About 6 months ago, I spoke at my church and at another church, on the topic of “Our Identity in Christ.” Since it was advent season, I chose to narrow the focus to Jesus’ making his home with us (so we could make our home with him). Here are my “sermon notes” from that talk.
Good evening, Merry Christmas, everybody!
[explain Identity Theft and what it is, say I used it as inspiration tonight, and all the quotes I use are going to be from it.]
The title of my talk is “Who Are We, and What Are We Doing Here?” Who are we? And what are we doing here? I have 4 points – well, I have 2 questions for you to ponder, and 2 statements for you to digest – that I am going to point out as we go along.
Kat has been telling me all year about the Kaleo ladies’ meetings, and how you’ve been meeting to Gospel each other through singleness, motherhood, and marriage. Just hearing about the topics and discussions has been encouraging to me, and I don’t even go here! Actually, those three things lead nicely into our topic tonight, but I want to open it up even further. What are some other titles that define us or our relationships with other people? We have single, married, and mother, but what else is there? [open up the floor for answers – mother, sister, daughter, employee, etc.]
Now you don’t have to answer this question out loud, but think about it in your head: how often do you fail at being that thing that you just called out? Or how often to do you fail at being good at it?
- Your kid acts up in public – I’m a bad mom.
- You get a lower grade than you expected – I’m a bad student.
- You can’t QUITE get out the door for DNA on Saturday mornings – I’m a bad church member.
- You sin. Again. And you think, I’m a terrible Christian.
Now, I probably don’t need to hammer this home any harder, because we do it enough to ourselves, but in the book Identity Theft, Hannah Anderson has this to say:
[W]hen we define ourselves with limited categories, any shift in those categories can destabilize our sense of self. What happens to us when life doesn’t play out the way we expected – when a marriage ends or never happens in the first place? What happens to us when we’re laid off or fail in the marketplace? What happens to us when motherhood doesn’t come easily?
I get it, this is Kaleo. We have Missional Communities and DNAs and Gospel-centered preachers. Many of you in this room are probably already trying to Gospel the answers to these questions, and most of us know the bumper sticker answer of “I’m a child of God.” Or – if you’re like me – you’re sitting there thinking, “somebody’s making an idol of something if they’re letting worldly titles define them.”
But I want to go a little deeper tonight, and I want us to start back in the beginning. In the next several minutes, we’re going to take a look at Adam and Eve, at Mary the mother of Jesus, and at ourselves – and we’re going to find the root of where our identity lies. Genesis 1:27 and 31 say,
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
These verses come at the end of a chapter that describes everything God made. The world, the plants and animals, the Garden of Eden, and – finally – people. God made a perfect, beautiful, amazing, completely wonderful home. Then he made perfect, beautiful, amazing, completely wonderful people and put them in that home. And he said, “It is very good.”
I want you to notice something here. He didn’t wait until the people had proven anything to him. He didn’t say, “I mean, the Garden of Eden is nice, but…eeehhhhh…I’ll wait to see if the people are any good. They might let me down.” He didn’t say, “I mean, they’re good for now, I guess, but just wait until they mess up!” No, he just looked at his creation and said, “It is very good.”
When humans were made, we didn’t have to do anything to be “very good.” We didn’t have to work at it. We just opened our eyes, and literally the only things that the Bible says about humans before the fall are:
- God made us in his own image.
- We were male and female.
- We were very good.
Our ENTIRE identity was based on the fact that we were made in God’s image. That’s all we needed. We walked with God, and we lived in a perfect home, and we were completely satisfied being made well by a good God.
But then something happened, didn’t it? Eve stopped thinking that it was enough to be a “very good” creation of the most high God. That serpent came along and deceived her into thinking that her identity as a woman of God was no longer satisfying. Instead, she thought it might be nice to try to be like God. And it all went downhill from there. She sinned, and Adam sinned with her. God had given them one rule: don’t eat the fruit of that one tree. But they took their eyes off of the God who had made them “very good” and put their eyes on themselves, the creations.
Here’s my first question for you tonight.
Ladies, what are you DOING to try to be acceptable to a perfect, holy God who already loves you like you are?
Jasmine Holmes – again, from Identity Theft – writes,
Are you abiding in Christ, or are you abiding in the security of the work of your hands? Are you abiding in Christ, or are you walking in shame at the lack of work of your hands? Neither will do. And neither is what we are called to. Our identity is found in…Christ. If we’re fruitful, it’s because he has given us increase, and we praise him for that. If we’re floundering, we rest in the fact that our true worth comes from his work on our behalf, and we praise him for that.
