Thursday, April 28, 2016

Know Your Identity in Christ

When you know your identity in Jesus Christ, it changes you. It changes everything. You realize that in Christ you are free. God has always given us the freedom of choice. He did not create us as robots. He has never forced us to love Him or obey Him. However, if we choose to follow Christ, we enjoy a new kind of freedom because "through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2 NIV). 

In Christ, we are free from the control of our sinful nature and the death it brings. We are free to turn away from sin. When we are tempted, we have "a way out" (1 Cor. 10:13 NIV). We are free to choose love and let go of hatred. We are free to move beyond the pain and guilt of our past. We can live in freedom as a result of God's grace and mercy.


Let's examine mercy and grace. We are the objects of mercy when we are spared the punishment we deserve. We experience grace when we are offered a free gift we did not earn. It is difficult for us to comprehend grace fully because our society is work-oriented and proud. We have a hard time receiving gifts we haven't earned. We believe we should put in our eight hours and then receive the pay we are due. 

Here's the problem: God does not owe us anything good. God challenged Job, "Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me" (Job 41:11 NIV). We cannot give anything to God that does not already belong to Him. Therefore, God does not owe us any benefits, favors, gifts, or blessings.
In fact, what we are due from God is a sentence of death because the just penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23 NIV). God sent His sinless Son as a sacrifice to suffer our punishment for us (Rom. 3:25; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 5:2; 1 Peter 1:18–19 NIV). We deserve death, and God sent His Son so we could experience life: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23 NIV). We are no longer bound in slavery to death, thanks to God's mercy.
God not only cancels our debts, He also gives us who put our faith in Christ life "to the full" (John 10:10 NIV). We do not have to pay the price for our sins, and we also receive an additional gift: grace. We do not have to wait for our new blessed, eternal life. It begins as soon as we accept, through faith, Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our Savior. God places His Spirit within us, and we embark on a life of fellowship with Him (John 14:16–20, 23; Rom. 8:11; Titus 3:4–7 NIV). God offers us the gift of a personal relationship with Him. We enjoy the entirely undeserved privilege of conversation with the Lord God Almighty. He ministers to our hearts and maintains His hand in our lives to protect, bless, guide, and teach us. We never need to stand alone.
It is humbling to consider how we never can earn or deserve God's great gift to us. Not one of us is good without Him. Paul wrote, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature" (Rom. 7:18 NIV). Not a single hair on our heads, nor a cell in our bodies, is good apart from the Lord. If we could achieve salvation by our own efforts, there would be no need for God's grace (Rom. 11:6; Gal. 2:21 NIV). We would not need a Savior, and our faith would be meaningless. In truth, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23–24 NIV). God "saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy" (Titus 3:4–5 NIV).
There is actually freedom in the fact that God's gift of reconciliation with Him is and must be free. Since the covenant is based on who God is and what He has done, we can rest in this understanding: our salvation is secure. We no longer need to be defined by our sins. We can move forward in grace, knowing we have been forgiven and restored completely. There is nothing in our past God is remembering and holding against us.
It can be difficult to believe we have been redeemed when we feel guilty over past sins and stuck in our sinful nature, incapable of being anything else. When our faith falters, we need simply to turn to God's word, which is full of assurances. Paul asserted that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1 NIV), for "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (2 Cor. 5:19 NIV). Jesus Himself declared, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life" (John 5:24 NIV).
This message of hope is not limited to the New Testament. God reveals the loving, compassionate, forgiving aspects of His nature in the Old Testament as well. Through the prophet Isaiah, God proclaimed, "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more" (Isaiah 43:25 NIV). God urges us "not [to] dwell on the past" (Isaiah 43:18 NIV). He separates us from our sin "as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12 NIV). 

