Identity

Read Philippians 3:7-9

What would you say gives you your identity? Some individuals might answer this question by describing their employment. Others may choose to answer by talking about their degrees or training or certifications. Another potential response may be linked to their name and/or ancestry. Where the person lives currently or lived previously might be the answer a person gives to this question. A list of accomplishments could be the way the person responds. There are a variety of answers the question night elicit and the one chosen provides insight into what the individual determines as important.

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks about what is important to him and gives us a glimpse into how he wishes to be identified. Paul states that any previous accomplishments  or skills are of no value to him any longer. He instead wishes to focus on his relationship with Christ which now has the highest value in his life. He desires to be identified through his faith as connected to Christ.

Reading Paul’s words can cause us to question the man’s sanity. We know that Paul was a very accomplished and respected Pharisee. He also was known to be a Roman citizen which gives him a respected level under the Roman occupation. Since experiencing Christ and changing his direction in his belief of God, he has been a highly effective evangelist, especially to the Gentiles. Why would he say this is garbage in light of his identity in Christ? This talk does not fit the social norms of Paul’s day or of our day.

The truth which Paul discovered is that his most important identifier is found in his relationship with Christ Jesus. Being identified as a follower, believer, and joint heir with Christ was Paul’s greatest accomplishment. This is an important discovery for us as well. Being identified in and with Christ becomes the unchanging determinate of who we are as individuals. The burden of achieving is lessened because we know that in Christ we have achieved the greatest reward. Having to prove ourselves to obtain value no longer is required. Our value is now found in being a child of God, loved by God, redeemed by Christ and identified as righteous.

The Question

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

1 Peter 1:1-12 (NIV)

Is it better to know something is going to happen in advance or accept situations as they occur without advance notice? If you are like I am, the answer to the question is… it depends. There are some items like the cost of repairs, the plans for a weekend, or the arrival date of guests which I want to know in advance. I do not wish to know when something which I cannot control is going to happen because I do not want the added worry. If we knew the negative impact of certain situations, we may never take the risks of stepping out of our front door. There clearly is an important balance which must exist in our lives regarding advance knowledge. Managing that balance is not always within our control.

Today’s passage comes at the start of a letter attributed to Peter. He is writing to a group of exiled Christ followers. But the concept of being exiled here is not necessarily one of being removed from one’s home country but more the sense that a follower of Christ is now like an alien resident in the world around them. Peter speaks of their suffering and grief. They likely were ridiculed for their beliefs and felt like outsiders. A picture of living a difficult life if you are a follower of Christ emerges here. Peter says that their journey through this is evidence of their belief in Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and the promised inheritance. Even though they had never seen Jesus, they believed. Peter assures them that the grace which comes to them was that of which the prophets had spoken.

My question at the start confronts me as I read this passage. Some think that if a person becomes a follower of Jesus, the person’s life will become easier. Peter makes it clear here that this is not the case. The suffering and grief did not go away for these followers. In fact, it seems to have increased. Now my original question  can be adjusted a little and applied to becoming a follower of Christ. If you knew in advance that there would continue to be suffering and grief after becoming a follower, would you still choose to follow Jesus? This is a question which you may have asked yourself before. The question may come up at various times in your life but nuanced a different way because of the current situation at the time. There is nothing wrong with asking the question because it gives us an opportunity to reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ, his resurrection and our promised inheritance. Consider how you would respond to the question today.