How to identify with Jesus – Our Identity: In Christ, Part 5

How do we fully identify with Jesus?

It can be hard to know what this means. 

It must go back to what Jesus himself taught in John 15.  This is the parable of the vine and the branches, and in it Jesus teaches what is perhaps his most important teaching about our identity.  Turn there and read John 15:1-10.

Did you catch Jesus’ central theme?  Remain in him.  Apart from him, you can do nothing.  It is not only that we need to acknowledge our identity in him, but also that he wants us to depend on him.  The result is his power flowing through us. 

We recently had to cut down one of the English walnut trees in our back yard.  Those trees made delicious walnuts for years.  My daughter didn’t have a lemonade stand, but she did have a little walnut business.  But this year the tree made no leaves and no walnuts.  Branches had been falling down for years.  This season the tree died. 

Likewise, in order to avoid becoming spiritually dead and unfruitful, we must have union with Christ.

How then do we remain in him?

Jesus said in John 14:9, “Anyone who has seen me, has seen the father.”  Thus Jesus provides for us the ultimate example of what humans are to strive for.  And likewise we, Christians, are to be the reflection of Jesus to the world.

So we followers of Jesus should not assume that we know him.  Who is Jesus?  How did he carry himself?  What did he do in difficult situations? Study the gospels to learn how Jesus thinks, talks, behaves.  Get with another person or two and study a book of the Bible.  Read a chapter a week. 

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.  When you study the Gospels, notice who Jesus interacted with.  So often it was people on the margins of society.  But rather than marginalize them further, he treated them with compassion, getting personally involved, reaching out to them, sitting with them.  How does that relate to us?  It can be easy to write a check, send a gift, and feel like we are being like Christ and doing our “duty.” While those things are good and necessary, they are not the complete picture of Jesus.  Instead we should build genuine caring relationships with people that are different than us.

When we are in Christ, our lives will look more and more like his.  He gave of himself, sacrificially, over and over.  This sacrificial pattern of his life was not just one act of sacrifice at the end.  He gave sacrificially of his energy, his time, his gifts, and he did so regularly throughout his entire ministry.  Then he took time to recharge.  How? By getting away and sitting with God. 

So what about you? What do you do to connect with God?  If we are acknowledging that our identity is in God, in Jesus, those times in gathered worship with our church family, with our small group and individually with God, are where we are fulfilled and understood and loved deeply. We recharge with Him. Otherwise it’s like putting bad batteries that are nearly dead into a remote.  They work for a minute but the charge will not last.  It does not sustain.  This is a significant way to remain in the vine; staying connected to the one who gives us life is the only way to live the abundant life we are promised and we long for.

Just to be clear: none of these things are done as a thing to earn God’s love. He loves us.  Simple.  You are loved by God.  You are his child.  He is a good God who loves his children deeply and fully.  But when you choose to acknowledge your identity and walk into situations with that acknowledgement, then you will have more joy. Not necessarily an easier life, which is not a promise, but you will have joy.  You will know deep love and acceptance.  You will have inner strength in difficult situations.

Are you hiding who you truly are? – Our Identity: In Christ, Part 4

Photo by JC Gellidon

So often we struggle with our identity.  Do you struggle with who you are? Have you ever hidden your identity? What is your true identity?

I want to bring up a story of a man who hid his identity. You can read about it in a Bible in Luke 22, starting in verse 54.

This is the story of a crisis of identity in the life of Jesus’ most famous disciple, Peter.  Remember this story?  The story takes place in the final hours of Jesus’ life when he was arrested.  Earlier that evening, Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny Jesus, to which Peter vehemently responded, “No way, I will never do that.”  But after Jesus was arrested and put on trial, after the rest of the disciples fled the scene in fear, Peter hung in there, and then he was ID’d.  Look at verses 54-62. Peter should have identified with Jesus, and yet he said strongly, “I don’t know him!”

This should sound familiar, as there are ways big and small that all of us have denied him, hiding our identity. 

And yet, a few days later, after his resurrection, Jesus meets with Peter on the lake shore.

