Published: Gospel of Mercy: Remembering Our Identity In Christ

A huge influence on the way we think of ourselves, particularly as youth ministry practitioners, is related to our identity. This is relevant to anyone who isn’t a youth pastor or involved in youth ministry work too, obviously. But recently I’ve reflected on this in relation to the youth pastor position, and had a piece published about it at Rooted Ministry a few days ago.

Part of what I write is that…

“Because of this new identity there are changes to get used to. Things which we used to hold as important and central to our identity become secondary. Our identity as a father or mother, as an accountant or barista, as a top student or college dropout, well, these become secondary to being part of the people of God. These identifying factors, while not redundant, become lesser as our identity in Christ becomes greater.

This even goes for our position in the youth ministry! Whether on a pastoral staff or a volunteer youth leader, our identity is first and foremost with Christ.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Day 11 – You Are A Slave

“…and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27-28)

The bible pictures being a servant of Jesus in extremely strong language.

In the New Testament the use of the word servant can often be translated as the word slave. You can see the two uses of the word in the verses above.

One writer has talked about the distinction of a servant and slave in this way,

“While it is true that the duties of slave and servant may overlap to some degree, there is a key distinction between the two: servants are hired; slaves are owned. Servants have an element of freedom in choosing whom they work for and what they do. The idea of servanthood maintains some level of self-autonomy and personal rights. Slaves, on the other hand, have no freedom, autonomy, or rights. In the Greco-Roman world, slaves were considered property, to the point that in the eyes of the law they were regarded as things rather than persons.  To be someone’s slave was to be his possession, bound to obey his will without hesitation or argument…” (MacArthur, Slave, 16-17)

To our modern ears the use of the word slave sounds harsh, ugly, and distasteful.

You're More Than A Number - You Are A Slave

When we think of a slave or slavery we think of someone who is being used and abused for the profit of another. We think of sex slavery, the slavery of Africans for the promulgation of the United States, the slavery of young girls and women for the pleasure of ISIS fighters in the Middle East.

Slavery is not seen as a good thing. Nor has slavery ever been thought of as a good thing. It has constant negative connotations associated with it.

Yet, the word servant, as in being a servant of Christ, can also mean being a slave, being a slave for Christ.

And while we aren’t being used and abused by our perfect Heavenly Father there is a sense of the commitment and identity we now have when we are follower of Jesus.

When we are called and chose to follow Christ we are all in.

To be a believer in Christ is to not just assent to being a Christian of some description. No, to be a follower of Jesus means we sacrifice our whole lives to follow him.

Our all.

Our everything.

Our entire being and soul and purposes are committed to follow Jesus.

There is no turning back.

When Jesus calls his first disciples we read in many of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke particularly, of how he instructed them to “come, follow me”.

The call to follow Jesus is not simply a call to come with me to the shops, or let’s go for a drive, or “c’mon, let’s go to the footy match”. The call to follow me is a costly call.

It is a call to slavery.

This slavery is not the slavery depicted above. This call to slavery is one that recognises that we are now servants to the Most High God. That we are at the beck and call of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Yet, while this slavery is all that and more, it is really a freedom-giving, redemption-purchasing, forgiveness-finding kind of slavery. It is a kind of slavery that places us in a better position than we find our self otherwise. We find ourselves loved, adopted, and saved through being slaves of Jesus Christ.

In this way, our identity has changed from being about self to being about service.

Our identity is not defined by who we are in any way but by who he is.

Our identity is not determined by the failures we have but by the faithfulness of God.

Jesus calls us to follow him and in doing so calls us to a life of service. A life of slavery for the cause of Christ.

FOR REFLECTION

  • What kind of thoughts come to mind when thinking about slavery?
  • Have you thought about the cost of what it is to follow Jesus? What do you think that means for you?
  • How can knowing being a slave for Jesus inspire you to greater works and commitment to follow him?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God

Day 10 – You Are A Child of God

“…through faith you are all sons (and daughters) of God in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)

Have you ever spent time thinking about time before you were even born?

It’s weird, isn’t it?

It’s weird to think that life existed before you were born, and that your parents had a life without you.

You're More Than A Number - You Are A Child of God

As weird as that is, it’s even stranger to think that God knew you before you were born. Before you were even a child in your family, let alone alive and breathing in human form, God knew you and had created you.

Just as we were once non-existent in our own families, there was once a time when we were not considered part of God’s family.

