You, your being, your essence, your identity, who you are. What makes you, you? The modern world uses conditional compound labels to construct who people are. Race, politics, religion, family heritage, social economic class, sexuality, and other social constructs are used to build someone’s ‘identity’. African American or Italian American. Liberal or Conservative. Christian or Muslim. Heterosexual or Homosexual. Wealthy or poor. Throw a bunch of these labels together and boom- you? What if our true essence of being and eternal identity is not found in those?
John sets the premise for true identity in John 1:12-13
But to all who did receive Him,
He gave them the right to be children of God,
to those who believe in His name,
who were born,
not of blood,
or of the will of the flesh,
or of the will of man,
but of God.
John distinguishes two groups. Those who receive Jesus and those who do not. He goes even deeper and states that those who did receive Jesus are ones who believe in His name and thus are given the right to be children of God. The reverse means that those who do not receive Jesus, do not believe in His name and are not given the right to be children of God. But, he doesn’t end there.
Those who did receive Jesus; who believe in His name and are given the right to be children of God are not born into this, are not self-willed into it, are not given it by others- but only by God. Their identity is NOT found in their “blood” which is the body, which is skin color and physical features. Our identity is NOT found in the “will of the flesh” which is our lifestyle, chosen religious preferences, or political associations. Our identity is NOT found in “the will of man” which is government labels, family heritage, or cultural history. What ALL these have in common are identifiers from a worldly perspective of identity. God declares out identity comes from something greater, God himself. At the core of all that he said; their true identities are from God and in Christ Jesus. That’s it.
People who make the claim they are Christian because they are White, conservative, heterosexual, and wealthy… are believing in social constructs to justify themselves. Other people will add on to their claimed Christian title. For example, they will say they are an African American liberal homosexual Christian. Again the problem is they are not basing their Christian identity in the one thing that John makes clear. All those other labels are of the world, not of God.
Paul expands on this issue of identity when he states in Galatians 3:28:
“There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
He also states in Romans 10:12:
“For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.”
Race, ethnicity, genders, social economic class, or political affiliation do not define who you are before the Lord. The only defining factor is belief in Christ Jesus or not.
So why the additions of labels?
In each and every single person is the natural desire to justify ones self. When those who claim to be Christian buy into the thought that their identity is found in Jesus plus something else, they are going against what John and Paul are saying about who they actually are. It is a very simple truth and is confused and corrupted by the desires and thoughts of the world.
Faith in Jesus + Anything = Nothing, in the eyes of the Lord
Faith in Jesus + Nothing = Everything, in the eyes of the Lord
History repeats itself because the there is a common thread in all the human heart- sin. The Apostles had to address this self identity being defined by cultural association. They had to beat it into the heads of the early church that here is NO difference between Jew or Gentile. The church has always struggled with this- humanity has always struggled with this. The creation of constructed racial definitions such as “white” and “black” added to this worldly way of thinking. In history, some in the church think that in order to be Christian, one must act “white” or accept “whiteness” as a standard of Christian living. This goes against what the Apostles taught. Yet others think that associating more with African heritage some how makes them more true in their identity. Whether its a greater association with someones “whiteness” or “blackness” or any race-ness; the essence of the problem is the same: Identity = race + faith. This then leads to disunity in the body of Christ. Instead of being “all one in Christ” the church is then divided up by race. Instead of there being “no difference” there are. As one focuses on their own adherents to their race, they not only exclude others but segregate themselves.
The early church struggled with Jew against Gentile. Then struggled with White against Black. Looking at the most common rhetoric in the church today, it seems to be now swinging toward Black against White as some see that leaving “white evangelicalism” is godly direction to take. But what does that mean for those who are labeled and judged as “white evangelicals”? As each generation struggles with disassociating itself from its brothers and sisters of different racial backgrounds.