Back to our story.
The consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin was that they were kicked out of their perfect, beautiful, amazing, completely wonderful home. They were homeless in the world, forced to work for their new home, which they had to make themselves. They were separated from God, unable to do enough good things on their own to make up for their sin.
Because of their sin, every person born after them has been born into a world that was not meant to be their home. And every person born after them has been born with the identify of “sinner” – unable to do enough good things to make up for their/our sin. What they needed – what we need – is a savior.
A few thousand years after Adam and Eve, God sent an angel to a young woman named Mary. The angel told Mary that she was going to have a baby, and that the baby would be the Son of God, the Savior of the world. For a moment, just a moment, Mary took a look at herself and said, “But how can this be? I am an unmarried virgin.” And the angel, the messenger from God, reminded her that this was God’s plan. Mary knew from the story of Adam and Eve that God’s plan was very good. So instead of trying to be God – instead of trying to know better than he did – she said, “God’s will be done.”
Mary was not the perfect person who would save the world; but she was part of God’s very good plan. She opened herself – and her home – up to God’s son, and the world was blessed by her obedience. Ladies, the thing we can learn from Mary is: her identity as a single, barren woman did not stop God from working his very good plan in her. Her single, barren womb was the place that God chose to send his only son to start making his home in this fallen, sinful world.
God didn’t look at Mary and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t use you. You’re, like, a sinner.” No, he said, “You are a daughter of the king, and I will use you to bring Jesus into the world, no matter what you or the world says about you.”
Here’s the second question for you tonight.
Ladies, what about your earthly identity is holding you back from saying, “God’s will be done”? Are you being held back from bringing Jesus into the world around you because you’re “too young” or “not rich enough” or “not a pastor/elder/deacon/Sunday School teacher”? I challenge you tonight, instead of looking at yourself, look at the God who created you “very good” and say, “Your will be done.”
Anyway, moving on in our story. Mary did give birth to God’s son, Jesus. Jesus left his home in heaven to come down here and make a home with us in this world that is our temporary dwelling place. The crazy thing about Jesus is that, for the first time in all of history, a baby was born without sin. He grew up without sinning. He adulted without sinning.
Jesus came to live in our home. He came to share our identity as “very good” creations of God. And, at the end of his life, he came to take AWAY our identity as sinners.
I kind of want to belabor this point, that Jesus came down from heaven to live in our home. Jen Pollock Michel writes,
The God who longed to share a home with his people put on flesh.
A bit earlier, she writes,
Home is the nagging ache of the human existence. We want to be settled somewhere safe; we want to be sheltered from impermanence. All of us are driven to find the place that knows us by name and receives us unconditionally.
But that’s not what Jesus found, was it? The baby that Mary carried into the world grew up, lived a sinless life, deserved every comfort and shelter and unconditional acceptance, and then was wrongfully slaughtered on a cross by his very own creations.
The Bible says that the day before he died, he was crying out to God, saying, basically, “Please, let there be another way.” But there wasn’t another way to take on our sins; there wasn’t another way for us to be able to have a close relationship with God again, like Adam and Eve had had. The only way was for Jesus to die at the hands of sinners. And you know what he said to God as he realized there was no other way? He said the same thing his mom had said 30-something years earlier: “Your will be done.”
So Jesus came to our home, took on our identity, and took his eyes off of himself and put them on the “very good” plan of God. He did the opposite of what Adam and Eve had done. Instead of trying to take the power of God as his own, he allowed himself to be brutally murdered.
At this point in the story, we might say, “What’s the point?!” I’m sure Mary was thinking that as she stood at the food of Jesus’ cross. “What’s the point?!” she must have cried out to God. She had submitted to his will. Jesus had submitted to his will – for what? For her heart to be shattered just as Jesus’ body was? She had opened up her home to him, she had given him the world, and the people in the world had let her down. God had let her down. How could this plan be “very good”?
I know some of us right now in this room are going through a hard time. A hard time at school, a hard time at home, a hard time at work, a hard time with family. Even I have found myself recently without a job during the holidays. (Maybe you’re not going through a hard time, but trust me, you probably have, and you definitely will.) Some of us are doing our very, very best to say to God, “Your will be done,” but it seems like his will is to use us up and hang us out to dry like Jesus was. We want to be sitting with Mary in the stable, squishing Jesus’ little baby cheeks and kissing his face; but it seems like what we’re doing is standing in misery at the foot of the cross, staring at his mangled face and the cheek that Judas kissed.