Our God "pardons sin" and "delight[s] to show mercy" (Micah 7:18 NIV). He "tread[s] our sins underfoot and hurl[s] all our iniquities into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19 NIV). Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jer. 31:34 NIV). God has compassion on us "[a]s a father has compassion on his children" (Psalm 103:13 NIV). His love for us is unshakable, and His "covenant of peace [will not] be removed" (Isaiah 54:10 NIV).
God does not view us as worthless disappointments. Instead, He cherishes us as His children. When we put our faith in Christ, God removes our sin and gives us a righteousness we never could earn (Rom. 3:21–25; Rom. 10:4 NIV). As Paul explained, in Christ we can "become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21 NIV). We are "clothed … with Christ" (Gal. 3:27 NIV), and Christ lives in us (John 14:20; John 17:22–23, 26; Gal. 2:20 NIV). When God looks at us, He sees Christ. He loves us as He loves Christ (John 17:23, 26 NIV).
We who believe in Christ have a new identity as beloved brothers of Christ and children of God (Rom. 8:14-17, 29; Gal. 3:26; Gal. 4:4–7; Titus 3:4–7 NIV). With that new identity comes a new way of worshipping God "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23–24 NIV). We now "serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code" (Rom. 7:6 NIV). In Christ, there are no boundaries, only opportunities, because in Christ we are free from the law (Rom. 6:14; Rom. 7:4–6; Rom. 8:2; Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:25; Gal. 5:18 NIV). That doesn't mean the law is now valueless and we should simply ignore the whole first part of the Bible. The law still has purpose today. Through the law, we learn what sin is and become aware that we are guilty of it (Rom. 3:20; Rom. 7:7 NIV). The law exposes our inadequacy and so leads us to our Savior.
The difference in our new view of the law is the understanding that we cannot gain righteousness by obeying the law (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 2:15–16 NIV). No matter what we do, we cannot meet God's standard (Rom. 3:23 NIV). Only God can meet God's standard, which is why redemption, forgiveness, and righteousness must come by Christ (Rom. 8:3–4 NIV). We need to be careful never to be trapped by the false belief that we can meet God's standard and achieve His glory by our own efforts (Gal. 5:1 NIV). It is important to God for us to walk in freedom by His Spirit (Gal. 5:1; 2 Cor. 3:17 NIV).
For people who are already saved, the law serves the further purpose of teaching us what matters to God so we can learn how to be more like Him. We are "dearly loved children" and have a deep desire to be like our Father, following Christ's example (Eph. 5:1–2 NIV). The love of God explodes in our hearts, and we follow Him and obey Him out of this love. As Jesus told His disciples, people who love Him will obey Him (John 14:15, 21, 23 NIV). 

I don’t believe this means we obey God to prove we love Him. No, the love we have for Him because of what He has done for us is what creates a response of obedience to Him. Paul called it "the obedience that comes from faith" (Rom. 1:5 NIV). A life of loving God and loving people with our thoughts, words, and actions is the evidence of our faith (Gal. 5:6, 14; Matt. 22:35–40; John 13:34–35; John 15:17 NIV).
God's love within us brings us freedom because we dont want to sin anymore. We dont want to be in bondage to pornography or envy or hatred. We dont want to be slaves to bitterness. Ive already done this. I have lived such a life, and its painful. Holding a grudge against someone eats at you from the inside out. Its like cancer in your soul. When we are new in Christ and filled with the Spirit of God, we don't want this kind of life anymore. We turn away from destructive ways. We know we belong to God, and we want to do His work (Rom. 7:4; Phil. 3:12–14 NIV). We want to love as He loves. We want to walk with Him and dwell in His presence forever.
God considered a personal relationship with each of us so precious that He paid the highest price in order to reconcile us to Him. Now nothing and no one can "separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35–39 NIV). I know I have not been rejected. I have not been abandoned. I am loved. I am loved beyond understanding. I have received the greatest gift and the greatest forgiveness. I don't need boundaries. My God directs my steps. He changes my path. He is constantly straightening my crooked ways. In every step I take, I rest in God's love and guidance. I have the fullness of joy and peace in every moment of my life. This is freedom.

No comments: