For all intents and purposes, I am an extremely calculated individual. This makes moments of vulnerability difficult for me to grasp or even interpret. If you can imagine being so focused on a desired outcome that you completely miss the sheer magnitude of what’s right in front of you… only grasping in hindsight what should have been a monumental moment in time… well, then you’ve experienced a flicker of my experience. I, quite literally, ponder contingencies for every moment. I’m convinced that my heart is too exhausted to subject itself to any other way of operating.
Some of you are aware that each and every year I choose something I want God to pick apart, expose, and restore in my life. It’s a personal tradition I began 10 years ago and one I still continue to this day. Each year, I subject myself to what seems like pure torture, as God turns my understanding of that one thing on its head. And each year, I am filled with stories of despair, then hope, then shattered dreams, then redeemed mistakes. My list is below…
2007 – Patience
2008 – Courage
2009 – My Witness
2010 – Contentment
2011 – Opportunity
2012 – Direction
2013 – Intention
2014 – Freedom
2015 – Discernment
2016 – Identity
Why do I share those seemingly unrelated paragraphs? Because over and over again, I am confronted with the deepest root in my misunderstanding of God’s nature. It’s a root that feeds the fruit of my life. It’s a root that serves as the last vestige of a tree that has long needed removed, yet provides the only source of protection from life’s storms. I have truly believed this root is necessary… but when repeatedly exposed for its true purpose, I have refused to go ahead and rip out the tree, still relying on it’s fruit, safety, and shade. Because every so often those things would prove beneficial to myself, and even more devastatingly, others. Blinded by a severe lack of eternal perspective, the very things I felt were a source of selflessness and use to God have ironically been the things keeping me from Him.
All because I have long found my identity, at least portions of it, outside of Christ.
The root of self-identity is cruel and life stealing. It will take ground in small ways, but continually grow toward anything that will allow for the survival of the tree above the surface. While progress is seen above the surface, confidence grows, and the root continues to embed itself.
I think we all feel that we are on a path of “progress”… growing in life, growing in faith, moving toward something bigger, better, more fulfilling, more important. We see our faults and mistakes as stepping-stones to a more perfect ideal for ourselves or our world.
What if, in reality, all of those decisions, actions, and experiences are vapor? What if they never move beyond your own desires? What if, even those things done for the benefit of others are meaningless in the broader context of your existence? Not an easy thought to digest, but…
…such are the things of life outside of identity in Jesus.
Until we find our identity is Christ, and in Him alone, we will consistently find ourselves disappointed with life’s response to our fiddling with the levers, no matter how much control we feel we have over the settings.
What does identity in Christ actually mean, though?
This is where many Christians depart once again from eternal perspective when explaining the ramifications to those who “don’t quite understand”. “Life in Christ is serving others, living responsibly, going to Church, spending time in prayer, volunteering, studying the Bible…”
Ugh… seriously. How tone deaf have us Christians become?
Ask this question to anyone and listen to the responses… “Who are you?” Better yet… read anyone’s twitter or instagram bio and you get a good idea of how they view their identity.
“Father, Son, Brother, Manager, Director, Christian, In love with ___.” All of which can be fit with the prefix “I am…”
And there us Christians go again… putting some clever words together about how we’re sinners saved by grace, children of the King, or followers of Christ. This is the point… they’re just labels. Nearly all are self-ascribed or seen as attributes to personal interests or status. Vapor. That’s all they can be, as we are not self-existent. We need an external reference, and if that reference point is something or someone temporal, the end point of how we see ourselves is also… temporal.
Identity in Christ is an eternal declaration that my life is not my own. It is literal recognition that my spirit is committed to the acknowledgement and relationship with my creator, which has eternal implications. God is self-existent. He is the ultimate and only singular reference point upon which ALL of creation exists. Attaching our identity to anything else is by its very nature created by that ultimate and less than.
This concept is bore out in Exodus 3 when Moses encounters the burning bush. Specifically in verses 13-15, God speaks directly to His own identity when asked by Moses.
“But Moses protested, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I am who i am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.”
“I AM who I am.” This is utterly profound. Moses asks the Creator of the universe to identify Himself, and receives a response that essentially communicates, “I AM the ultimate I AM.” There is nothing beyond Himself with which to identify.
Even more astonishing is the fact that Jesus Christ declared HIMSELF to be that ultimate.
Jesus answered, “If I want glory for myself, it doesn’t count. But it is my Father who will glorify me. You say, ‘He is our God,’ but you don’t even know him. I know him. If I said otherwise, I would be as great a liar as you! But I do know him and obey him. Your father Abraham rejoiced as he looked forward to my coming. He saw it and was glad.” The people said, “You aren’t even fifty years old. How can you say you have seen Abraham?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I AM!” At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.
So we have God self-identifying as the eternal reference point, and we have Jesus Christ identifying as God. All of this shows that intent is prior to content… in other words, believing is prior to becoming. For nothing that “becomes” is that without first “being.”
How differently would you live life if you understood there is a Creator who loves you enough to allow you find your IDENTITY in relationship with Him? And, in turn, you are able to extend that grace outwardly in your life.
What would it take for you to not only understand that reality, but also place your trust in its truth?
And how much more profound meaning will your life have when those labels fall away recognition of a God who holds your life as priceless and worthy of His own sacrifice?
These are things I pray I am able to understand in this life… to more fully follow a loving God… and to more openly introduce others to that same love. Praying for your heart.