"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

My Identity in Christ?

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Identity in Christ – Men’s Epiphany Dinner, January 7, 2012

This is perhaps the central question in any person’s life – who am I? For men, in particular, that question carries some particular burdens, just as our sisters in Christ carry particular burdens as a result of their womanhood. So I want to talk about the radical redefinition of self that comes through faith, beginning with a bit about my own search for identity. Rather than reading one bit of Scripture up front I’ll include it throughout, beginning with Galatians 3:23-29:

“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

This is really the primary answer to the question “who am I?” for the Christian. If you are Christ’s, there is no longer any title or role in the secular world that fundamentally defines your essence – none. Paul’s talk about the Law applies to us directly as well – in a slightly different meaning of the word for us, law can mean the rules of the secular culture, the law that puts more worth on a man based on his earning potential, or the size of his truck. Paul makes this explicit in his words in the third chapter of Philippians:

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: (the titles game) circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (Skubalon: any refuse, as the excrement of animals, dregs of things worthless and detestable), in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Paul is explicit here that all he has done of his own merit is like animal turds, and he strives for only one thing – faith in Christ, for on that all eternity turns.

I’ve been spending some time reviewing family history, including researching the military histories of several of my great uncles. It strikes me reading those accounts, including the three who won medals for bravery in the first and second world wars, that the image of a man in 1910-1950 could be summed up in a few words: courage, strength, stability, bravery. I wonder what words our ancestors might use to describe our time when it comes to manhood? My own indoctrination into manhood was a bit dysfunctional, as with everyone, my parent’s marriage ended after about 6 or 10 years of infidelity. My mom’s dad, Al, was perhaps the only image of a traditional male I had to hang onto. Al was the proverbial self-made man, with a grade 6 education who retired as foreman of a chemical plant and then travelled as a consultant for the corporation. As a teenager he rode the rails during the Great Depression, and was still hunting moose alone in northern BC when he was 73. When I look at myself, and my own values, I’m realizing how much of who I am results from Al’s place in my life. The lesson for we men is never to under estimate the impact we will have not only on our own children, but on our grand and even great-grand children.

Now Al’s fierce independence and ability to do almost anything, I sought to mimic by seeking titles and qualifications. I couldn’t ride the rails, or leave school at grade 6, as these were things of a different time, Al’s time. So to define my identity I seized on the things of this world – university degrees and the military. I did a good job with titles, and I can do a pretty good job playing the “who has the most titles” game – I could go a few rounds with even St Paul. Al was a great role model, by he was not me, and I needed to find my own identity. If you’ve followed that path on your own, you perhaps recognized, as I did, that with each new laurel you felt better for a bit, but then realized that it really didn’t fill the hole inside – just as any earthly pursuit, material goods, sexual conquests, the best children on the hockey team, all ultimately leave us empty and seeking something bigger in order to convince ourselves that we have worth.

Ultimately, when constrained to the secular world to answer that question, ‘who am I’, the only thing we can do is continue to pile on secular signs of self-worth in an endless and unfruitful attempt to convince ourselves that our identity is safe and strong in what we have – versus who we are. In Alberta I see that so clearly in the number of big pick-up trucks that have an add-on set of testicles hanging from the trailer hitch. If you have a set on your truck, I apologize in advance, but this seems like such a clear example of what I’m talking about – finding the answer to that question, ‘who am I?’ in the secular world. That Alberta answer seems to be, “I’m not quite sure who I am, but I know I’ve got bigger ones than you!” (as a side note, I have a very strong and ultimately self-destructive urge to carry a spray can of pink paint around with me, and to paint each pair of those add-on testes I see…I’ll admit that it’s not self-preservation that stops me, but a strong bias against damaging other’s property). Indeed, much of that self-definition in Alberta is tied up in the signs of a very affluent economy – large homes, lots of toys, big trucks…which is all fine, as long as it is not used as the source of the answer to that question, “who am I?” The problem, of course, is that when one ties identity to the physical things…like the size of the Cummings diesel in your pickup, you will always run into someone who has a bigger engine than you. Identity tied to the physical always puts us on an endless treadmill of acquisition least we be left behind and lose our identity.

Paul addresses this clearly as a repeated theme, here from Romans:

“But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Look at the test for salvation – and it is so simple, “do you believe?” If the answer is yes, you “will not be put to shame” for you will be justified in Christ. That path, the path of Christ, avoids all of the struggles of secular self-worth, by replacing it with only one thing, faith. I want to emphasize here that it is not degree of faith that Paul talks about…like, if you have at least faith equal to 5/10 on the faith-Richter scale you will be saved, but anyone who believes with the heart and confesses with the mouth is saved. So this faith of ours not only pushes aside all of the merits of the secular world, but also pushes aside any attempt we have to assign merit within the faith. Do you believe? Then I welcome you as a brother in Christ, my equal before the Lord, regardless of what the world might think of you.

In fact, even the lists of spiritual gifts are not so much about who is better on the scale, in 1st Corinthians 12: “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…” the structure of gifts is outlined as a part of a diverse body, where every part is indispensable. If you don’t believe that, consider what happens to a city when the sanitation workers go on strike…do you recall the photos from Toronto when that happened a few years ago? Hockey rinks piled high with garbage, an epidemic of rats…etc. All of the high-priced help on Bay Street could do nothing to solve the garbage problem. All parts of the body have equal value before Christ.

I see this so very clearly in my day job – I sit as a commissioner to hear appeals from people unhappy with decisions of the workers’ compensation board. You may not know that I’m a disabled person – one of the ‘hidden’ disabled as it doesn’t really show unless you catch me on a particularly bad day. In hearing appeals I see people who answer the question ‘who am I?’ by saying ‘I am disabled’ ‘I am oppressed’ ‘My life is ended’. This is not joy, this is not abundant life. This is not what Christ has promised us.

This is something that is radically different about Christianity, and I will be the first to admit that as soon as we organize groups into churches, our human nature seeks to assert itself and to make it all about us. There is plenty of careerism among clergy, and lots of self-definition based on possessions in church communities…although we often change this to the language of ‘blessings’ – see how God has blessed me! (with the implicit message, ‘nah-nah-nah, better than you!’). That the church as an organization often fails due to human weakness does not tell us anything about our faith…except to perhaps confirm that we need God more than ever!

We gather as brothers because we need each other: from a brother who has survived cancer, we learn what it is to survive cancer; from the father of a daughter we learn what it is to raise a girl; from a brother who is dying, we learn what it is to die; from a man who has lost a parent, we learn what it is to be orphans; from a brother who has lost a child, we learn how to live through grief. We need each other, and gather in imperfect communities of faith, and share in imperfect journeys of faith, and be imperfect friends, not because we will make our community perfect, but because in Christ, we have no need to because he has made us, and our imperfect offerings, worthy and blessed by His blood.

Let me restate the message by linking together Paul’s words from Ephesians, Colossians and Romans (Colossians 3:9-11, Ephesians 4:20-24, Romans 3:21-25):

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. [Do not fall into the ways of the world], as that is not the way you learned Christ! As the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.”

Our true worth as men, is established because we are justified by faith in Christ, and that is it, full stop. Who am I? A beloved son of the Father, bought by blood, and adopted into the family of Christ, endlessly worthy, totally loved, and completely set apart by faith and God’s grace. Beyond that, what else do we need? Amen. 

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Written by sameo416

January 8, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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