Here’s the first thing I want you to hear tonight, and it’s something I’ve shamelessly stolen from Timothy Cain.
Mary wasn’t at the end of her story. Neither was Jesus. And neither are you. Jesus, who had lived a perfect life in submission to God’s “very good” plan, took on the sins of the whole world – Mary’s sins, your sins, even the sins of the people who put him on the cross. His death paid the penalty for all who trust in him, from Adam and Eve until now.
In paying for our sins, he took away our identity of “sinner.” Once again, we are now just people, created in the image of God, “very good.” Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, when God looks at us, he now sees Jesus – perfect, beautiful, amazing, completely wonderful Jesus.
Remember those things we said about ourselves at the beginning of this talk? Remember how much we fail at doing or being good at those things? When God sees you, he doesn’t see those identities or those failures (or even those successes, tbh). He sees Jesus; he sees you as “very good” once again. Just like Adam and Eve, you don’t have to do anything to be pleasing to God – you don’t need to wallow in your failures or glory in your successes.
Galatians 2:20 says,
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Remember the title of this talk? Who are we? We’re daughters of the most high God, made in his image. Period.
The best part of this story is that Jesus didn’t stay dead. If he’d just paid for our sins, that would have been nice, but we still needed a home. We still needed a way to be with and fellowship with God forever and ever, like Adam and Eve – like we – were created to be.
So three days after he died on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead. Not long after, he went up to heaven to prepare a home for us. Unlike our original home, this one will not have a tree of the knowledge of good and evil in it; it will not have sin; it will not have a serpent or deception. It will have our Savior. It will also have the believers (like Adam, Eve, and Mary) who have gone on before us.
In Identity Theft, Courtney Doctor writes about her favorite Christmas hymn. She says,
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Has your soul felt its worth? Only one thing can give your soul worth – to know you are a beloved child of God.
Ephesians 1:4-5 says,
[E]ven as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined usfor adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
1 John 3:1 says
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
And the second half of the title – what are we doing here? We’re resting in the finished work of our savior, and we’re looking forward to the day when we can return to the perfect, beautiful, amazing, completely wonderful place that God has prepared for us to live in.
Before I close, I want to leave you with another quote from Jen Pollock Michel:
We feel the longing for home, but rather than understanding God as its true source, we translate home exclusively as a narrative of marriage or motherhood.
(As an aside, I can tell you that I succumb to this narrative subconsciously. This quote pierced my soul, man. I don’t have a husband, I don’t have kids, I don’t own my home – and my home ALWAYS feels temporary. Never mind that I’ve lived in the same room for 3 years now – which is longer than I’ve done since 2001 – I’m always telling myself things like, “When I have my own home someday, I’ll do this differently” or “When I get married, then I’ll feel that permanence I long for.”)
But Jen Pollock Michel has more to say about that:
As it turns out, in God’s story, home is, in one sense, a borrowed city. We’re all tenants in this life, and there’s a great freedom in the way we can live a joyful open-handedness in the here-and-now. None of us knows how long we’re staying. And in another sense, with both the garden and the new Jerusalem in view, home is also the place we leave and the place to which we return. It’s nostalgia and memory; it’s anticipation, too. Home is the two magnetic poles of the human story – and the open invitation of God.
Here is the final thing I want you to hear tonight, and it’s pretty much my whole point. So if you forget everything else, remember this:
Jesus came to our temporary home and took on our identity, so that we could go to his permanent home and take on his identity. He didn’t come here, so he could make us mothers or wives or employees or whatever (though he certainly does those things). No, Jesus was born as a baby in a stable, so that we could live in mansions in glory, in forever-fellowship with God – in our permanent place, where our only identity will once again be “Made in the image of God.” And it will be “very good.”
- Melissa Kruger writes, “Your identity is grounded in God’s work in you, not your work for God.” What goes through your mind when you hear that you don’t have to do anything to be pleasing to God?
- How is living in the freedom of the Gospel the foundation for our identity? How does the Gospel offer truth about our identity and hope for our identity? (Your identity is not in WHO you are, but in WHOSE you are.)
- How does it make you feel to know that you are still in the middle of your story? Does it free you? Does it frustrate you? How should this truth point us to the Gospel?
- Marshall Segal writes, “God not only knit you together in your mother’s womb; he also sovereignly orchestrated all the places you would call home – the periods and boundaries of your ‘dwelling place.’ You do not have a home by accident. Your home is an invitation from God to seek God, and a commission from God to help others seek God.” How does this quote encourage you to use your home, even when “home” may not be in a city you prefer, or may not be full of the family you envisioned?