Turn to John 21, which takes place maybe a few days or weeks later. Peter’s denial had never been resolved.  We don’t know if any of the other disciples were aware of Peter’s denial.  Did they see it?  John’s account makes it seem like John was there too.  Maybe John saw it go down, but it’s not certain.  If no disciples heard about it, did Peter tell them what happened?  Or did he hide it from them?  Peter doesn’t seem like the type to hide things, but then again, it would have been embarrassing for him to reveal his total failure when he denied Jesus, hiding his identity as a disciple of Jesus.  But Jesus knew.  In Luke’s account we read that after Peter’s third bold denial of his identity as a follower of Jesus, when the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and looked right at him.  Whew.  That scene is just popping with emotion.  Imagine how Jesus felt as his close friend, one of his inner three, Peter, denies him.  Imagine how Peter felt when Jesus turns and looks Peter in the eye.  Luke tells us Peter went outside weeping bitter tears.   

So while Peter must have been elated about Jesus’ resurrection, the denial moment has never been dealt with.  Peter’s betrayal is hanging like a heavy wet blanket between him and Jesus.  Do you know that feeling, when there is a brokenness, a hurt between you and another person?  Into that tension, look what happens in John 21, verses 15-19.

Jesus reinstates Peter, three times asking, “Do you love me?”  One for each denial.  He then reaffirms Peter by saying, “Feed my sheep,” three times, resurrecting Peter’s true identity, overturning each of Peter’s three denials.  Jesus was saying, “Peter, you denied me…three times.  You hid your identity, but all is not lost.  I know who you really are.  Reclaim your true identity.  Live out who you truly are.”

That is what he says to each one of us too.  Claim your true identity as “in Christ.”  Claim the victory and new life that you have in Christ. 

What we identify with shapes our actions.  Allow yourself to pause and acknowledge your identity in Christ. Allow it to shape you, to shape how you think and how you look at the world, and therefore how you live.    

When we so fully acknowledge with Jesus, we need not fear, because we are in him, and we can give our lives as he did for us.  This is why Paul would go on to say some powerful things:

  • Romans 12:1-2 – Offer your bodies as living sacrifices.
  • Philippians 3:10 – I want to know Christ and power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering.
  • Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. 

How do we so fully identify like this with Jesus in the real world of our lives and our communities?  It can be hard to know what this means. Check back in to the next post as we’ll try to answer that question.

Jesus wants us to have so much more than eternal life – Our Identity: In Christ, Part 3

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear “eternal life”?  Probably heaven right?  Life after death.

But that’s not the only way that Jesus talked about the new life that we can have in him.  In John 10:10 he would go on to say that he came that people would have “life to the full.”  I don’t think the English word “full” gives us enough of an idea of what Jesus meant there.  Other translations use the word “abundance,” which is better.  The word Jesus uses even goes beyond the idea of abundance.  This new creation that we become, this new identity, this new life in Christ is defined this way:

“Pertaining to a quantity so abundant as to be considerably more than what one would expect or anticipate—‘that which is more than, or more than enough, beyond the norm, abundantly, superfluous.”[1]

In Christ we have more than enough.  We can so identify with Christ that we will find that we have more than enough.  This goes to how we acknowledge, our identity. 

So often we wrestle with a sense of longing, of emptiness, or of wanting something more out of life.  We can seek to fill that emptiness with all sorts of pleasures or escapes or purchases or addictions.  Those things do fill the void, but only temporarily.  They can distract us from the void, but only temporarily.  We are left with an incessant craving for more and more to fill the emptiness. 

There is nothing that can truly fill the void, except Jesus.  When we acknowledge our identity in him we have more than enough. 

What we need to do then is to fully acknowledge and understand our identity in him.

I’ve noticed this in the role of pastor, and increasingly so as the years go by.   You get to be known as “the pastor” or “a pastor”, and more and more that becomes not only your reputation, but also how you see yourself, how you think.  The ramifications of your role start to impact your decisions.

Maybe you have an identity like that.  Teacher, nurse, the numbers guy, the sports guy, grandma, hunter, the scientist, the cleaner…what are the various ways you identify yourself?  It could be negative too.  The can’t-keep-a-job guy.  The moral failure.  The relationship screw-up.  The doubter.  The depressed one.  The anxious one.  

