Discipleship: A Continuing Process of Identity

Yesterday I heard a powerful testimony that centered around the simple context of identity. It was a testimony of salvation tainted with spoils of a life slowly changing because there was a lack of dicipleship which lead to a confused state of identity. There was no one in this man’s life to explain the all important aspects of a changed life or how to apply them in his life. Basically, he was saved and left to his own devices without any help in understanding the context of a changed life or how to achieve a genuine walk in the Christian faith. I was somewhat amazed because I saw so many parallels in this man’s testimony and my own. It took this man more than twenty years to understand his identity. I have to admit, in all honesty, that I struggled with my own identity in Christ for many years. Like this man, there were aspects of my life that caused me a great deal of confusion. It seemed to me, as it did this man, that I was really too wicked for God to love me enough to forgive me of all that I had done and all that was currently wrong in my life.

It all came to a head, in my situation, about three and a half years ago. I had entered into seminary training and I had placed seemingly unobtainable goals or what I thought were necessary milestones on my seminary journey. I had to maintain a 4.0 average. I had to finish a four year program in two years. I had to excel beyond my means or I thought that I was failing God. There was no doubt that God had lead me into seminary training. There has never been any doubts about that. However; I took myself too seriously and the work load began to take its toll on my health. I became ill and nothing could be identified as to the cause for my illness. I had innumerable blood tests, cat scans and MRI’s all of which provided no answer. Still, I plodded along in my studies while maintaining a full time job. I was succeeding in making grades but I was so sick that life could not be enjoyed. Depression set in. Could God not see how hard I was working for Him? I felt so unworthy of His love or of His salvation provided by the blood of Jesus. My wife finally had enough and took me over to some friends for prayer. I grudgingly went along, willing to “try anything” to have the load lifted from my shoulders. While we were there, our pastor came over to visit. He lived next door. I didn’t know what I needed but I knew something had to give. I felt more dead than alive.

After discussing my situation for several minutes my pastor looked at me and asked, “Did God tell you that you had to have a 4.0 average?’ My answer was negative. Nor, I had to admit, had God told me that I had to finish ahead of any prescribed amount of time. My pastor sat back and said, “You know what the problem is. You are chasing a degree more so than you are chasing after God.” This was the LAST thing that I wanted to hear! He could not have taken a dull spoon and cut my heart out and made those words hurt any worse than they did. However, there was way too much truth in those words for me to mount any kind of defense. God bless my pastor. Even though he was acutely aware of how painful his words were to my ears, he didn’t stop there. “You have put your identity in a piece of paper called a degree instead of placing your identity in Jesus!” OUCH! Yet, again, there was too much truth there to argue any other position.

What was my identity in Christ? How could I know what my identity was? No one had ever spoken to me about any such identity before. I decided to consult the Scriptures and, sure enough, the answer was there. I learned that who I am is not tied to what I do for a living, where I live, what kind of vehicle I drive, or anything that I can or cannot do within my own flesh. The following verses are but a few examples of my identity that I found in Scripture.

Galatians 2:20–21 (NASB95)

20  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

21  “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

I’d read these two verses many times but on this particular reading at this particular time in my life I finally understood that I no longer live. Jesus lives in me through the Holy Spirit that dwells within me. Although I currently live in the flesh it is by my faith in Jesus Christ that I now live for He loved me and gave His life for me. Verse 21 nails it down though. Although I am not perfect and cannot be perfect, no matter how much I attempt to be, I do not frustrate God’s GRACE which would mean that if I could be perfect then Christ died needlessly.

1 John 4:4 (NASB95)

4  You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.

I am a child of God even though I am saved and even though I am still imperfect and still a sinner. Great is the Holy Spirit within me than Satan who roams the earth seeking whom he may devour.

Isaiah 54:17 (NASB95)

17  “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper;

And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn.

This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord,

And their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord.

Being a child of God, nothing that Satan tosses at me or into my path can stop me from being God’s own. No tongue that accuses me in judgement will succeed for God will condemn it. That is my HERITAGE as God’s servant. My vindication is directly from God!

Mark 11:23 (NASB95) The words of Jesus himself.

23  “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.

No matter what stumbling blocks Satan throws into my path, if I pray that they are removed and do not DOUBT God in my heart and believe that God will remove it, it will come to pass.

And, finally, I love this passage in that it relates not only to our identity but to our identity as a means of stewardship.

Ephesians 3:8–21 (NASB95) (Paul speaking. The emphasis in bold italics is mine.)

8  To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,

9  and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things;

10  so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

11  This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

12  in whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.

13  Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.

14  For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,

15  from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,

16  that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,

17  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

18  may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

19  and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

20  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,

21  to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Paul speaks calling himself the “least of all saints”. He speaks of grace and eternal purpose. We have bold, confident access to Jesus. We are strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Paul tells us that the love of Christ surpasses our ability to understand His desire to fill us with the fullness of God. God is able to work in us and through us exceedingly and beyond anything that we can ask or even think of asking. Therefore, it is clear that my identity is in Jesus Christ, that nothing I have done can separate me from Him. Nothing can keep Him from using me to expand His kingdom. That’s who I am. I am a Child of God to which I resoundingly shout, “To Him be the Glory!” God Bless!

In His Grip,

Lonnie Richardson

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