.
  15. Roberts, 76–80.
  16. Roberts, 85.
  17. Roberts, 90–8.
  18. Roberts, 102. He says elsewhere, “For the large number of people who are not married (or those who are but to whom God has not given children), the distinction still applies. To be male, whether married or not, whether a parent or not, is to act in such a father-like role, seeking to image God by living according to the law of marriage. . . . Likewise to be female, is to seek to image God by cultivating the character suitable for a Christian mother. . . . We are called to be men and women, as part of our created purpose as images of God.” (97).
  19. Roberts, 103–8. “It is to speak of a false identity as if it were a true one” (103).
  20. Roberts, 109–136. Chapter 6—The Gospel of Who We Are: The evangelistic power of exposing idolatry.
  21. Roberts, 133.
  22. Roberts, 138–9. Emphasis original.
  23. Roberts, 151.
  24. Roberts, 158.
  25. Roberts, 159.
  26. Contrary to this restoration for true identity, “False worship falsifies identity.” Roberts, 171.
  27. Roberts, 167.
  28. Roberts, 165.
  29. Roberts, 175.

© Charles Vaughn. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew P. W. Roberts, Pride: Identity and the Worship of Self, (Ross-shire, GB: Christian Focus, 2023).


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Posted by Charles Vaughn | Thursday, May 16, 2024 | Categorized in Covenant Theology, Reviews. Charles Vaughn. Bookmark the permalink.

About Charles Vaughn

Charles lives in San Diego county with his wife and four covenant children. He has a B.A. in Biblical & Theological Studies from Regent University and an M.A. in both Biblical and Theological Studies from Westminster Seminary California. Charles works as a Junior High history teacher at a Christian school in Escondido, CA.

One comment

  1. I had an Audible credit to use, and bought this book. It is exceedingly good, and clarifying on the whole muddle of identity belief/worship. Highly recommend it!

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