There are so many ways we identify ourselves, but as Christians we need to acknowledge ourselves connected to Jesus.  We are in Christ.  Let us so deeply see and understand our lives as wrapped up in his that it affects how we think about ourselves and thus everything we do.  Everything I do is affected by the fact that I am a pastor.  When you are a mother or father, it is the same.  When you are a grandparent, or no matter who or what you are, it is the same.  Your identity leads to choices and actions.

Let us instead deeply acknowledge our identity with Jesus.  As we saw last week, we need to acknowledge the truth and live in the truth that when we believe in Jesus as our Lord then we are a child of God.  It is our identity!  What we see this week is that we are in Christ. 

Paul would specify this when he said that we are members of the body of Christ, which we see in 1 Corinthians 12.  If you open your Bible to that chapter, you’ll see in the first few verses Paul talking about spiritual gifts given to us by the Spirit.  Jump ahead to verses 12-13.  There Paul says that we are all baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ.  As he continues through verse 26, his point is that though each of has different gifts, and thus different roles in the body of Christ, like a hand or foot or eye in a human body has different roles, each one is equally important.  So he concludes in verse 27 that we are all part of the body of Christ. 

What is the important lesson that we learn from this?  Our being in Christ is not an isolated or individual thing!  We are in Christ together with one another.  Being in Christ means that we must pursue unity with one another.  That’s why Paul continues his flow of thought into 1st Corinthians chapter 13 saying that while there are different gifts and roles in the body of Christ, they all must submit to the most excellent gift of love. 

In Christ, we love one another.  That is another vital part of our identity.  A family, with Jesus as our head, who love one another. 

As disciples of Jesus, then, we are learners, we are his apprentices, followers, learning from him how to live.  And one of the primary things he said to his disciples was “Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.” 

All of this should affect how we see ourselves.  We are in Christ.  “Christian” is not just a label.  Or it should not just be a label.  In Christ we surrender to Jesus’ way, and allow him to be more and more influential over our lives, over our choices, for our good.  In Christ, his abundant life can become our life.

[1] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 598–599.

Who we really are in Christ – Our Identity: In Christ, Part 2

Think about how you see yourself. Is it the same as who you are? Is it possible that your self-identity is different from who you really are? I think it is very possible. Consider people that think they are losers, failures, or many other negative words. Perhaps other people told them that. Perhaps they did make a mistake or fail somehow. But is that who they really are?

Our identity is WHO we are, not how we see ourselves.  The goal of this Identity series is to acknowledge and learn our identity.  Given what I have said about Jesus in the previous post, we need to acknowledge the reality of who we are in Christ.  Who are we in Christ?

Turn to Ephesians 1, and read verses 1-13, taking notice of how many references the writer, Paul, makes to “in Christ” you see.

A lot of “in Christ” in there, huh?  When you add the instances of “in him,” it is clear that this is a major concept for Paul in this section.  He is praising God the Father that we are in Christ, and he goes on to explain the blessings that are available to us because we are in Christ.  In other words, for Paul, this should inform our understanding of our central identity.  He is saying that he sees himself as “in Christ,” and that is a very good thing.  In fact it is so good, it is hard for him to express how good it is, so he goes on and on and on continually adding to his description about how good it is that we are in Christ.  Whatever this “in Christ” identity is, Paul is saying that God chose it for us, that is it a massive blessing, that is a loving thing for God to do for us, that it adopts us into his family as his sons and daughters.  You might want to reflect on this passage further this week.  Study Ephesians 1 and look at all the ways Paul says that “in Christ” is a good thing!   You’ll notice that those in Christ are so privileged.

But what does Paul mean when he repeats over and over again that we are “in Christ”?  What is this unique identity?

Paul is teaching us that there are people who are included in what we might call the salvific effectiveness of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  Salvific effectiveness?  Geesh, Joel, what kind of big word is that?  Let me try to explain.  Salvific effectiveness refers to the idea of what Jesus accomplished through his life, death and resurrection.  And whatever Jesus accomplished, those people that are “in Christ” are a part of that.  In other words, what he accomplished is nothing short of amazing and fantastic, and what’s more, people can participate in it, benefit from it.  What did he accomplish?  Victory over of death, victory over sin, and victory over the devil!  Praise God!

