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February 10, 2011

Thursday Is for Thinkers: Lindsey Holcomb on Identity and Sexual Assault

Thanks to Kevin Smith for last week's post on Being "Real."

Today's guest blogger is Lindsey Holcomb. Lindsey serves at Mars Hill Church (Seattle), where she counsels victims of sexual assault and trains leaders to care for victims of sexual assault. Previously, she worked at a sexual assault crisis center where she provided crisis intervention to victims of assault and conducted a variety of training seminars to service providers. Lindsey also worked at a domestic violence shelter, where many of the women she served were also victims of sexual assault. Her graduate research was on sexual violence and public health responses. Justin and Lindsey Holcomb are the authors of Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault.

Identity and Sexual Assault

Sexual assault maligns a victim's sense of self and communicates that they are stupid, filthy, foolish, worthless, defiled, impure, damaged, gross, screwed-up, unwanted, or dirty. Disgrace done to victims can result in them feeling disgust toward themselves.

Current statistics tell us that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime. This means that there are lots of people with a profound negative self-image, which can fuel self-blame, self-hate, and self-harm. Distorted self-image can also lead to isolation from others who might help restore a sense of safety, grace, and love. It may even convince the victim to pursue relationships and interactions with others that lead to further chronic suffering, thereby perpetuating and intensifying the negative self-perception.

The issue of identity is a significant part of a victim's distorted self-image. A sense of identity confusion about "who I am" can contribute to an identity of self-condemnation or a view of the self as nothing.

Something Better Exists

Making a transition from a "victim" identity to an identity in Christ is offered in God's redemptive work through Jesus. If you are a victim of sexual assault, then that is a part of your story that you should not deny or minimize. If it becomes the story about you, then your identity will be founded on disgrace. But God offers the redemptive story told in scripture. The identity from that story is founded on grace in at least two specific ways.

People of God, Children of God

If you have faith in Christ, God calls you certain things that convey value. The "people of God" is one of the most significant. In many places in the Bible, God declares: "I will be your God and you shall be my people." In Exodus 19:5, God refers to his people as "my treasured possession." Being included in "my people" means that you belong to God as his possession and that he is responsible and cares for you.

This intimacy of God's concern for his people is seen clearly in the declaration that you are a child of God if you trust in Christ (1 John 3:1-2). This is, perhaps, the most amazing thing you can be called. This new identity is rooted in being adopted into God's family.

God adopted you and accepted you because he loves you. You didn't do anything to deserve his love. He loved you when you were unlovable. Remember this when you feel unlovable.

Righteousness of God

2 Corinthians 5:21 is an amazing statement: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Because of faith in Christ, you are the righteousness of God. This is imputation, which is ascribing characteristics to someone that they do not have by nature.

Imputation is the crediting in our favor, from the standpoint of God, who is the source of all judgment, the perfect moral worth of Jesus. It also implies the humiliation of Jesus, by means of the transfer to him of the full burden of the disgraces we have done and those done to us.

By faith we are "in Christ" and as such we are seen as he is. His righteousness, holiness, and blamelessness are imputed to us.

Secure In Christ

If you are in Christ, your identity is deeper than any of your wounds. It is also found in Christ and founded on Christ, who is God, so your new identity is more secure and stable than any other identity that has been attributed to you.

This truth brings great relief, because you are not doomed to live as a victim. It doesn't eliminate your wounds nor silence your cry for deliverance or healing. But it does mean those wounds are not the final word on who you are. They don't enslave you and determine your life.

The difference between identity in Christ and anything else is huge. The difference is between resignation to a life as victim and its consequences versus living secure in Christ and all the grace that comes with it.

You can rest in the knowledge and assurance of your new identity because you did not earn it. It was achieved for you by God. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. You are secure in God because you are his and he cannot disown himself.

In order to have the cycle of disgrace broken we need a God before whom we can put aside the disguises. When we trust in Christ, disgrace is halted and we can step onto the firm ground of God's acceptance, love, and grace.

Lindsey will be checking in today and interacting, so feel free to weigh in.

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