IDENTITY IN CHRIST
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
October 9, 2016
TEXT: I Peter 2:9-10
Today we continue our series called "Believe" - our focus on learning to think, act and be like Jesus. What is it that we believe? We believe in the one true God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God wants to have a personal relationship with us - and has given us the wonderful free gift of grace! We learn this good news through the truth of God's word - the Bible. And we as the church are called to live out that message of God's good news.
With all of that as a foundation to what we believe - we turn now to one of the most important and most asked question in our lifetime - "Who am I? What is my identity?" It all begins when we are children - and continues throughout our lifetime either consciously or subconsciously, we all struggle with "who we are".
For example, I grew up with two older brothers. I was always known as the "little sister" - kind of feeling like I was living in their shadow! I still remember the day when I literally said, "I am tired of being the little sister" - I want to be me - known for who I am, rather than being Rick or Randy's little sister. Who am I?
We grow up with all those voices we have heard in the past - voices that still run in our heads about who we are. Sometimes those voices were good - coming from people that you loved. Voices that made you feel accepted and respected. But there are also voices that run through our heads that tear us down - that steal our identity. Those voices may come from people in our past - or from the culture and media - or even from Satan's deceptive lies. Voices that say:
n I'm not good enough
n I'm not smart enough
n I am too fat, too short, too old or too young, too poor, too ugly
n I am a failure
n I am boring
n I am just born this way and I will never get any better
The question for us is this: "Which voice will you listen to?" What are you going to believe about yourself? Can you believe what the Bible says about you? Can you believe what God says about you? Can you believe that you are significant because of your position as a child of God?
I really believe that I can't fully know who I am without knowing Christ and understanding His plan and purpose for me. Blaise Paschal, a 17th century philosopher once said, "Not only do we not know God except through Jesus Christ; We do not even know ourselves, except through Jesus Christ."1 We have to turn to Scripture - to hear the words of the words of Jesus Christ - to really know who we are.
Our Scripture for today comes from the book of I Peter. I invite you turn in your Bibles to I Peter near the back of the Bible, right after the book of James. As you are turning to I Peter, let me tell you that my message today was inspired by a great sermon I heard from Rick Warren about our true identity in Christ.2 He used as the base of his sermon, this passage from I Peter, where we learn about our identity in Christ.
Peter wrote this letter to Christians who were being persecuted in the early church - probably around the reign of Emperor Nero. Christians were suffering - and being persecuted because of their faith. So, Peter wrote to them to encourage them to stand strong in their faith and remember who they were in Christ.
Turn to I Peter 3 and we will be reading verses 9-10. In this part of Peter's letter, he is describing how the church is a living spiritual temple with Christ as the foundation and cornerstone. Many reject that cornerstone - and don't obey God's word. But we, who have accepted Christ, are not like that. Look at verse 9, Paul says:
9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God's very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.
10 "Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God's people. Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God's mercy."
Wow! What encouraging words! Words we need to claim as our identity!
How incredible it is to know that we are a chosen people - accepted by God. I think all of us have known at some time or another what it means to be rejected or the one not chosen. I know many of us remember being the last one picked to be on a baseball team or volleyball team in PE classes. Or maybe it was not being picked for a high school dance - or an audition or maybe a job. Or even harder, we may know the deep pain that came with the rejection of a parent or a spouse - or a close friend or even an employer. That kind of betrayal or rejection can cause a deep wound that can hurt forever.
But we can know that we have been chosen by God! God does not reject us or turn away from us because of how bad we are or how unworthy we are. On the contrary, God reaches out to us while we are yet sinners - sending us His love through His Son Jesus Christ. And what is so amazing that God had this as His plan even before the world was created!! It says in Ephesians 1:4 - "Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes." God chose us - not because of how good we are or because of how many good deeds we have done, rather, God chose us because He loves us. And because of what Jesus has done for us. Titus 3:7 says, "Jesus treated us much better than we deserve. He made us acceptable to God and gave us the hope of eternal life!" That acceptance is a free gift of grace to all who believe; we don't have to earn it!
We are chosen and accepted by God. And we are treasured - God's own special possession. God tells us in Isaiah (43:4) that we are "precious to Him" and in Ephesians (2:10), that we are His masterpiece!
When I was a teenager, I had a poster in my room that said "God doesn't make junk!" I think I needed it there to help remind me that God looked at me much differently than I often looked at myself. So many times we can be deceived into thinking we are junk. Maybe you've heard those voices in your head that say you aren't good enough or that you will never amount to much. Or maybe you just think that you are damaged goods - and not worth very much. Well, the good news is that God doesn't see you that way. He sees you as extremely valuable. Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, "Look at the birds God feeds them and you are far more valuable to Him than any bird." (Luke 12:24)
You and I am so incredibly valuable and treasured by God because we are children of God. We are part of His family. Romans 8:14-17 says, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as His own children. Now we call him, "Abba, Father,". For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children. And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory." We are in the family of God and one day will receive the family inheritance! One day in heaven, God will share His glory with us! What an incredible gift and promise!
Not only are we chosen and treasured, we are deeply loved. We are God's own people. As it said in our text for today, "Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God's people." God has claimed us as His own. And the good news is that God is not ashamed of us.