I love how Paul himself puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 when he describes what Jesus accomplished through his resurrection like this: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin  is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Those of us in Christ get to participate in that victory. Much of what we read in Ephesians 1 is Paul’s description of what Jesus accomplished through his life, death and resurrection.

This is our identity in Christ.  This is how we Christians need to see ourselves, as participants in the victory and new life of Christ. When you come to a difficult situation do you automatically despair?  Or do you know that you carry victory?  That does not mean that all situations will turn out exactly like you want. But your identity is in Christ, and he is victory.  So you can know that you do not need to despair, but you can walk into difficult or fearful or anxious situations with victory.  Walk with confidence in the one in whose image you are made, rather than placing confidence in yourself or others.  This is having confidence in the one who made you, knows you and adores you. You can face temptation with the knowledge that you are a new creation, you can face a difficult person with the knowledge that you are made in the image of God and you carry his identity, not the identity of how that person may or may not be perceiving you. 

This is why Paul would also say in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!”  Think about that!  In Christ we are made new.  This is the miracle of resurrection.  We have access to new life in Christ. 

So often we consider this new life as eternal life.  That is absolutely an important way to understand the new life that we have in Christ.  I could point you to so many places in the New Testament that talk about this eternal life.  John 3:16 is almost certainly the most famous such verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.” 

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear “eternal life”?  Probably heaven right?  Life after death.

But that’s not the only way that Jesus talked about the new life that we can have in him. In the next post we’ll examine what Jesus meant!

What is the Trinity and what is Jesus' role in the Trinity? – Our Identity: In Christ, Part 1

Have you heard of the idea that God is a Trinity? Can you explain it?

The Trinity is how we Christians view God.  The word Trinity is a combination of two words: Tri-unity, meaning that God is Three, but One.  Because that math doesn’t add up, three doesn’t equal one, people have used illustrations or analogies to teach the concept of God as Trinity.

An apple has three parts: a skin or peel, fruit or flesh, and the core.  All three parts are apple, but each is different.  In the same way God is Father, Son and Spirit.

CS Lewis’ illustration of the Trinity is my favorite.  He said the Trinity is like the three dimensions: Height, Length, Depth.  All three dimensions are equal, but each also has a different direction.

There are many such illustrations of the Trinity, and while none is a perfect analogy, they can help us at least begin to understand the mystery of the Trinity.

I’m talking about the Trinity because our current sermon series on Identity follows our Christian understanding of God as Trinitarian.  Not all Christians agree on the concept of the Trinity.  You may have heard of Unitarians.  They believe differently from Trinitarians.  Unitarians believe there is God, and that is all.  Trinitarians, however, believe not in three gods, but in God as three persons, coequal and yet distinct: God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. 

We look to numerous Scripture passages to support our belief in the Trinity.  Jesus often talked about how he and the father are one, such as in John 14.  There he also equated the Spirit with himself and with the Father.  Paul talked about all three persons of the Trinity indwelling the Christians in an equal way in his grand prayer in Ephesians 3.  So, while it is a mysterious doctrine, we believe the Bible teaches God as three-in-one. 

Last week we talked about our Identity as adopted children of God.  In the coming weeks we’ll look at our identity as temples of the Holy Spirit, and then we’ll conclude the series studying our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. So let’s begin to investigate our identity in the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, God the Son.

When it comes to Jesus’ role in the Trinity, though we refer to him as God the Son, is he actually a son?  Yes, and no.

At Jesus’ baptism and at his transfiguration, the Gospel writers tell us that a voice spoke from the clouds, both times talking about Jesus: “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well-pleased.”  Considering the Trinity, we read that God the Spirit descended on God the Son at Jesus’ baptism and God the Father spoke over him. It is normal, then, for us to call Jesus, “the Son of God”.