Faith in Labels
When anyone thinks they ‘become’ Christian because their family was or thinks they are Christian because they are Pentecostal they are buying into the lie that Faith + Something = Identity. Simply having faith that someone is a White Christian or a striving to identify as an African American Christian is not only placing faith in Jesus but also faith in their race as something that ALSO gives them identity. Even believing having a more ‘liberal’ world view and supporting worldly causes with some how justify their faith in Jesus before the world is the same thing. It comes down to not faith in who Jesus is or what he has done but faith in something about you. That is idolatry.
Label Worship and Idolatry
If your will to adhere to a particular label prevented you from solely focusing on Jesus Christ and proclaiming his name alone, than you are actually serving the agendas of that label as your master. If you are unwilling to part with that label so that you can solely focusing on Jesus Christ and proclaiming his name alone, that label is in fact your idol. We must ask ourselves, are we willing to deny our worldly constructed racial definitions (or any worldly label) so that our desires and minds are absolutely focused on Christ alone?
If your family was the foundation for your faith, what would you do if God called you to leave your family (Luke 14:26)? What if God made something explicitly clear about a particular desire, and required you to leave that desire, could you (1 Cor 6:9-1)? What if politics was getting in the way of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, could you leave politics? What if your adherence to your race, ethnicity, or culture was becoming divisive and causing disunity, could you deny yourself and leave the issue of your race and ethnicity for the sake of the Gospel and unity? Would you risk your own worldly identified group hate you for the sake of proclaiming truth in Christ? If the answer is no, than your identity is not resting in Christ Jesus alone.
In eastern cultures there is a greater dependence on family heritage and governmental or political party affiliation. Do you have value, meaning, and purpose because you are part of a communist party? Are you scared to shame and dishonor your family by following Christ instead of the defining religion of the family? In those identities that only seem to give meaning and purpose, are still worldly constructs.
Identities become Enslaving
When people who claim to be Christian can become so consumed by their additional identities they become enslaved to the labels. Over time of putting effort into conforming to a particular identity, people lose sight of life with out it. Faith in a particular sexual identity leads to the greater focus on their sexuality than without it. Faith in their racial identity leads to a greater focus on IT than on the gospel for all races. The enslaving focus leads to division and self segregation. A simple test is: Luke 9:23 “He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”. Are you willing to deny EVERYTHING about yourself, even to the point of sacrificing your body, for Christ? If your culture, race, and any associations that define you; are you able to see past them and forsake them for Christ? If you can not forsake your racial identity (or any worldly identity), who is then really your master?
God declares that YOU are truly YOU in Him alone. There is NO difference but ALL are one in Christ. It is through Christ alone we find our true identity of who we are before the throne of our creator. God won’t ask us if we were a good white person, or black person. He will weigh us by how faithful we are to Christ’s work and how we loved ALL races, not just the ones we associate with.
You are made in the image of God created for his glory to worship him. You are defined by your faithfulness to the person and work of Christ and not by anything else. The only defining factors at God’s judgement are between the faithful and the wicked. The world and all people will be identified by this alone. The Absolute essence of our true identity of who we are, comes down to faith in Christ or not. Those who have faith in Christ are ONE and are NO different for all those who believe have been adopted by God to become Children of God and baptized into THE SAME body. All other dividing factors are carnal. But, this does not negate the usefulness of the diversity in creation for God’s glory.
Even though we can rest in our true identity without focusing on race, sexuality, political associations, and cultural heritage; it can still be used as means of ministry and evangelism. Some people within the world with a worldly mindset will only listen to those who they associate with. Thus, the identifiers of the world, can used to reach the world. They are not the focuses that define the identity of believers but focuses that are greater than identity. For example, those who struggle with same sex attraction, by deny themselves to follow Christ, can better reach others who believe their same sex attractions define them. Those who relate racially, can reach those of the same race who are only willing to listen to those they relate to. Instead of those as defining factors of ones identity, they are actually tools to better reach those who are slaves in their belief those factors define them; with the hope of freeing them from that enslaving carnal identities. Because in the end, true freedom is only found in Christ and not in any identity of this world.
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