Identity and Response

The sermon from this past weekend has sparked a lot of thought for me. Since I won’t be able to attend Life Group tonight, I wanted to still process and work through some of this.

One of the clearest themes that emerges from Scripture is this idea of identity shaping response. In the Old Testament, we see even from the beginning of creation, God brings forth man and woman from the dust, and from their identity as those “created in the image of God,” (Genesis 1:27). Out of this identity, comes a response: ““Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). The Creator God fashions humankind and breathes His identity into his creation. Our response? To be relational, fruitful, creative, and productive.

Or in Exodus, we see God delivering the Israelites–an oppressed, marginalized people–out of slavery. He gives them a new identity as a covenant community, sealing it with the giving of the Law (including the 10 Commandments). In this, their identity–the covenant community of God–requires a response that sets them apart from the polytheistic cultures around them, perfectly summarized in the 10 Commandments: to forsake other gods and to live pure and righteous lives. Identity = Response.

This is also most clearly reflected in the letters of Paul and Peter. The writers constantly reminds the 1st century churches of their identity, everything from “you have been raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1) to “you are a royal priesthood” (1Peter 2:9). And because of this identity, a response is expected.

In Philippians, Paul writes:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:1-2).

The words which I bolded above stuck out at me. These are all gifts that we have from God because of Christ. It occurred to me that because we are rebellious and sinful in nature, we tend to look for those things (encouragement/unity, comfort and common sharing) outside of God.

There are lots of barriers to genuine worship today. It seems to me that particularly within the church, the greatest barriers to genuine worship today are not necessarily immoral or sinful behavior (drinking, drugs, etc.), but rather good things. Good things (that as Mitch says), become God things.

The top barriers tend to be: relationships, money/comfort and respect. Our relationships with our spouses, children, our friends, or maybe even the desire of a future relationship yet to be–drives everything we do. We’re so concerned with feeding the relationship; we’re addicted to the feelings of approval, of being well-liked, of being enjoyed and enjoying someone else that we forget the perfect love and encouragement we have in Christ. Or we’re addicted to the latest technological gadget (yeah, Apple lovers I’m talking to you, even amid Steve Jobs’ exit), the latest movie or reality TV show, the latest caffeinated buzz. We’re addicted to comfort and convenience and efficiency and speed. We’re not so much addicted to money–I don’t know anybody that hoards bags of money or gold anywhere–but we’re addicted to the thrill of what these things buy. Our whole lives are geared toward making more money so we can have bigger TVs, sharper images, faster computers, higher performance vehicles. As for respect, we may not be stepping on other people to climb up a corporate ladder, but this constant forward barreling through high school so we can go to college so we can get a job so we can have a career so we can have a good retirement is this constant onward and upward to prove ourselves, to show that we have done something meaningful and important that deserves recognition.

In short, this is where we find our identity.

Paul turns that all around and reminds us–we already have that which we seek in Christ. Christ gives us the ultimate relationship, the ultimate comfort, the ultimate chance to participate in the glorious work that He is doing in the ministry of reconciliation.

All we need to do?

“be like-minded, having the same joy, being one in purpose.” And to do “nothing out of selfish ambition of vain conceit.”

So out of our great identity of being united with Christ, of having comfort from His love, of having fellowship with the Spirit, we are called to be unified and humble. We cannot have one without the other. Both are necessary to live out the response required of us.

1) Unity: Despite what lots of people will say in terms of churches not being unified, sometimes I think we’re too unified. What I mean by that is that we have all of the unity, but none of the humility. In the churches, I’ve seen–even this week–Christians judge other Christians because of what they wear or what they listen to, or what they are or what they are not. We say “if you behave this way, you are one of us”; but if not, “you are not good enough.” This makes me so sad that while Christians have found unity and identity in an institutionalized church, we often still lack the humility to recognize that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

2) Humility: Ultimately, humility is a recognition that life is not all about me. If I am truly humble, I am not easily offended or frustrated. I don’t continually seek after my comfort or renown or recognition or love or approval. I recognize that I exist to glorify and enjoy God and to make much of Him. My joy is tied to that being made a reality, not on my circumstances.


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