“For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” – 2 Peter 1:9
“Bond, James Bond.”
When these words first appeared on screen in 1962’s “Dr. No,” a new social icon was born. 26 movies and five decades later, many still consider James Bond the ultimate secret agent – suave, efficient, ruthless, supremely confident, and always successful in completing his mission. He knew who he was.
40 years after Dr. No, another icon exploded onto the public: Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne in “The Bourne Identity.” Bourne is a different type of secret agent, gifted with amazing abilities but completely lacking in the core arrogant confidence of Bond. Why? As you may recall, we’re introduced to Bourne as he wakes up from a failed mission with no memory. He had no idea who he was.
The striking difference between Bond and Bourne reminds me how many of us often confuse our lives as Believers. We seem confident in our own abilities to do while forgetting who we are in Christ.
Identity First, Then Action
It’s understandable, really. Easily measured accomplishments attract us: how many new members our churches add, how many followers or likes or shares we have on social media, how much money our fundraisers produce, how many books we sell, how much we’ve done for the less fortunate, the praise and recognition we receive for being “Good Christians.”
What does it really mean to be a “Good Christian?” Endlessly demonstrating our compassion in public squares like the teachers of the law described in Luke 20:45 while turning a blind eye to those most desperate right in front of us? Or perhaps checking the box every Sunday in our favorite pew, dutifully tithing while whispering gossip about our neighbors?
Does God care about what we can do for Him if we forget who we are in Him?
We see this in our everyday lives. Loud voices argue endlessly over what this or that interpretation of Jesus would do if faced with modern problems. We change the meaning of scripture to appease the “enlightened” mind. We’re convinced if we simply act in accordance with what we believe to be true, we’ll demonstrate our righteousness.
It’s easy to understand why we get discouraged and frustrated with modern Christianity. One celebrity pastor says one thing, another says something entirely different. Every word seems to be about us doing rather than first focusing on us being.
Christians often fail to remember we are new creatures in Christ, pushing aside the truth that it is only by his blood, shed on a cross from which he was resurrected, and not our brilliance that we are made new. As Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
Who We Are
So many of us (me included, if I’m begin transparent) forget we are not the sum of our accomplishments. We’re not defined by who we once were, what we once did. Nor are we defined by the color of our skin, our cultural heritage, the leanings of our politics, the size of our bank accounts, or our sexual orientation.
No lasting significance is found in the achievements or distinctions of this world, no enduring meaning, “no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur.” (Ecclesiastes 1:11) Our intelligence, our skills, our flawless appearances, our temporal victories, none of it survives.
As Believers, we are ultimately defined by only one thing, one identity: who we are through the sanctification and justification of Jesus and the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
What It Means
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul dismantles the legalistic and diluted gospel being preached so soon after his planting of the churches there in Antioch and Iconium and Lystra. He reminds them, just as he reminds us, of our true identities in being reborn in the baptism of Christ:
- We are servants, called to spread the Good News, not seek the approval of others.
- We are sufferers, just as Jesus suffered for the sake of the Gospel.
- We are adopted children of God, cared for as brothers and sisters of the faith, heirs to everything in God’s universe.
- We are free, unbound by the chains of legalism and opinions of the world.
A New Identity
When we fully accept the forgiveness and grace of redemption, we become spirit-led, no longer dragged behind the oppressive yokes of addiction and things of this world. We’re released from bondage and led to produce the fruit of the Spirit: joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
God gives us new lives through Christ, even though we stray, even when we forget who we are. These new identities are more than ancient verses plucked from the pages of Scripture, more than memorized words we recite on Sunday morning. They are the very shields of faith we hold up against the merciless attacks of a world bent on subduing and conforming us.
In moments of doubt, remember who you are rather than relying on what you know or what you can do. This is the only identity that truly matters.