Our Identity in Jesus

The Israelites were God’s chosen people but they often times forgot that they were. In the Old Testament there is a recurring theme of God blessing His people and eventually as generations passed they would forget what God had done for them and as they forgot what God had done they would slowly turn away from Him. God would eventually get fed up with them and would hand them over to their evil ways, but He would not leave them forever. He would always do something to bring them back. This happened over and over again throughout the Old Testament and although it is not a specific motif in the New Testament I would say that in part we continue to do the same thing today. The problem boils down to God’s people not understanding their identity in Him.

What does your identity in Christ look like? Last time we saw that we can either call ourselves children of God or children of Satan (1 John 3:9-10). If we call ourselves children of God then we need to realize what our identity in God actually looks like. Just like as we grow our identity begins to look different, the same thing happens when we grow in Christ. When we are first converted we need to be “fed with milk, not solid food (1 Cor. 3:2),” just like when we were born we needed milk to grow; however, just as when we were born we eventually grew up and began to eat solid food we must also grow in Christ and learn to feed ourselves and to become mature in Him. As we begin to develop our own personality and character traits we must be seeking to become more like Christ in all that we do and we do that by following Him.

For those in the Old Testament things were a bit different than what we have them today. They had a much different system of approaching God, because when Jesus came He gave us access to God by tearing the veil that separated us from the most holy place when He died upon the cross. Matthew 27:50-51 says that “Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.” Now that the veil is torn we have direct access to God. We have Jesus who “always lives to make intercession for them [those who draw near to God through Him] (Heb. 7:25)” and we have the Holy Spirit living within us (1 Cor. 6:19) to guide us and direct us through our life.

So if we have the Holy Spirit living within us and Jesus making intercession for us then how can we get so caught up in the ways of the world that we forget where our identity lies? To answer that let’s take a look at Exodus. By the time Exodus 5 rolls around Moses and Aaron have already confronted Pharaoh and asked him to allow the Israelites to go and worship God. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart though and increased the oppression upon the Israelites so that the Israelites turned against Moses and Aaron and said to them…

Exodus 5:21-23

‘May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharaoh and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!’ Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, ‘Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!’

The Israelite’s had become so accustomed to the oppression that they were under from the enemy that they did not want Moses and Aaron to continue to talk to Pharaoh. Though they groaned to the Lord about the oppression that they had been under they were not willing to trust that God would save them, they were not willing to put their trust in Him. Moses and Aaron were no different even though Moses had gotten his orders directly from God. They were scared and saw that Pharaoh was a hard man and would punish them if they continued in their current course of action, but God had different plans just as He has different plans for you and me.

It is so easy to get caught up in the ways of the world without necessarily realizing it if we are not regularly communing with God and I do not mean by just going to church regularly or even once in a while. In John 10:27 Jesus says that, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” A good shepherd does not leave his flock when He knows that the enemy is near, likewise Jesus is always watching over us when we follow Him because the enemy is always lurking around the corner waiting to attack us. Satan has come to steal, kill, and destroy, but our identity lies within Jesus who came to give us life in abundance (Jn. 10:10).

So if our identity and our security lies within Jesus then how do we ever get away from Him? The answer lies in our actions. Typically we have a tendency to fluctuate between being close to God by following Him closely to being far from God by doing our own thing. This doesn’t just happen overnight typically. For the person who is intentionally following Jesus it typically happens over time as they get focused on other things that are happening around them. Sheep get tend to get focused on eating and as they see greener grass they begin to move towards that and are unaware of what is happening around them or even where they are going. We are much like sheep. We have a tendency to seek comfort and to seek something better than what we have and as we focus our attention on getting something better we can easily take our eyes off of Jesus and wander away, even though He will care for our every need.

The Israelites had wandered away, far away. They had turned from honoring God just as we do, but God wasn’t done with them yet. He had different plans for them other than to be under the oppression of a tyrannical ruler, just as He has different plans for us. Let’s go back to see what God did for the Israelites.

Exodus 6:1-8

Then the Lord told Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!” And God said to Moses, ‘I am Yahweh—‘the Lord.’ I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh to them. And I reaffirmed my covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners. You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them.