Have you ever had those people in your family that you were ashamed of maybe you didn't want people to know you were related to that person. Or maybe, you have had people in your family shame you - and turn their backs on you. Well that will never happen with God. God has called you into His family and looks at you with love.
We are told in Scripture, that we are the sons and daughters of God the Father (II Corinthians 6:18) and that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters" (Hebrews 2:11). We have a forever family and we are loved eternally. In Jeremiah (31:13) we hear God saying, "I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love, I have drawn you to myself." God's love is unconditional and unending. We never have to doubt whether God loves us or that we will ever be separated from the love of God! (Romans 8:35-37)
We are chosen. We are treasured. We are loved. And we are forgiven! I Peter 2:10 says, "Once you received no mercy; now you have received God's mercy." The incredible gift we have in Jesus is that gift of grace and forgiveness of sins. But we as humans have a hard time with forgiveness. We hold grudges and we don't forget past mistakes. And Satan can deceive us and try to condemn us for the sins we have committed - making us feel unforgivable. But God says, no, that is not who I am. In Isaiah 43:25, God says, "I am the God who forgives your sins, and I do this because of who I am, I will not hold your sins against you."
When God forgives, He forgives completely. He blots out the sin - erases it completely - and does not remember it anymore! With that gift of mercy, He sets us free from the burden of sin that we try to carry around with us, weighing us down and making our life so miserable.
Who am I in Christ? I am chosen, treasured, loved and forgiven! And I am called! I Peter tells us we are royal priests, a holy nation, called out of the darkness into the light - so that we can show others the goodness of God. As priests, we have been called to represent God to the people. Every believer in Christ is a priest - a minister who has a calling to tell others about the love of God. We are living in a dark world where we need to bring Christ's light. We are living by neighbors who so badly need to know what their identity is - to know that they are a dearly loved child of God - treasured and forgiven.
And the good news is that you and I are not just called - we are empowered. We have all the strength we need! We are fully capable and adequate to go out and tell others about Jesus. We are able because God is able - God's power is at work within us. It is so easy to say, "I can't do it. I am not adequate. I am not very strong or powerful." But we are assured in Scripture that we are capable and powerful because of the strength of Christ within us. As Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". (Phil. 4:13)
Who am I in Christ? Say it one more with me: I am chosen, treasured, loved, forgiven and called. And what a big difference it makes in our lives when we really believe that!
Fred Craddock was a great Disciples of Christ pastor and professor. He was also a great storyteller - and he had one story that you may be heard before - but it bears repeating on this day when we are talking about our identity in Christ.
One day Fred was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, when they stopped at a small country diner for breakfast. While waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with each diner. At last, he made it over to their table.
"Where are you folks from?" he asked in a friendly voice. "Oklahoma," they answered.
"Great to have you here in Tennessee," the stranger said ... "What do you do for a living?"
"I teach at a seminary," Fred replied.
"Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, in that case, I've got a really great story for you." And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with this couple from Oklahoma.
The man started, "See that mountain over there? (pointing out the restaurant window). Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up in these parts, because every place he went, people always asked him the same question, 'Hey boy, who's your daddy?' Whether at school, the grocery store or the drug store, people would ask 'Who's your daddy?'"
"The boy often avoided going places just to avoid hearing the question, 'Who's your daddy?' A new preacher arrived in town and one Sunday as the young boy was going out of church with the crowd, the new preacher, not knowing anything about the young boy, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?'"
"The whole church got deathly quiet and the preacher could feel that every eye in the church was watching as if now they would finally know the answer to the question, 'Who's your daddy?' Sensing this awkward situation around him and how uncomfortable the little boy looked, the preacher said 'Wait a minute! I know who you are! I can clearly see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.' With that the preacher patted the little boy on his shoulder and said, 'Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go out in the world and claim it.'"
"The little boy, for the first time in a long time, smiled big and walked out of church that Sunday a changed person. He was never the same again. From that day forward whenever anybody asked him, 'Who's your Daddy?' he'd just tell them, 'I'm a Child of God.'''
The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, "Isn't that a great story?" Fred and his wife were obviously moved and both responded that it really was a great story! As the southern gentleman walked toward the door to leave, he turned to look back and said, "You know, if that new preacher hadn't told me that I was one of God's children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!" And with that he walked out of the diner.
Well they were stunned by those final words. When the waitress came to their table with their bill, Fred asked, "Do you know who that man was -- the one who just left our table?"
The waitress grinned and said, "Of course. Everybody down here knows him. That's Ben Hooper. He's the former Governor of the State of Tennessee!"3
And yes - that is a true story!
What difference would it make if people knew they were God's children - accepted, loved, treasured and forgiven? What difference would it make in your life to REALLY claim who you are in Christ?
2Rick Warren, "Learning My True Identity in Christ" - https://youtu.be/AolN3_JldmI
3http://gabesfascinatingstories.blogspot.com/2011/09/who-is-your-daddy.html This great story is attributed to Dr. Fred Craddock, Pastor of Cherry Log Christian Church, Cherry Log, Georgia