He isn’t actually God’s son, however, in the sense that he had not previously existed and then was conceived and born just like a human son.  God uses the label “son” to describe Jesus because, though sonship is a human concept, it helps us understand certain things about Jesus.  But let’s be clear, Jesus existed eternally before he was born as a human.  He himself said this, such as in John 8:58, when he said, “Before Abraham was born, I am,” equating himself with the eternal, pre-existent God.  Paul said the same thing about Jesus in in in numerous places, such as in Philippians 2:6-8, where he talks about Jesus giving up the exalted position he could have held onto as God, but instead Jesus emptied himself of that right and privilege, and was willing to become a human.  Also Paul says in Colossians 1:15-20 that Jesus is the image of God, that through him all things were created, and the fullness of God dwells in Jesus.  Jesus was fully God before he became human. 

But Jesus did give up his exalted place as God, and he became a human, as Paul taught in Philippians 2.  This is the miraculous astounding truth that God took on human flesh, which John wrote about in John 1:14, “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  This act of God becoming human we call “the incarnation” from the Latin word carne which means “flesh or meat.”  God took on flesh in the person of Jesus who was born as a human son.  It is amazing and surprising, and why we make such a big deal of Christmas.  In addition to God the Father calling Jesus his beloved son, Jesus’ incarnation also gives us reason to call him God the Son, because he was born as a human son, of Mary.  Though he is God the Son, let us never consider him as lower than God.  He is equal with God; always has been and always will be.

Think about the significance of Jesus as a human son. When Jesus submitted himself to become one of us, he not only showed us how much he loved us, but he also brought a significant update to the way the Trinity related to one another.  One of them took on human flesh! This is why Jesus is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” as we hear so frequently through the Advent and Christmas season.  When he was born, God was with us in a whole new way, as one of us. 

The next important question we should ask is, “Why?”  Why would God do this? Check back in tomorrow as we attempt to answer that.

How to move out of the crowd and get near to God – Our Identity: In God, Part 5

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Remember the parable of the princess who hid her identity, and never spent time with her father, the king? There’s more to the story.  The princess was an adopted child of the king with all the rights, benefits and privileges of being in his royal family. But she did not actually spend time to get to know the king, to know what he is like or what it means to be a child of the king.  Instead she spent her life living apart from him.  Yeah, as the parable told us, she checked in once a week as a part of a crew of reporters that attended his weekly briefing, but she never met with him personally.

That princess is you and me. 

We’re adopted into the family of God.  But how often do we spend time getting to know him?

Our weekly check-ins with our church family on Sundays are very important.  They are family gatherings, to change the metaphor a bit, when the family of God gets together.  But there is so much more an adopted child of God can do to spend time with our heavenly father. 

It starts with making space in your life to get to know him.  I urge you, if you’re aren’t already doing this, to make this a priority for 2020.  And do it with a friend.  Maybe someone in your small group.  Maybe someone in your Sunday School class.  Here’s what you do to get to know God who is your adopted parent:

Pick a book of the Bible, and read one chapter per week.  Read it every day, asking the question: “What does this teach me about God? What is there about God in this passage that I can learn to be like?”  Write it down.  Through the week, read the same chapter, every day, seeking God.  Then get together with that other person or persons, and share what you learned. 

Then the next week you move to the next chapter.  Read it every day, studying it, asking, “What does this teach me about God?”  Next meet up at the end of the week with your friend to discuss it.  And keep going. 

Thus day by day you are learning about God.

It starts with a choice to get to know God.  It’s a decision to make getting to know him such a priority that you actually do something about it.  It is a choice to go beyond the idea that your identity is a child of God, to living out that reality in your day to day, hour by hour world. 

God won’t force this upon you.  He is not a dictator parent.  He allows you to make the decision.  I believe sometimes he is actively wooing us, drawing us to him, and he always desires to be closer to us, but he doesn’t overwhelm and force us.  In the end we have to be the ones who choose him.  Quite frankly, we have so many options in our society to allow ourselves to give attention and priority to other things. 

I’m preaching to myself too.  It can feel much more pleasing or entertaining to read a good book, watch a TV show, go to a sports event, work on a hobby, go on vacation, or go out to eat, you name it, than to sit down and get to know God.  Those things are not wrong, but they are not the most important.