‘Therefore, say to the people of Israel: I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’

These are some pretty big promises from a God who allowed them to fall into slavery in the first place, but it was not God’s fault. Sure, He allowed them to fall into the place where they currently found themselves, but it was to teach them a lesson. Just as earthly parents must teach their children our Heavenly Father does the same thing with His children. He has plans for and hopes for us that He longs for us to follow and when we veer away He doesn’t force us back instead He allows us to reap the consequences of our actions and to grow through the process.

It should be noted that each of us has a different lot in life and that God will use us wherever we are and in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Our status is of no regard to God, for God opposes the proud and shows favor to the humble (Prov. 3:34). He is able to use each and every one of us who chose to follow Him and He promises to give us life in abundance (Jn. 10:10), but that does not necessarily mean earthly riches. When we follow God and do His work we are building up for ourselves and inheritance in Heaven.

1 Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

God keeps His promises to us in the face of the enemy, just as we will see with the Israelites who have been under the oppression of Pharaoh. God went on to harden Pharaoh’s heart over and over again as He brought plague after plague upon the Egyptians and their land until eventually Pharaoh along with the inhabitants of the land begged the Israelites to leave and even gave them their possessions, just as God had told them He would do.

Exodus 12:31-36

Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron during the night. “Get out!” he ordered. “Leave my people—and take the rest of the Israelites with you! Go and worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you said, and be gone. Go, but bless me as you leave.” All the Egyptians urged the people of Israel to get out of the land as quickly as possible, for they thought, “we will all die!”

The Israelites took their bread dough before yeast was added. They wrapped their kneading boards in their cloaks and carried them on their shoulders. And the people of Israel did as Moses had instructed; they asked the Egyptians for clothing and articles of silver and gold. The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth!

God keeps His promises and He follows through in ways that we could never imagine. It is not our job to try to figure out how to accomplish the things that God has told us He will accomplish; it is our job to do exactly what He tells us to do which starts with repenting of our sins and following Jesus. God desires us to be holy and will cause circumstances to happen around us to refine us and to strengthen us and to make us into the holy people that He desires.

I have lived a fairly blessed life, even in the face of having walked away from God for six years, but I have faced my fair share of trials and obstacles as well and it never ceases to amaze me how God has used each of those trials that I have gone through to not only bring me closer to Him, but to draw others in as well. For instance the death of a loved one has given me insight into suffering, into the stages that lead into death, the grieving process, hospice, etc., and has given me much valuable and personal experience and insight to use as a hospital chaplain where I often times am dealing with death and sickness.

You see our whole identity is in Christ and the more that we follow Him the more we become like Him. He takes our hard hearts and softens them, He gives us patience, teaches us humility, shows us how to love, but He also reveals to us the strength that we have in Him. When we understand that we are Children of God and that we have been given power through the Holy Spirit to fight the enemy and win we start to live life in a completely different way. We begin to live life in a way that is pleasing to the Lord and attractive to others even if it doesn’t seem to make sense to them. When we take on the identity of Christ our whole demeanor and even our appearance begins to change. Have you ever noticed that someone who has faithfully followed and worshipped God for a long time looks much younger than others their age? Have you ever noticed that they actually seem to have a glow to them? That glow is the light of God reflecting from within them as they have faithfully taken on the identity of Christ and chosen to do the things that He has instructed them to do throughout their life.

Just like God kept His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob He kept His promise to Moses and the Israelites to pull them out of their oppression and to cause His name to be exalted throughout the land. He wants to do the same thing with us. When we get off of our seats and start doing what Jesus is calling us to do we begin to see more of God around us. When we choose to follow Him we begin to see our lives change for the better and are filled with more joy and peace even in difficult situations. When we understand and embrace our identity in Christ we will not be content with standing by and doing nothing while there are people who are lost and hurting around us, people who do not know God and the power that He has over Satan. Satan has already been defeated! In the end we know that we win, but we must be diligent in the battle and stand strong in Jesus Christ who gave His life so that we could have life.

