A long time ago, I traveled with a worship band on the road. We spent a lot of time on airplanes, so we decided that, instead of sitting next to each other on the flights, we would split up and sit next to strangers so that we could potentially talk to people about Jesus. If any of you have ever tried it, opening up a conversation about faith is not the easiest thing in the world. You can’t just blurt out – “Hey! I’m a Christian…are you a Christian!?” It freaks people out. So, I would always try to start the conversation out by asking people about their lives. Ultimately that would lead them to ask me about what I do, and I was able to say, “I play for a Christian worship band.” At this point, based on their response, I could tell quite a bit about who I was talking to. They would either squirm and awkwardly say something like, “Aahhh….ok”, or they would light up a little and say something like “Oh that’s awesome!” Either way, I’d follow that up with a question – “Are you a Christian?”
What happens when you ask a stranger who they are? You begin to get a picture of how they identify themselves…which gives you a picture of the things that are most important to them. On all those flights, when I asked people, “Are you a Christian?”, what I was really asking was, “What’s your identity?” The responses I got were all over the spectrum. For the squirmers, I would get, “No…not really.” Then they would go on to tell me everything they thought was wrong with organized religion…a lot of which I actually agreed with. But, that opened an opportunity for me to talk about how the character of Jesus isn’t determined by the behavior of human beings or our institutions. Sometimes that led to a fruitful conversation….and sometimes it led to a very tense rebuke from them…usually something about how talking about religion is “rude”, or “too personal”. That’s to be expected honestly. But, what I found more shocking though were the responses from believers. Frequently, I would get to that point in the conversation where I’d ask the question, “Are you a Christian?”, and they would say, “No…I’m a Baptist”, or “I’m a Methodist”, or “I’m a Presbyterian”, etc. That was the most bizarre thing to me that someone wouldn’t make the connection that these are all Christian denominations. For whatever reason, these people identified themselves by the denomination of their local church rather than the One these denominations are supposed to point to.
Paul had some thoughts on this. “…for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not being merely human?” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4) What if we were to say it this way – “For when one says, ‘I follow the Baptists,’ and another, ‘I follow the Methodists’”….? I don’t want to make it seem like I’m just coming down on specific denominations. I’m thankful for the kaleidoscope of the Body of Christ. Try saying it again…and insert your job ☺ What I’m talking about is identity. Jesus is the North Star of our faith. He Is….everything. As believers, if we lose sight of that and begin identifying ourselves by anything else – a job, a denomination, a gender, etc – we could ultimately find ourselves in a place where that thing takes the position of “most important” in our lives.
There’s a prayer that Jesus prayed over the disciples just before He died on the cross that puts this in perspective for me. He asked the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” In that prayer, Jesus revealed many things. For one – he revealed one of the keys to evangelism. “…so that the world will believe that you have sent me.” Jesus says that if His Body is “one”…in unity… it would cause the world to believe! Yet, what’s the one thing that the Body of Christ seems to have the hardest time with? It makes sense to me… The Enemy has a strategy to cause the world to NOT believe. He also knows the Word of God. So, I’m sure he’s looking at Jesus’ prayer thinking to himself, “Well…Jesus says here that if the Body is in unity, the world will believe…but, I don’t want them to believe… So, what’s my strategy…? AHA! I got it! I’ll DIS-unify them! “ I think one of the ways this happens is through identity. We put things in front of us, identify ourselves with that thing, then begin to look at Jesus through the lens of that thing. Then, if someone else is looking through a different lens…their view of God may be different…then come the arguments and divisions. If we are looking at Jesus through the lens of the things we identify with, we may have a tainted opinion of who Jesus is. But, if we are IN Christ, just as the Father is in Jesus, as Jesus is IN the Father…the opinions of men, our jobs, our status in this world…none of those identities matter. Jesus said in John 15, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” The world has a different message. They place all emphasis on the individual. You’ll hear phrases like “Trust yourself” even though the Word of God teaches that we should trust in God alone because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9) and “there is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12) Does anyone really trust themselves enough to decide who the Lord is? But, there’s something in human beings that want so desperately to hold onto our own identities. Adam and Eve tried in the garden…they were tempted when the Enemy told them they could “be like God”. Their temptation was to take control of their own destinies…begin to define their own realities. Yet, here is Jesus…giving us the key to what we are really looking for – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25) What is it we are really looking for? Real life. Real love. Real truth. For some reason, we tend to think we can find these things in ourselves…but, Jesus reveals the key to finding these things is by giving up….laying down our own thoughts, our own opinions, identities, feelings…and submitting and trusting Him alone. If we do…we’ll “find it.”
What if how we see ourselves is different than how Jesus sees us? Does He see me as a musician? Does He see me as a videographer? Or does He see me as His…IN Him? I strongly encourage you to do a search for the phrases “In Christ”, “In Him”, and “Through Him”, particularly in the books of Ephesians and Colossians. This will give you a clearer picture of how the Lord identifies you and your positional relationship with Him. Then ask God – “Am I holding onto my own identity? Or am I giving up everything “i am” in order to gain the I AM?”