In 2020 I urge you to move out of the crowd, to decide to make a move in God’s direction.

Here’s a look ahead at the rest of the series, because I want you to see how this works together. This current series of posts (of which this number 5 of 5) we have been learning how we locate our identity in God the Father (and mother!). Next up, we look to Jesus, the example of one who lived out that identity perfectly as a human. Third, we will study the Spirit, God living in us, empowering us to live out that identity as Jesus did. Finally we will examine the how we are citizens of the Kingdom of God, as we are the family of God living out our identity in the world.

The rights and privileges we have as adopted children of God – Our Identity: In God, Part 4

Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash

When my wife, Michelle, and I were talking about this idea of being adopted as God’s children, she reminded me of one of her favorite parts of the adoption ceremonies. At those adoption ceremonies one of the final components is that the judge reads the decree of adoption.  In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a decree of adoption states that:

“The person proposed to be adopted shall have all the rights of a child and heir of the adopting parent or parents and shall be subject to the duties of a child to him or them.”

Think about how that relates to our adoption as children of God.  We have all the rights of a child in God’s family. 

We’re not just staying in his house as a guest.  We recently vacationed in Vermont, and we stayed at my cousin’s AirBnB.  For the weekend we were living in his house.  Yes, we’re extended family.  He’s my cousin.  But I’m not one of his children.  Not an heir. 

Our friend, Becka, lived with us for nine months, and she became very close with our family.  We had house guests before, but never one who lived with us for nine months.  So of course we got close, right?  But still she wasn’t our child.  We didn’t adopt her.  We remain friends, but Becka doesn’t have the rights of our children. 

But adopted children do!  When my brother and sister-in-law adopted their son, Chase, his was one of the four adoptions I witnessed in a courtroom.  All four adoptions involved a name change.  The child’s last name was changed to that of their adopted parents.  So Chase became Chase Kime.  But in order to more deeply identify Chase with the family, my brother and sister-in-law went a step further.  All four of my kids and all of my brothers’ kids have a middle name that is a family name.  My brother and sister do too. You could say it is a kind of family tradition. The middle names can be first names of grandparents or middle names of parents. To make Chase just like the rest of the family, they allowed him to choose a family name for his middle name.  Pretty cool, right?  Well, he chose the family name that is arguably the least contemporary and coolest of all the male names in my family.  My name?  Nope.  My middle name?  Chase’s older brother Carson already had that.  He chose my dad’s middle name.  Alfred.

And with that, Chase was deeply entrenched in the family. 

When you are adopted, you take on the name, the rights, and the privileges of your new parents.  And that is what we do with God.  We fully identify as God’s, both his father and mother aspects, and everything about him. 

That means we need to keeping asking what God is like.  What IS God like?  How much do you ask that question? How often do you think about God? As children of God, let us think about what God is like, and who God is, so that we can not only know him, but fully embrace our identity as his adopted children.  Then we make the choices to live out our identity as children of God.  For example, consider what Jesus said about this in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:9-12, when he said the following:

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

We, though we are not perfectly loving like God, know how to give good gifts to our children, Jesus says.  How much more God in heaven gives good gifts to those who ask.  That’s what God is like! 

Thus we have the wonderful opportunity to be like God, if our core identity flows from his, and this is why Jesus said what he said next.  The Golden Rule.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  In other words, just as God loves us, we are to love others. 

Or consider reading Matthew 18:23-35. God is forgiveness, we learn in Jesus’ parable.  Adopted into his family, we take on his identity, allowing the forgiveness he first gives us to them flow through us to our families, workplaces, and throughout our churches. Who do you need to forgive?

Jesus also once said, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”  This sets the standard that our identity is so linked with him.  Perfection sounds intimidating and impossible, but my hunch is that Jesus was simply saying that our goal is to be like our heavenly father. How do we do that? Check back in to the next post!

