Finding Your IdentityJune 03, 2019
by William Edgar
“And I will Give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone” – Revelation 2:17
Finding your identity does not mean getting rid of all your ambitions. Nor does it mean becoming ‘spiritual’ in the wrong way, that is, to be ‘so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good,’ as the expression goes. There is a tradition in the history of the church called mysticism. There are many varieties of mysticism, but most have in common a disdain for the world, and a gaze into the heavens that prizes intangible things over this-worldly living. It’s an important balance to keep. The present world will not last. The world to come is the more permanent place. And yet this view should not lure us away from today’s earthly tasks.
The gospel never stops at the negative.
Here is an example from the New Testament. In his magnificently constructed letter to the Ephesians the apostle Paul describes the Christian life as one of blessedness, that is, of great joy in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3). He declares God’s purposes in us to be ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ (1:6). This language is about our existence being for the purpose of worshiping God. The language could not be more spiritual. The entire first half of this letter piles on the many dimensions of God’s grace and mercy to us. Then, without leaving off these thoughts, the apostle focuses on application. Among other issues in the Christian life, Paul discusses money. It’s brief but to the point: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he might have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28)
From the lofty heights of God’s praise, we move to the need to reform the way we handle our finances. Stealing is not only the devious burglar who breaks into a home and makes off with the silver. It can be cheating on taxes, not sharing gratuities, siphoning fuel from another car, plagiarizing examination answers, and so forth. Even desiring something we shouldn’t have is a form of theft. So, the apostle says that now that we are in Christ and have the power to change, we must desist from thieving. However, the gospel never stops at the negative. It always goes on to replace what is forbidden with what is now commended.
The great appeal of the gospel is that it gives us a new identity.
Paul says two things. First, we must work with our own hands. Manual labor is an important form of work, but today it is hardly the only form. There is a great variety of legitimate work we may engage in, from desk jobs to sales to scholarship to athletics, and much more. When he says to do it with our own hands he means the work must be our own, not done illegitimately. This, among other things, is a way to provide for oneself and one’s family, before the ‘audience of one’. But then second, he says to take some of the gain and give it to the needy. The whole subject of poverty relief is a large and complex one. But the principle is that we ought to do it.
How does this relate to identity? Because our human person is meant to be lived not only before God, who sees all, but in the light of Jesus Christ, who so loved us that ‘though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich’ (2 Corinthians 8:9). The great appeal of the gospel is that it gives us a new identity, one that is in continuity with our particular selves, yet makes us new persons. Our new self begins here in this life and then in the life to come will be raised up to enjoy fellowship with God forever. Paul in another place says that ‘if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). That is true both now, even though we are still in our old frail bodies, and in the life to come when we will be made fully whole. C. S. Lewis puts this beautifully:
The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be … It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.
Excerpted from William Edgar, Who Are You?: Answering Questions about You, Me and God, (Ross-Shire, Scotland, UK: CF4Kids, 2019), 14–17. Used with permission of the publisher.
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