Identity is important. Who we know ourselves to be brings stability and confidence to our lives and how we walk out our days.
Because identity is so important we are easily fooled into identifying with the wrong things. We know of course about those who identify themselves with a licentious lifestyle. We know those who identify and live out drugs and partying and drunkenness and we know that these identities will lead us to death and destruction. So we know to avoid this and to find our identity elsewhere.
But we, in our wild swing away from this, often come to find identity in self-righteousness. We preach against drunkenness, we hate the partiers, we despise the drug addict, we scorn the prostitute, we will not spend time with the sinners, and we refuse to get to know those whose lives are different than ours.
We are afraid. And our identity is obviously not very sure if we must define ourselves by what we are not. We miss the fact that in this response our identity becomes one of hating, despising, scorning, and refusing to be in the presence of those we cannot agree with.
This is the natural result of religion. It was the same identity that the pharisees of Jesus’ day had taken on. They prided themselves in their self-righteousness, in their superiority, and as a people who could maintain an outer appearance of godliness.
And yet Christ called them white-washed tombs. Christ could see their hearts and though their outward behaviour was perfect their inner being had become about hating, despising, scorning, and refusing relationship with people. They had become exactly what God is not.
And God confronted them with this.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:27
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Luke 20:46-47
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Matthew 23:25
The Pharisees had made a distinction between themselves and the ordinary men and women around them. They set up rules and regulations as a way of excluding common people and they used these rules and regulations to justify their disdain and contempt of others. They grew in their superiority as they hated and rejected others and God said, “Be very careful of such people.” and even called them blind guides. (Matthew 15:14 and it’s surrounding context)
We, as leaders and pastors and teachers in the Kingdom of God do not want to be blind guides. We do not want to define ourselves by what we are doing or not doing. In Matthew 15:1-20 Jesus makes it very clear that it is not our habits or our traditions that make us clean before the Lord. It is the attitudes of our hearts that reveal if we truly know God or not.
Jesus came to give us a new identity. He came to remove from our lives an identity with religion (which is full of rules and regulations and resulting condemnations) and to give us an identity with himself and true godliness.
All we have to do is to look at the life of Jesus Christ to see what this new identity is all about. What did Jesus do? How did he treat people? What characteristics did he model? What was the manner of his speech? In what way did he live his life?
1. Jesus is God
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Hebrews 1:3a
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Colossians 1:15
2. Jesus Lives Out the Father’s Heart
“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John 5:30
“Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” John 4:34
3. Jesus Came For All People
“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” Matthew 4:23
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9
4. Jesus Spends Time with Sinners
“The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” John 4:9
“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13
5. Jesus is Compassion
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:14
6. Jesus is Understanding & Patient
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
7. Jesus is Inclusive
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
“The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Revelation 22:17
8. Jesus Saves Us
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
9. Jesus Loves the Stranger
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:34
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:17
10. Jesus is Just
“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour.” Leviticus 19:15
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8
11. Jesus Brings Us Together
“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:13
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7
12. Jesus Loves Ours Enemies as Much as He Loves Us
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,” Proverbs 24:17
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” Luke 6:27
13. Jesus is Peace
“When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” Proverbs 16:7
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
14. Jesus is Love
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” 1 John 4:7
And there is so much more. Today we go in the strength of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We walk in compassion, loving our enemies, in understanding and with patience. We live out the Father’s heart in our lives, coming close to people, extending peace, winning over everyone in love. This is our identity.
Becoming people who live as Christ lived, loved as Jesus loved, embraced as Jesus embraced, accepted as Jesus accepted, honoured as Jesus honoured, healed as Jesus healed, forgave as Jesus forgave – this is to be our identity.
Habits and traditions around worship and church and eating and preaching and gathering together and what it means to be a pastor can all move in response to the spirit when Christ is our identity.
Issues of nationalism and politics and matters of law and governance need not be our core identity once we have identified with the person of Jesus Christ.
The traditions of the generations and the cultures of our times need not be our identity once we know identity in Jesus.
Jesus Christ simplifies our lives. We live as he lived. We love as he loved. We choose to be a Jesus kind of people, and after that everything else begins to make sense and fall into line. We walk with God.
“Jesus we come to you today in the power of your name and life given over for us. Thank-you for showing us the way to life, thank-you for being the way to life. We take on your life in our spirits and souls and bodies today in the name and the blood of our living Lord Jesus Christ. Wash us, heal us, make us new.
Where we have created distinctions among our fellow people forgive us. Give us eyes to see others as you see them. Give us your compassion so that we might extend your healing to many. May our love be pure and just.
We declare our dependance on you for these deep transformations within the very core of our beings and so we wait, resting in your work in our lives, and we choose this day to act in accord with the model of Jesus, the very perfect image of God himself. We enter into your life Lord. Thank you. Amen and Amen.”