This week's "thought" has to do with our identity. That is, how we view and define ourselves. What ultimately makes us who we are, and what we turn to or look to, when we are struggling to come up with a label that describes the essence of our deepest core identifying markers. It is taken from J. A. Medders book, "Gospel Formed." I picked up a copy last week and have enjoyed many of his insights. If you have struggled with what your identity is, or what defines you, I offer you his insights. Enjoy.
"He is not ashamed to call them brothers."
"Have you ever thought about the meaning of your name? My wife's name, Natalie, means, "child of Christmas." (Cute, but she was born in March!) Names in the Bible are often pregnant with significance. Naming a child ranged from a parent's reaction at birth (Issac means "laughter") to religious significance (Adonijah means "the LORD is sovereign). In the ancient Near East, your name defined you. But what about when someone's name is changed? God has a thing for changing names: "No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham (Gen. 17:5). "He said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel." (Gen. 32:28) "Sarai" was given the new name "Sarah"(Gen.17:15), and "Simon, son of John" was given the name "Cephas" which means "Peter" ( John 1:42). What's all the fuss abut a new name? It's mega-crucial. A new name from God means you've been redefined. God grants a new identity, a new life, a new outlook...
Christian, you have a new name. So, "you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God." (Gal. 4:7). "See what kind of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are" (I John 3:1). "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends." (John 15:15). Do you know who you are? What defines your life -- or rather, who defines your life? All of your hurts, hang-ups, disappointments, and struggles do not make up who you are. Only Jesus does. If you are in Christ, you are no longer defined by your sins, whether past, present, or future. Jesus gives you a new identity.
Yet far too often we have mislabeled ourselves and others. Have you ever called yourself a liar? Have you ever labeled another Christian an adulterer? What about a drunkard? Or in today's language, an alcoholic? Or a homosexual? Thinking this way does more damage than we realize. I know because I myself have suffered at the hand of the same cruel label master. Maybe you can hear yourself saying: "I'm so arrogant," "I'm a jerk," "I'm such a fool," "You are so ___________." That line of thinking is anti-Gospel. It defines us by our sins rather than the sin-conquering power of Christ on the cross. By looking inward instead of upward, fixating on our sins instead of Jesus, we are subtly drawn away from the power of Christ.
The accusations of Satan, ourselves, and others -- "You are a (pick the sin of your choice)" -- seek to identify us with sin, instead of Jesus, who became sin for us. But the sin identity is a false identity. The truth is, we are no longer our sin. Rather, we are the pure righteousness of Christ (II Corinthians 5:21). Grace means that we are not defined by our sins, but by Jesus, who became our sin in His death and then rose from the dead in sinless victory. This does not belittle our indwelling sins; rather, it puts them in the right perspective. We must wage war against our sin, but we must also think of sin rightly. We are what Martin Luther called, "simul justus et peccator" (at the same time righteous and sinner). We are saints who sin. We are no longer just sinners. We are sinners saved by grace.
The apostle Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to grasp this very thing. In 1 Corinthians 6, he rattles off a list of sins and then drops a four-letter, megaton word on them: "And such WERE some of you." "Were" is the game-changer. The Corinthians WERE sexually immoral, idolaters, drunkards, thieves, etc. Those sins used to define them -- but not anymore, because another "WERE" had crashed into their lives. The Corinthian Christians WERE washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus by the Holy Spirit. And if you are in Jesus the same is true of you. As the blood of Jesus flowed down the cross, it washed away all of our sin stains. Now we are new people in Jesus...
Gospel-centeredness means we go back to the cross and find ourselves there, not in our sin. When we sin we go back to Calvary and believe that we are forgiven, cleansed, saved, and redeemed from all that haunts us. Jesus changes the way we think about our sin, ourselves, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. The man isn't an adulterer; he is a Christian who committed adultery... That woman in your small group isn't an arrogant person; she is a Christian who wrestles with pride. The world wants us to define ourselves and each other by our sins, but God does not (Rom. 8:1)...
Whatever old names you had, forget them. I mean, all of 'em. Addict, adulterer, liar, cheater, drunkard, pervert, victim, moralist, bully, Pharisee, depressed, glutton, pill-popper -- shun those names. They might be sins you struggle with, but they aren't your calling card. They're who you WERE, not how you are now in the light of the gospel. Jesus took the old you into the ground, and a new you came up with him. May you remember our new name today..."Blessings on your week -- as you take his words to heart and practice doing what he says.
In the Service of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff