Identity (1 John 3:1-7)

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If you were meeting someone for the first time and they asked, ‘Who are you?’ how would you answer?

I guess the first thing most of us would say would be our names. However, if that person was wanting to learn who you are and not just what your name is, then what would you say?

Many different influences all combine to help shape the people we are – our choices, actions, work, and relationships are just a few. However, to some degree or another all of these begin with the basic building-blocks of our identity which were given to us at birth. While our identity grows and changes over time and through our experiences in life, the foundations of who we are begin with those characteristics which were given to us by our parents and then shaped by our families.

These words from 1 John 3:1-7 can go a long way to help us discover our identity as they point us to a place where we can find who we are through a relationship with God. John tells us that God has given us his love by calling us his children because that is who we are! God pours out his love into our lives by wanting to be in the closest possible relationship with us, so he welcomes us as his children and gives us all of his perfect and infinite love.

We find the love John describes in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Jesus, God clears the way for a new relationship with him. God’s love for us is so great that he took on our identity by becoming human, and suffered more than we can imagine in order to remove every obstacle to becoming his children. Then, through the gift of his Holy Spirit, God our Father adopts us into his family and makes us his children.

God intentionally and deliberately seeks us out, chooses us and welcomes us into this new relationship with him as his children. God gives us a new identity as his children whom he loves unconditionally so we can find who we are in our relationship with him.
As we get to know Jesus, we also get to know who we are. Because Jesus is God’s own Son, when God adopts us, we begin to discover who we are as God’s children because he gives us the nature of Christ. This is what John means when he writes that God

has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is (v2 NLT)

John gives a glimpse of who Jesus is, and who we are becoming as God’s children, when he writes that ‘all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure’ (v3) and ‘when people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous’ (v7). These are two attributes that God gives to us when he welcomes us into relationship with him as his children: purity and righteousness. Basically, along with the gift of identity as God’s child, our loving Father also cleans us out and makes right everything in us that was wrong.

As God’s children whom he loves, then, our journey of faith is to grow into the identity he has given us. God has given us the basic building blocks to our identity as his children whom he loves. In all the circumstances of life, we can continually come back to this promise. However, there are a lot of other factors which shape us and form us into the people we are becoming.

That is why Christian community is so critical in our growth as God’s people. No one forms their identity in isolation. Instead, through our relationships as God’s family of believers, we are formed into our identity as God’s children as we experience the love God has for us in community together. Christian community is also the way in which we help others find their identity as God’s children through their relationships with us.

We need each other – to be giving experiences of God’s love for us in our relationships together and experiencing God’s love for us in our relationships together as God’s children. When we view our congregation’s Discipling Plan from this perspective, it helps us to think of our congregation less as an institutional organisation and more as a family who are growing in the identity God has graced us with as his children. God is connecting with us by making us his children and embracing us with his love, so that we can be connecting with each other as brothers and sisters in God’s family. We can all be growing in our understanding of who we are as God’s children and how his love shapes us in every situation or circumstance of life. As God’s maturing children, then, we can be equipping each other to live out our identity as God’s children in our relationships with others so they can experience the love of God our Father through us. God is then sending us out into the world as his children to bring his love to everyone we meet and to connect with others who haven’t yet discovered their identity as God’s children.

On Sunday three young people received Holy Communion, the family meal Jesus gave to us, for the first time. I wonder what will be the main influences in shaping their identities as they enter their teenage years? Will it be the shallow, individualistic, consumer culture of the society we live in? Or will we step up as their sisters and brothers in Jesus to help them find who they are as children of God who have been given the perfect, infinite and unconditional love of their Father in heaven?

Whatever age we might be, we are all growing into our identities. There may be times when we wonder who we are in the middle of the confusion and struggles of life. In the grace God gives us in Jesus, we can always be strong in what John tells us. Whatever is happening in our lives, we can see the great love God has for us because he calls us his children – and that is who we are!

