Identities are funny things. On the one hand, we’re quick to dismiss certain characteristics of people because of their identity. Thing about the class clown when they act up in class. How many times do people dismiss jokes they make because “that’s just how Joe is”? At the other hand, identities can also be things the drive us to act a certain way. If your identity is as the jock, does it become harder to abandon participation in a sport that keeps you from church?
Identities impact how others see us and how we see ourselves. If we are going to follow Christ and be devoted to his teachings, we have to ask ourselves what governs our identities and whether it is truly allowing us to be used as much as God is intending.
“Your God Will Be My God”
In the Jewish faith, they talk a lot about Ruth and how she chose to align her identity with God. Ruth was a non-Jew who married into a large Jewish family. Tragedy struck the family and all the men died off. She found herself without a home and without a well-being along with her Jewish mother-in-law and pagan sister-in-law. The mother-in-law gave both sisters her advice: leave. There was nothing for the two younger women in Israel and they would probably not find new husbands who could care for them. The sister-in-law took the mother up on her offer and left. Ruth took a different path…
Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (Ruth 1:15-17)
Ruth made a decision and that decision was to identify with the one true God. The rest of the story is that she did end up finding a husband and they had a child. That child would have another child, and so on. Eventually, Ruth’s decision to identify with God would make her a great-grandmother of Jacob and eventually King David. Even more amazing then that is that her bloodline would continue all the way to Joseph who married Mary, mother of Jesus.
God used Ruth in ways that she never even knew on earth all because she made a simple decision to identify with God. When we identify with God, we allow him to do amazing things. Compare that to our identities with other things on earth. At best, we end up aligning our identities with earthly things that, realistically, won’t matter in several years and certainly won’t matter in the scope of eternity. At worst, we end up aligning our identities with sinful behaviors or lifestyles all in the name of gaining acceptance or popularity. How worthless!
God’s Identity Is Something New
The decision to align with Christ is so amazingly powerful, it’s hard to put into words. When we hold our identity in our relationships with friends, station at work, or contributions to the community, it becomes all about what we have to do for others. When we align with Christ, our identity becomes about what God can, did, and does for us.
Paul talks about holding an identity with Christ in his second letter to the church in Corinth…
If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. (2 Cor 5:13-21)
Wow. Paul’s words cut to the heart of what an identity with Christ looks like and what it means.
This talk of seeming “crazy” really highlights how different an identity with Christ is than that of the world. The world expects us to be the best students, best athletes, to attend the best colleges, to go on the best dates with the best looking people, and to purpose all things “best” according to society’s standards. Compared to Christ’s standards of living selflessly and being willing to give up all fame, all riches, and all approval for the sake of God, you can see how someone would call a Christian “crazy”. This goes back to something we learned a few weeks ago: we are NOT people of this world. We belong to an eternal kingdom more glorious and everlasting than anything you can currently comprehend. Are we crazy? If society defines normal, than sure. I’ll accept that identity.
Paul identifies that God’s identity affords us three things. First, it frees us from sin (vv 14-15). When we accept Christ’s identity, we are accepting the identity of the one without sin and who died to pay the price from our sins. Our sins no longer dictate who we are or who are must be. Second, it frees us from our worldly identities (v 16). When we align with Christ, there is no authority, no power, and no temptation that can draw us away from Christ’s love. Third, it gifts us God’s righteousness. Accepting Christ’s identity also accepts God’s righteousness. We aren’t just made free from the penalty of sin; we are actually made holy through Christ’s sacrificial blood. It’s an important distinction because it cuts to the heart of what it means to be truly adopted into the family of God vs just being omitted from the penalty of sin.
God doesn’t just make us heal; he makes us whole.
When I think about our identities with God, it is almost frightening. We read throughout the Bible about following God and being a part of God’s kingdom, but how we we wrap our heads around what that truly means? Let’s read Revelation about God’s coming kingdom…
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. (Revelation 21:5-6)
This is an awe-struck image. Jesus descending from heaven and taking up place in his throne on earth. He has purged the earth of all sin and unrighteousness and replaced it with his glory. The residents are said to be the priests and those whose name is written in the book of life… those whose identities are in Christ. Taking his station at the head of his kingdom… the kingdom made for us… he boldly proclaims “Look, I am making all things new!”
This passage brings tears to my eyes, even as I write this lesson summary. Christ makes all new, regardless of past transgressions, sins, or betrayals against what we know is right. God makes Joseph new. God makes Meredith new. God makes Frank new. God makes Doug new. God makes you new. You are a new creation in Christ and when you identify with Him, there is nothing… NOTHING… in this world that can draw you away.
You are made pure, clean, and righteous in the eyes of God. All you have to do is choose this day in whom you will place your identity, your trust, and your faith.