We’ve been reflecting in this series about our identity. And it is our identity, who we are, that changes when we begin to follow Jesus and accept his lead in our lives. But another aspect to this new identity is that we become a ‘child of God’.

In accepting Jesus by faith we find that we are adopted into God’s family and become one of his children. Of course, we continue to keep our own earthly characteristics, such as our name and personality traits given to us from our biological parents. However, we are now part of God’s family and he considers us one of his children. He becomes our heavenly father perfectly leading and loving us as his children.

And being included into God’s family changes everything.

No longer are we on our own.

No longer is our identity resting on self, or upon anyone else’s view of us.

No matter the circumstances we find ourselves in we can know that we are God’s and he is ours. Our identity is no longer based on our family name, our achievements, our job, our test results, our final score, our sporting successes, our failures, our sexuality, our gender, our looks, our fashion, our social media following. No. No longer are we defined by any of those sorts of things. They fall off the cliff into the river of irrelevance.

We are identified, you are identified, I am identified, as a child of God.  

Galatians 3:26 says, “So in Christ you are all considered children of God”.

This is a powerful statement of our identity.

We are all children of someone, whether we have a good relationship with those who brought us into the world or not. Through Jesus and his work on the cross, through our accepting of that by faith, we find ourselves now part of God’s family. And in God’s family we find we are loved, cared for, forgiven, accepted as we are, and given royal status.

I say royal status because becoming part of God’s family leads us to be considered divine royalty.

The only experience of royalty I’ve ever had is through watching them on a screen and reading about them in the news. A few years ago, when young prince George was born to William and Kate, there were plenty of pictures and articles focussing on the new heir to the family. It was celebratory news. It was a highlight for the world, as the royal family not only had a new child but one of significance who would now be in line for the throne in years to come.

In another part of the bible, Romans 8:16-17, we find we are considered royalty, or heirs, because we are God’s children. It reads:

“The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ…”

What an amazing truth! We, who are sinful and in need of being saved and redeemed, are actually considered a coheir with Jesus because of what he has done! We are part of God’s divine royal family! Wow.

FOR REFLECTION

  • What impact does being known as a child of God have upon your life?
  • How does being a child of God redefine your identity?
  • In what ways can you be encouraged today, realising that you are child of God and part of God’s royal family?

This is part of a devotional series called You’re More Than A Number. To understand the purpose of these posts then please read the series introduction. If you’d like these delivered to your inbox, please sign up to follow this blog or my FB page.

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen

You’re More Than A Number – The Series

Canterbury Baptist Church is situated in the heart of Melbourne’s private schools. Within two kilometres of the church there are six private schools, two public schools, and a number of primary schools. The suburb has one of the highest university entrance rates within the country, and is one of the wealthiest areas in Melbourne. It produces the leaders of tomorrow, in any industry you can think of. Students are well-educated, well-resourced, and driven.

But there’s a problem.

You're More Than A Number - The Series

Expectations on students in this area is astronomical. Expectations come from parents, who have paid plenty of money for their child’s education. Expectations come from teachers and schools, who expect a certain level of achievement for their organisation. And then there is the students own expectations, the results needed for their university course, the ATAR score to match their peers, and a false understanding that their final marks dictate the next 40-50 years.

But this problem isn’t just limited to wealthy areas of Melbourne.

It occurs in every part of the state and country.

Expectations placed on students in their final years of high school has seen many deal with high levels of stress, an increase in anxiety, and even depression. The amount of VCE students with health concerns, mental illness, breakdowns, and other physical symptoms causes concern for friends, family, schools, and society.

In Victoria, all students, at the end of year 12, are ranked against each other. This is known as the Australia Tertiary Entrance Rank (ATAR), where each student is ranked against another from 99.95 down to below 20. In essence, each student is competing against their fellow classmates to see who will achieve a higher score.

By the time a student is 17 years old they have been taught that their results are the most important thing in their life. And while we’d like to think that everyone is simply trying their best, the pressure and expectations from the system tells otherwise.

The underlying assumption taught to our students is that their final score defines their intrinsic and extrinsic worth. In other words, their identity is wrapped up in what they achieve in their final two years of their schooling.

So, for a number of years it has been my desire to write a devotional series for VCE students that speaks to the heart of their identity. Often we define ourselves, often we allow others to define us. In the bible we see it is God who defines who we are.

Identity is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. It is central to how we understand ourselves in light of being Spirit-filled followers of Jesus.

