Misplaced Identity

Col 3: 1-3

Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete (v10). So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you (v. 12).

Something to think about …

Many of the problems that plague us as Christians begin with misplaced identity. We think of ourselves primarily through the lens of success at work, the well-being of our children, the fruitfulness of our ministry, our feelings of fulfillment, or our ability to achieve our goals and dreams. We may even see ourselves almost exclusively through our sin or through our suffering.

For some their ministry or their church community had become their identity.

One of the easiest ways for Satan to lure us in trap of “false indentity” is to make us think that we are define by what we do. That is a slave mentality. That’s like living outside of God’s love.

We focus on our external performance and become proud like the Pharisees. We may then begin to look down our spiritual noses at others who are not as disciplined, obedient, and committed as we are and in a very subtle way begin to feel spiritually superior to them.

Perhaps we believe we are the exact opposite. we find ourselves dealing with some of the sins of the heart such as anger, resentment, covetousness, and a judgmental attitude. Perhaps we struggle with impure thoughts or impatience, or a lack of faith and trust in God. Because we have put the gospel on the shelf as far as our own lives are concerned, we struggle with a sense of failure and guilt. We believe God is displeased with us, and we certainly wouldn’t expect His blessing on our lives. After all, we don’t deserve His favor.

Because we are focusing on our performance, we forget the meaning of grace: God’s unmerited favor to those who deserve only His wrath. Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they have earned God’s blessing through their behavior. Guilt-laden believers are quite sure they have forfeited God’s blessing through their lack of discipline or their disobedience. Both have forgotten the meaning of grace because they have moved away from the gospel and have slipped into a performance relationship with God.

Jesus taught this parable early in His ministry. The parable was about two sons who both lived outside their father’s love. The first one was rebellious, and the other one was devout. But neither of them could understand their father’s heart.

The younger son wanted to have total control over his own life and did not want the guidance and approval of his father. Jesus said the younger son consumed everything he had through wild living (see Luke 15: 13). Then his world was turned upside down. The younger son was forced to hire himself out to a pig farmer where he was treated less than a human being. In fact, he was treated a little lower than slaves, as the pigs were considered more important than him!

You can see a powerful image of the consequence of rebellion –the insistence that we can live outside our Father’s embrace. His self-will drove him to the pits of despair and into a spiritual pigsty. He also began to compare his current status to the servants who worked for his father. He concluded that they were better off than he was. The younger son said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” (Luke 15: 17, NIV) Then it hit him like a thunderbolt–his father was a good father. He knew in an instant there was nothing else he could do except to seek his father’s face and beg for mercy. Only one thing had been stopping him: his belief that no one could accept a rebel such as himself, he wanted to return home and work for his father as a slave.

Let us fast-forward to the time when the younger son decided to come home, and his father accepted him as a long lost son, not as a runaway slave. When the eldest son saw the extravagant welcome his father gave his younger son, he was raging mad. He could not understand his father’s way of thinking. His father went out to talk to him and pleaded with him to come and celebrate with them. The elder brother refused to come.

Many Christians are just like this eldest son. We are so busy doing good, religious works we fail to realize that these spiritual practices are never meant to give us additional kudos points from God. We fail to take the time to get into the Presence of our Father and look intently into His face to know our place and to find our identity in Him. This is also an expression of a slave mentality.

We forget that our performance is never good enough to be acceptable to Him. The only way we can relate to God is through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. It is only the blood of Jesus that will cleanse us from a guilty conscience and give us the confidence to enter into the presence of God (Hebrews 10: 19-21).

The older son was in the presence of his father, but he seemed oblivious to the fact that he was a son. He had never understood the heart of his Father, and this severely affected his self-image.

The older son must connect to his Father, for it is the only way to establish his identity. But, because he spent more time in the fields than in the presence of his father, the eldest son was unable to look intently into the face of his father. He was not able to discern what was in store for him and the destiny that was before him. Therefore, he behaved like a slave instead of as a son. He acted differently by acting as if he did not have a home, when, in fact, he had legal rights as an heir. The father said to him, “Everything I have is yours.” (Luke 15: 31, NIV) For as long as the elder brother could remember, he had always been with slaves, so it did not occur to him that he, too, was part of the household and not just a hireling.

The older brother proves that you don’t have to be a backslider in order to live outside of the Father’s love. You can be always be in “your place” of service, work hard, and still live outside of His love.

There is a major difference between knowing there is a Father and believing that He is Father to us. We have said the Lord’s Prayer countless times. In the opening verse it says, “Our Father in heaven…” Jesus’ words demonstrate a correct understanding of who the Father is and where He dwells. But more importantly, there is the correct emotion that must come to make that utterance potent and effective. No one can say Father without affection. When we pray to God for His blessing, He does not examine our performance to see if we are worthy. Rather, He looks to see if we are trusting in the merit of His Son as our only hope for securing His blessing. To repeat: We are saved by grace, and we are to live by grace every day of our Christian lives.

We have seen there are actually two brothers in the Parable of the Lost Son. Both of them tried to live life outside the home. The prodigal son decided to put as much distance as he could from his father and spent all his time and money pursuing the things he thought could make him happy and satisfied with life. The devout brother, on the other hand, also lived outside his father’s will for he thought he could impress his father by working in the fields along with the slaves. Both of the brothers represent the way the world deals with Father God. Both of them fell short of God’s glory, and both of them needed to come home.

We believers do need to be challenged to a life of committed discipleship, but that challenge needs to be based on the gospel, not on duty or guilt. Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ’s love for us will motivate us for a lifetime. If the love of Christ for us is to be the motivating force for a life of discipleship, how then can we come to the place where we are acutely conscious of His love? The answer is, through the gospel. It is, of course, the Holy Spirit who pours out His love into our hearts (Romans 5: 5), but He does this through the message of the gospel. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus paid for all our sins on the cross and that we are thereby forgiven. As we continually reflect upon that gospel, the Holy Spirit floods our hearts with a sense of God’s love to us in Christ. And that sense of His love motivates us in a compelling way to live for Him.

Jesus made it unmistakably clear that the knowledge of the truth will set us free. “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8: 32). Good feelings will not free us. Ecstatic experiences will not free us. Getting “high on Jesus” will not free us. Without a knowledge of the truth, we will not be free.

We need to continue to hear the gospel every day of our Christian lives. Only a continuous reminder of the gospel of God’s grace through Christ will keep us from falling into “younger son-older son” thinking, wherein we think our daily relationship with God is based on how good we’ve been.

It is only the joy of hearing the gospel and being reminded that our sins are forgiven in Christ that will keep the demands of discipleship from becoming drudgery. It is only gratitude and love to God that comes from knowing that He no longer counts our sins against us (Romans 4: 8) that provides the proper motive for responding to the claims of following Jesus.

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