So if you have not been diligent in your walk with Christ then it is time to start. God is not looking for part-time help. It is an all or nothing gig that we have signed up for. There are people around you who are hurting and need to know the love of Christ. There are people around you who are lost and wandering and need to find their way. There are people in your life that you have influence over that need to know that Jesus died so that they can have life if they choose to follow Him, but first you have to know where you are going and that starts with following Jesus and giving Him your heart and whole life. It starts by repenting of your sins and humbling yourself before Him. Anyone who wishes to call them self a child of God must do this. The choice is yours, it has always been yours. And for those who choose to follow Jesus life will be given, but much will be asked of them. It is not a decision to take lightly. It is a decision that requires a community of believers to work together to support one another, encourage, lift up, and even help one another get back on track when needed. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian so if you have decided to follow Jesus then your next step is to get involved into a deep relationship with Him within a community of believers who are diligently following Him.

I pray that you will earnestly seek God in your life and let the Holy Spirit guide your actions. If you have found yourself far from God then I pray that you will turn back to Him and will repent of your sins. I pray that you will fall before Him and that He will forgive you of your sins through Jesus Christ who has shed His blood to blot out your sins for you and to make you pure in the eyes of God. May God be with you as you go and share your faith with others and shine your light into the dark world that you have been placed in. May God reveal who you are in Him and show you just how much you mean to Him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Love and Obedience

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exo. 34:6). “…God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deu. 7:9). “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psal. 36:7). God’s love is powerful, more powerful than anything that we could possibly imagine. It is life changing and is available to all which gives the Gospel so much power. Isn’t it amazing to know that the God that made the Universe, the God that created mankind loves us unconditionally!

It is absolutely true that “God is love,” but the message does not end there. The Bible tells of God’s glorious love for mankind, but it doesn’t just tell of His love. God’s love is available, but we can only access it through obedience and acceptance of His Son, Jesus Christ. Love is a powerful message, but it is not the whole message, because without obedience to and acceptance of Jesus Christ we do not have access to that love. Therefore, the message solely of God’s love is a false message. You do not get His love poured into your hearts unless the Holy Spirit has been given to you (Rom. 5:5). The Holy Spirit is given freely to those who love Jesus and keep His commandments (Joh. 14:15-16). Notice that Jesus didn’t just say that it is given freely to those who love Him; it was contingent on those who keep His commandments.

This image was originally posted to Flickr by jam343 http://flickr.com/photos/24841050@N00/2461973
This image was originally posted to Flickr by jam343 http://flickr.com/photos/24841050@N00/2461973
Love and obedience is the Gospel message and it is the only message that has any power, because without those two in combination there is no access to God. I know this might be contrary to what you have heard, because so many teach of God’s love and how much love He has for His people, but fail to mention that to be called His people we must be obedient to Him. This gives us a false sense of ownership as well as a false sense of inheritance. God is great and amazing and He is love. He has more to offer us than any of our praise could ever begin to relate to Him how thankful we are, but if we don’t truly understand our relationship in Him we are missing out and have been fed a message that is contrary to the Gospel and is not life giving. Sure it makes us feel good to know that God loves us and forgives us, but it requires our obedience and when we have failed to be obedient it requires our repentance.

Repentance is a sorrowful acknowledgment of our sins and it requires us to turn back to God and away from Satan. Psalm 7:11-16 says the following about God and repentance…

God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts. Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.

In this instance to repent literally means to turn back and to turn away from wickedness. Luke 13:2-5 says it differently it says, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In this manner Jesus is telling the people that they must morally reconsider what they have done and to think differently than what they had before they sinned. This is a life changing decision; this is a decision to move from the wide gate to the narrow gate of Christ. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mat. 7:13-14).

Jesus said the following, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (Joh. 15:10). He also spoke of His obedience to the Father in John 14:31, “I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” Even Jesus was obedient to the Father and because of that obedience the world knows that He loved the Father. Jesus was perfect and thus His love is perfect which is why He bids us to follow Him. We on the other hand are not perfect and we never will be. Our lives our sin stained and without the blood sacrifice that Jesus provided for us we are not worthy of approaching the throne of God and He will never know us. God’s love requires our obedience, at least our honest and best attempt at obedience. He knows that we will fail which is why He sent us Jesus so that all who call on Him and abide in Him can be saved.