It is my hope this series will help you as a student, or anyone who reads these posts, to understand God and who he has created you to be. I hope to shift your mind to consider how God truly sees you, rather than what others and our wider culture forces upon you. Rather than simply being a number ranked among your peers, you are a unique individual made to glorify God. You are indeed more than a number.


I will kick the series off on Wednesday 1st November, a few hours before all students undertake the English exam. From there daily reflections (I hope!) can be delivered directly to your email (see below) or you can find them through my FB page.


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Here’s the list of the various posts for this devotional series:

  1. You Are Created
  2. You Are Sinful
  3. You Are Forgiven
  4. You Are Called
  5. You Are Redeemed
  6. You Are Loved
  7. You Are Saved
  8. You Are Free
  9. You Are Chosen
  10. You Are A Child of God
  11. You Are A Slave
  12. You Are Made For Good Works
  13. You Are A Follower
  14. You Are Relational

You’re More Than A Number

Hey,

Tomorrow you find out your VCE results.

This is a big day.

It’s a day where you find out where you’re academically rated amongst your peers after 15 years in the education system.

Tomorrow is also a big day for your parents. For 18 years they’ve been encouraging you, praying for you, and helping you learn and grow into who you are today. For them it marks the final hurdle in seeing you complete your studies and the beginning of a new season – university, work, and other adult-like activities.

As much as family, friends, and teachers have told you that your ATAR score doesn’t define you, I know it doesn’t feel that way. I’m sure you’ve been in conversations about what you’d like to get, what course you might like to apply for, and what you’d like to achieve in 2017 and beyond. People can say this moment doesn’t define you but I’m sure you can’t help but feel nervous and anxious about these results. The text message you receive tomorrow may well dictate the mood of your coming days, weeks, and months. It’s certainly not easy to be in the middle of it all, let alone have others try to convince you that it’s not as important as everyone makes it out to be. Everything from school to family to culture implies something different.

It screams make or break.

A friend of mine received a score lower than 30 when he went through VCE. It was disappointing for himself and his parents. Yet over the years he has held a full-time job, completed studies in Marketing, and in the world’s eyes has become ‘successful’. Another friend scored over 98. She had her pick of all the courses in Victoria but chose to continue her passion and study Psychology (a course that didn’t require such a score). A little while after completing her degree she switched to teaching and has enjoyed it ever since.

I mention these examples because as much as their scores reflected their academic results in the year they completed year 12, they didn’t let it define who they were.

The culture you’ve grown up in, the culture you continue to grow into, tells us that it is what we DO that defines us. It is what we achieve, what we accomplish for ourselves, what we are ‘successful’ at, that makes us who we are.

For those of us who follow Jesus this is turned upside-down.

Rather than having to impress God with the things we do and achieve, we are made free because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we have our faith in Jesus, recognising that he has taken our brokenness upon himself, and turn to follow him, we are made new. We are a new creation, a child of God, one who has been bought back to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Since the middle of the year our Sunday services have focussed on our identity in Christ. In the Letter to the Colossians the author makes clear that because of this Good News we are now considered holy and blameless in God’s sight (Col 1:21-22).

Our identity is not defined by what we’ve done, good or bad, or by what we’ve achieved, successful or unsuccessful. We are defined as one who has been made alive in God, forgiven and free (Col 2:13-14).

When you get that text, or make that call tomorrow, the knowledge that you are ‘in Christ’ enables you to have a different perspective.

No longer does the result you achieve define your intelligence, your gifts and abilities, or who you are. Rather, knowing that you are ‘in Christ’ brings perspective and redefines who you are. Look at yourself. God has made you to be you. And nobody else. He’s given you unique passions, abilities, gifts, and ambitions for his good and the good of his kingdom. Therefore, high marks, low marks, bettering your friends or bombing out, do not define who you are.

When we move away from understanding that we are ‘in Christ’, the perspective we have of ourselves becomes distorted. Our self-worth, our identity, and what we deem to be valuable turns inward. We begin to consider ourselves more important and valuable than God and soon enough those things that we DO are defining us again.

So tomorrow, remember that you are worth incredibly more than the number you are given. You are a child of God, made in his image to reflect who he is. You are valuable, someone worth dying for. And you have been made new by the grace and freedom given through the work of Jesus on that cross.

Whatever happens tomorrow Jesus continues to love you and seek you.

Remember, you’re more than a number.