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‘Clothed in Christ’ (Romans 13:11-14)

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There is a lot of truth in the saying that you should never judge a book by the cover, In the same way, there is usually more to people than what you see. However, there are times when you can tell a lot about who people are and what they do by the way they dress.
For example, you can probably tell that a person is a fireman by the way he dressed, and that his job it to put fires out. A person dressed in surgical scrubs is probably a surgeon who operates on people to help them heal. Someone in a sporting uniform will most probably be an athlete who competes in a particular sport. Depending on the sport, what that person is wearing might even tell you the position that person plays in the team or what her role is in the team.

In each of these cases, there will be consistency between what a person wears, who they are and what they do. You wouldn’t want a person dressed like a fireman to do surgery in the operating theatre. A sportsperson dressed like a surgeon probably will not compete to their full ability. And there is no way you would want to fight a fire dressed like a netballer or footballer. What we wear can say a lot about who we are, and what we do.

When Paul encourages the Christians at Rome to be dressed in Christ, he wasn’t giving them fashion advice. Paul was encouraging them, and us, to find a new sense of who we are and what we are on earth to do through faith in Jesus. Through his death and resurrection, he covers our sin, shame and guilt and gives us a new identity as children of God. Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit washes us clean of everything that makes us unacceptable to God, to others and possibly even to ourselves and covers us with the goodness and purity of Jesus. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our flaws, mistakes, failures or regrets. Instead, because we are covered in Christ, he sees us as his children, whom he loves and with whom he is pleased (see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). In the same way that what they are wearing can tell us who a fireman, surgeon or sportsperson are, so being clothed in Christ tells us that we are God’s children who receive all of Jesus’ goodness as his gift to us through the Holy Spirit.

Just as it makes sense that a fireman, surgeon or sportsperson does will reflect who they are, so the way in which God’s children live our lives needs to be consistent with being dressed with Jesus and who we are in him. It is absurd to think of a fireman in an operating theatre, or a surgeon on a netball court, or a footballer fighting a fire. It makes just as little sense for the children of God to live in ways that are different from who we are as people who are clothed in Christ’s goodness. That is why Paul writes,

‘So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.’ (v12b,13 NIV).

Paul is urging us to be clothed in the goodness of Jesus so our lives show who we are as God’s children.

When we live faithfully as God’s children, we bring the light of God’s goodness into a world that is often very dark. As we begin the season of Advent, in the coming weeks we will be remembering God’s gifts to us of peace, hope, joy and love. People who live in our world, who live right next door to us, or maybe even live under our own roof, often need a greater sense of peace, hope, joy and love in their lives. As we live in ways that are consistent with our new identity as people who are clothed in Christ, we can bring the light of God’s peace, hope, joy and love into their lives through what we say and what we do. By being covered with God’s goodness and living good lives that are consistent with who we are, we are the means by which the peace, hope, joy and love of God enter into the world and bring light into people’s lives. Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, like a lot of people imagine. Instead, the Christian faith is about finding a new sense of who we are as people who are covered by Christ, and then living in ways that reflect our new identity as God’s children so God’s goodness and love can come into the world through us.

We all put clothes on each day. This week, as you get dressed, remember that God gives you the goodness and love of Jesus to put on each and every day. Jesus covers each of us and gives us a new identity as children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, even before we do anything. In the faith that you are clothed with Jesus with all of his goodness and purity, live each day as God’s child and bring the light of his peace, hope, joy and love into the lives of everyone you meet through all you say and do.

More to think about:

  • What are some other examples of how the way a person is dressed can say something about who they are and what they do?
  • Do you agree that it is good for there to be a consistent message given by what a person wears, who they are and what they do? Can you explain why you think that way?
  • What does it mean to you that you are ‘clothed in Christ’? How can that make a difference to your understanding of who you are as a child of God?
  • The beauty of the Christian faith is that being ‘clothed in Christ’ is not about conformity, but finding a sense of identity in Jesus. In what ways can you be ‘clothed in Christ’ without losing a sense of who you are as an individual?
  • If it is good for how us to be consistent in how are dressed, who we are and what we do, how might you be able to show that you are ‘clothed in Christ’ this week?