My six visits to a courtroom – Our Identity: In God, Part 3

Lancaster County Court of Common Appeals

I have been inside a courtroom for official court proceedings six times in my life.  The first time was my fault.  I was 17, very guilty, and scared to death.  I’m not going into the whole story today. If you want to learn more, I’ve written about it here. The summary is that I was convicted of vehicular homicide for hitting an Amish buggy and a lady inside the buggy died.  It was accidental, but still totally my fault, and I regret it.  God has done a beautiful work of redemption through it.  I bring it up because I want to talk about my other courtroom experiences. 

My second time in a courtroom was for a high school field trip later that school year, and it was such a relief because it wasn’t about me this time!

The most recent four times? Well, they have been astoundingly beautiful.

In each of those last four times I sat in the courtroom, I heard the judge declare that a child was now part of a new family.  I cried tears of joy as my brother, sister and close friends each welcomed those children into their lives.  Those were each adoption ceremonies.  The most recent one was just a couple months ago, as of this writing, when my sister Laura and brother-in-law Kyle adopted their second daughter Mya.  We got our younger kids out of school, our oldest son and his wife took the morning off of work, and our middle son drove home from college, all to be there. The courtroom was packed full with our family and their friends, because this was a momentous occasion.  It was a celebration!

Mya has a new identity now.  She is no longer a child of the state, but a child of Laura and Kyle.

In October 2017 I blogged about the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, looking at what are called the Five Solas. When we talked about Sola Gratia, “Grace Alone,” I wrote that, “The beautiful New Testament teaching about grace is summed up in the picture of adoption.  God, we are told, in his grace, adopts us as his sons and daughters, through the work that Jesus did in his life, death and resurrection.”

A scholar I found describes it like this, “Grace is not God’s way of helping us to become obedient children; it is rather God adopting us; unworthy though we are.”

We who did not have a family, because of our sinfulness, can become part of God’s family, because of what Jesus did for us.  Think about that. We are all orphans because of our sin.  Separated from family.  Across that chasm of separation God says, “I want you in my family, but there is something keeping us apart, your sin. But I have good news for you! I love you so much, I’m going to fix that.”  And he did fix that, through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Now all who place their faith on Christ can receive the gift of God’s grace.  When you receive that gift, God adopts you into his family.

I love how Ephesians 1:4-5 depicts God saying to us, “I chose you to be adopted into my family.” Have you received the gift of God’s grace to be adopted into his family?

There is something important to bring up here.  We can also choose not to accept the gift.  God doesn’t force us to be in his family.  We have to hold out our arms with open hands, and receive the gift of grace.  When we receive the gift, we are saying that we want to be a part of God’s family.  And not just in name only.  It is not just a label.  “Christian”.

Titus 2:11-15 says that it is a total change. In a previous post during our Titus series, I wrote:

Paul tells Titus, this purification allows us to be adopted into God’s family.   Once we were not the people of God, but now through Jesus giving himself, we can be part of his family.  Think about the richness of that.  When you receive the God’s gracious gift of salvation, believing in him and giving your life to follow him, you become his very own.  That means, to God you are not just a nameless face in the crowd.  You are not just a number or a statistic.  You are his very own.  This word carries the idea of how special you are to God.  He knows your name, he is close to you.  He wants to talk with you and walk with you and spend time with you.  That’s what Jesus wanted to happen when he gave his life for you.  Think about that!  The almighty God of the universe actually cares that much about you!  Did you know that?  So not only does he want to break the chains of what is destroying you, he wants to cleanse you, and make you a whole new person, and be close to you.

That means our core identity is rooted in the truth that God is real, and that he created us in his image and loves us to the point that Jesus gave his life so we could be adopted into the family of God. An adopted child of God! When you choose to believe in God and give your life to him, that is your identity.

Why we need to see God as both Father and Mother – Our Identity: In God, Part 2

The Bible says that God is not just our creator, but our parent.  The Bible uses both Father and Mother imagery for God. We normally call him God, the Father.  But God does not have a gender.  God is not actually male.  God is not human. God is a Spirit. 

We could be missing out on the ways in which God loves us in a fully feminine way.  And that has ramifications for our identity.

