Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Identity

There is a tendency in human beings to identify ourselves in particular groups. "I'm an American." "I'm a woman." "I'm gay." "I'm a Jones." "I'm black." Along a lot of different lines, but we all seem to use this for identity. The most common, I think, is family. It's inherent just in our identification -- the last name (at least in American culture).

This recent Christmas that fell on a Sunday, producing the dilemma of "church or family", made me ask the question of identity. Who are we? Oh, sure, we are lots of things. But who are we first? Are we "Americans"? Are we "the Smiths" or "the Lopezes"? Are we Presbyterians or Baptists or Methodists? Maybe none of the above. Maybe we're "gay" or "straight", "man" or "woman", or "married" or "single" as our first identifier. There are lots of possibilities.

So, as I like to do, I look to Scripture. What does the Bible say?

The Bible seems to list us first as "God's people". The reason I say "first" because it was Jesus who said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:26) Now, we can discuss what He meant by "hate", but it cannot be questioned that He definitely prioritized being His disciple over family and, therefore, those other lesser things like nationality or ethnicity. It would also include personal identities like "sexual orientation", gender, or career, because He also said, "If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matt 16:24-25) If death to self is fundamental to following Christ, those personal identifiers are secondary. Instead, our primary identifier must be "follower of Christ."

Close on its heels (because it includes the idea in itself) is being a part of the family of God. It was, if you recall, for this purpose that you were saved. The "good" that God works all things together for is "to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers." (Rom 8:29) So Jesus told us, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) That's "one another" -- believers for believers. Sure, we're supposed to love everyone, including enemies (Luke 6:27), but clearly there is a special love between spiritual siblings in view here that is over love for others -- family, friends, neighbors, country, and anything else.

Our identity, then, is, first, followers of Christ. Paul said, "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil 3:8) Again, let's not get bogged down in details of what he meant by "loss". We can clearly understand that at the top of Paul's priority list he had as number one "knowing Christ". That was above everything else. Our primary purpose is to glorify God as part of the family of God.

Where is your highest identity? Is it self? Nationality? Family? Maybe it's career. "I'm an engineer" or "doctor" or ... whatever you might be. I would hope you wouldn't identify first and foremost by the gender with whom you like to have sex. Is the first identity that you claim, "I am a follower of Christ, a member of God's family"? That would seem to be the biblical one. I think it would put in order a lot of the ones that follow.

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