God’s love is a powerful message, but without obedience it is a message that leads to death for without obedience we are not able to receive God’s love. But don’t worry because Jesus said “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mat. 11:27-30). Will you accept the yoke of Jesus and see that His burden is light?

Father I thank you for your love and for your Son Jesus whom you sent to die as payment for my sins. I am a sinner and I need you God. I love you and chose to turn from my evil ways and follow you. I know that I will mess up though and when I do I will acknowledge that I did not follow your ways and my heart will be grieved. I will turn back to you God and follow you all of my days. I choose to be obedient to you God because your love is worth everything that I have. Accept me Lord and may my life be a testimony about who you are and the love that you have for the world. I ask this all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If this was helpful or encouraging to you please feel free to share it with others. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to make a comment. We all have a purpose and can be used to help others draw closer to God. God bless you in your journey to knowing Him deeper than before and accepting yourself with all of the qualities that God desires for you to have.

We all fall short sometimes…

Whether or not you know me you know that I am not perfect, even though I try my hardest and do my best I am by no means perfect. Sometimes I feel as though my expectations of others are much greater than what their expectations are and I feel let down or disappointed. I feel this way because I know what they are capable of if they only put forth the effort. Some of the most frustrating moments occurred when I was a training instructor for the military. We would get young men and women in of all different backgrounds and upbringings. Some of them seemed destine to just get by, their attitude was clear and they seemed to lack the motivation or drive to apply themselves. That was sad enough, but my biggest frustrations were when those who had the motivation and drive, they had the desire, knowledge, and ability to do the things that they were required to do and they would go above and beyond, but when they didn’t it caused me much frustration and even pain at times. I knew what they were capable of and that they could make a great impact if they only stayed the path.

The same is true for us. I’m not sure exactly what kind of emotions God has, but there are many examples of him having various different emotions so I would say that He can and does get frustrated with us at times, but in a way of knowing what we are capable of and desiring us to see it in ourselves. For me I find that often times when I am praying in the morning I am asking for help in certain areas, usually having to do with being a man after God’s own heart who brings light into the world by building people up rather than tearing them down, but it seems that I often miss the mark and have to ask God for forgiveness for where I did not stay true to the path that He set before me. There are many things that God wants for us and to love is perhaps the greatest, so why is it so difficult to love God and to love others? Perhaps we need to look to Jesus for the answer.

Jesus humbled himself many times during his lifetime. One such time that we know of is when He washed his disciples feet. He placed himself in the lowest position and he served those whom he loved. He demonstrated what it meant to be a disciple in word and in deed. Shortly after washing his disciples feet Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). I know in my life I often can easily portray that I am better than others, not necessarily in a highly obvious way, but in a way of judging others and their situations, of how they act, or even by what they say. I know that I miss the mark often, and I believe that if I could truly know what it means to humble myself before others that I could hit the mark way more often. Rather than looking at someone and seeing their situation maybe I could see them for the hurt that is within them instead. Maybe I could be someone who, with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, could bring some healing to the hurting and broken hearted.

How is God’s heart hurting for you today? We all have different things that we struggle with, I have just shared one thing that I struggle with every day, but struggle signifies a desire to fight and to change. If you are in a place of acceptance then maybe it is time to relight the fire within you and re-engage with your God given desire to be holy, just as He is holy. Certainly we will never be completely holy, at least not in our own power, but through the blood of Jesus we have been made new. We have been restored in God’s eyes, all we have to do is to repent and ask for forgiveness for our failings and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit wherever he may lead us. You have the ability to change people’s lives around you. You have the ability to restore lost people, hurting people, grieving people. You also have been given the responsibility to do these things. How will you respond?

Until next time, may God richly bless you as you walk boldly in the path that He has set before you. May your life be filled with the joy and the peace of knowing that you are doing what God has called you to do. May your hearts be overflowing with love for everyone you encounter.