For example, there are numerous times when God is described in the Bible symbolically as having a womb, such as Deuteronomy 32:18, “You forget the rock who begot you, unmindful of the God who gave birth to you.” Consider what is perhaps the most common metaphor of salvation: being born again.  We find that in John 3:3, when Jesus met one of the religious leaders, Nicodemus, under cover of night, and he said, “you must be born again.” The central salvation metaphor is feminine!  Did you ever think about that? 

Sometimes God is described using feminine terms in other ways, and these verses tell us about what God is like. 

In Isaiah 66:13 God says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” In Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Why does it matter that we see God as both mother and father?  Because our core identity is not rooted only in God as masculine father, but also in God as feminine mother.  Fathers and mothers each have unique tendencies.  Think about your own fathers and mothers and how different they are or were.  God is both.  If we only think of God as masculine, we are missing something very important, and that has great implications for our identity. We would do well to rest our lives on God as both mother and father, the perfect loving mother and father.  This is an important image because none of us had perfect mothers and fathers.  None of us are perfect mothers and fathers.  Yet God is.  It can be very difficult for those of us who had difficult experiences with our own parents to view God as the perfect parent.  So it starts with a decision to trust in God that he is not only creator, in whose image we are made, but also the loving perfect parent we long for.  We know how important stable family is for children to develop their identity as loved, cared for.  We have that stable parent in God.  He loves and cares for us like no other, in both the masculine and feminine ways of parents.

The king and the secret princess – Our Identity: In God, Part 1

Photo by Justice Amoh on Unsplash

I want to tell you a parable.

There was a king who wanted to have more connection with the people in his kingdom, so he decided to have a weekly briefing.  At the briefing, reporters from various news agencies in the kingdom would come to the briefing, and they would talk with the king, and disseminate the information through their news outlets.  Newspapers, TV, internet. 

There was one reporter who came weekly who had a special relationship with the king.  No one else knew it, but that reporter was actually the king’s daughter.  The reporter was a princess.  Yet the only other person in the room who knew her identity was the king. This princess not only hid her identity in the briefings, she never asked questions.   Furthermore, she and the king knew that these briefings were the only time the king ever saw the princess.   

That is what we we’re talking about in this sermon series to start the new year.  Our identity.   We want to start 2020 with clear vision, with more of an understanding of who we are.  With the goal of then being able to interact with our God, our families, our community in a more real and genuine way.  In a way more like Christ.  In a way that we were created to be.  Do you ever find yourself questioning who you really are?  Often times when asked about who we are, we state our occupation, or who we are married to, who we parent, whose child we are. But that is not the same as WHO we are, what our identity really is as a person. So who are you?

Often those questions come in the form of fear and self-doubt or self-loathing.  “Am I good enough?” can lead to, “I am not good enough.”  “Does anyone really like me?” can lead to, “No one really likes me.”  We can dwell on our mishaps and failures, on our weaknesses, thus defining ourselves that way.  Often we form identity by these kinds of negative views, maybe even by the lies that people have told about us.  And we can rarely consider the truths about ourselves.  We either don’t know our identity or we’re actively hiding it like the princess. The result is that we live out of a false identity.  So what is our identity?   Let’s find out.  We start at the beginning.  If you want, open a Bible to Genesis chapter 1. 

The foundational biblical teaching is that all humans are created in the image of God. That is found in Genesis 1:26-28, when God says, “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness.” 

As I’ve said in another post, “In that sense all humans everywhere are created by God, made in his image, and therefore have equal value.  So there is a real way, and this is not just symbolic, in which we Christians can say that all humans are God’s children.  In God’s eyes we are all equally precious and valuable.  Even ISIS fighters, even child rapists, even your jerk neighbor, your arrogant coworker, difficult family member or bully classmate.  Even the person sitting across the church sanctuary that you have a hard time with.  All are created equal.  All are desperately loved by God.”

But there is more.  The Bible says that God is not just our creator, but our parent.  The Bible uses both father and mother imagery for God. We normally call him God, the Father.  But God does not have a gender.  God is not actually male.  God is not human. God is a Spirit. 

What that means is that if we only consider the masculine ways of God, we could be missing out on the ways in which God loves us in a fully feminine way.  And that has ramifications for our identity which we will look at in the next post.