I am currently reading a book called Gospel Fluency (available here) and so far it is an excellent book. The author argues early in the book that we are all unbelievers. By that, he means that we all have areas in our lives where we fail to believe God. That is a simple, yet profound observation, and ultimately true. Though we may be trusting in Christ, we can say along with the man with the epileptic son, "I believe, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). We all need help in our unbelief.
One of the most widespread and sneaky areas of unbelief is in the area of identity. We often look to the world, to our achievements, to others, or even within ourselves to determine who we are. We can see this in the simplest of conversations. Imagine you are meeting someone for the first time and you ask them to tell you about themselves. They might respond with "well, I'm an accountant" or some other profession. They may respond "I am a mother or a husband". We subconsciously find our identity in things around us. Maybe you're a teenager and you are having a bad day and your mom or dad asks what's wrong and you respond with "I'm a loser". Maybe someone at school told you. Maybe you told yourself. The point is, we all struggle with identity. Here are some things that might help with that.
1. The crisis of identity is a result of the fall
We were created to image God and be in fellowship with God. Adam and Eve were created perfect and were in perfect harmony with God... until they disobeyed. The fall radically impacted our identity. While we are still image bearers of God, that image is marred by sin and the fellowship with God that we were created for was broken. Everyone is born a sinner. That is our most basic identity. Another way of saying it is our nature is that of a sinner from birth. All humanity fell with Adam and inherited that nature or identity. We are broken and there is something fundamentally missing in us because of sin, namely fellowship with God. We seek to compensate for that in many ways, but all of them lead to ruin.
2. The gospel gives us a new identity
One of the most profound truths of the gospel is that it changes who we are. While all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), through faith in Christ, sinner is no longer our identity. The punishment for all of our sin is placed upon Christ and paid for when we believe, and we are called new creations (2 Cor 5:17). We are united with Christ by faith and his righteousness is counted as ours. We receive all of the benefits of Christ through faith in him. We are transformed by the Spirit from the inside out to become new creations. That means that the old has passed away, and we are new. Our identity is now found in Christ and what God says, not in the world and what others say.
3. The greatest end of the gospel is fellowship with God
The gospel reconciles us to God in new relationship with him. We are no longer enemies because everything that made us enemies has been dealt with by Christ. Moreover, we are counted as righteous by being credited with the righteousness of Christ. That means that everything necessary to reconcile us to God has been accomplished. When God looks at us, he does so through the blood of Christ. We have access to him through Christ. Christ is interceding for us and working on our behalf. The Holy Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we belong to God. Therefore, everything that defines who we really are in found in Christ.
4. Through faith in Christ we are adopted as children of God
Think about that analogy. Paul says in Ephesians "In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved" (Eph 1:4c-6a). Think about that text for a moment. Who do you belong to once you have believed? Why do you belong to him? What motivated God to cause you to be adopted? God's love caused him to predestine those who are believers for adoption into his family as children. This was accomplished by Jesus Christ and was done so that the glorious grace of God that has been lavished upon us would be praised. Now let me ask you a question. Does my daughter's performance determine whether or not she belongs to me as my daughter? In her obedience and disobedience, she is securely a Hawkins. My last name has been given to her. I have claimed her. Nothing can break that. That is her earthly identity. She is part of our family. She is learning to live out what it means to be a part of our family, and fails, but she is still secure and accepted because she is my daughter. The same is true of all who have been untied with Christ by faith. Our identity is children of God and nothing can change that.
5. We are loved by God with an eternal love that cannot be broken
Ephesians says that God's love caused him to predestine us for adoption as children. But can anything change that? Can we wake up one day and be separated from the love of God by our actions, or by someone or something else? That is the question the Paul addresses in the last part of Romans 8. We learn that God is for us and works everything for our good (v.28). The good that he is working is to conform us to the image of Christ. All of this is because he foreknew, predestined, called and justified us, and there is absolute confidence that he will glorify us (vv. 29-30). On the basis that God didn't withhold Christ but willingly gave him up for us, we know we have all things in Christ. No one can bring a charge against us that will stick because God alone justifies. No one can condemn us because Christ died, rose, and is interceding for his people (vv. 32-35). So can anything separate us from the love of God? Can any situation? Can any person? No! Nothing in all of creation... that includes Satan, situation, performance, failure, others, and ourselves... nothing can separate us from the love of God IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD (vv. 35-39). In other words, we are absolutely secure, loved and accepted through faith in Christ and nothing and no one can change that. Our identity is ultimately found in Christ, his work, his word, and what he has secured for us.
Combating the identity crisis in our lives
Through faith in Christ, we are accepted and loved as children by the Creator of the universe. We are a part of his family and our identity is no longer sinner but saint. It is amazing that Paul writes to "saints" so often. That is who we are. Saint simply means one who has been recognized or acknowledged as holy. It is a term only used of those chosen by God. We belong to God. We are reconciled to God. We are loved and accepted by God. That is our identity. That is what it means to be a new creation. That truth transforms how we live when we really believe that. When we rest on the merits of Christ, we can be sure that all that is necessary for us to be accepted by God has been accomplished. When we look to God to tell us who we are through his word, it is like putting on noise cancelling headphones and listening to beautiful music that drowns out the ugly sounds of who or what others say we are.
So many of us listen to the voices of the world, Satan, or others to define who we are. When that happens, it leads to despair, insecurity, defensiveness, fearing man, and many other ugly things. Satan wants us to find our identity anywhere but in Christ. Martin Luther said "So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: "I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!"
Do you see what he did there? He applied the gospel. When the gospel is applied, everyone can tell us we are worthless, every situation can go bad, and we can be utterly abandoned by everyone in our lives, but find joy and peace because we are trusting what the God of the universe, our Father, says about us above what others say. We can combat those whispers in the recesses of our heart that say we are not valuable or will never be accepted with the booming voice of God saying "look to the cross! You are mine and I love you. I chose you to be my child. I sent my Son to pay for your sins and bring you into fellowship with me. You are accepted and I am for you and will never abandon you". That is our identity in Christ.
In Sunday School at Arbor Drive, we are covering some core convictions we have as a church. One of them is a conviction that believers should be disciples and should be discipling others. Due to some good discussion, we did not get to the final section of the lesson which addressed barriers to discipleship, so I am writing this to help address that issue. If we are honest, we all have barriers to discipleship. Overcoming those barriers ultimately flows from two things, namely, a conviction that Christ commanded us to disciple others, and a love for/desire to obey Christ. That said, I believe there are some practical things that we can think through in overcoming barriers to discipleship.
#1: I Don't Have Time
In our culture, time is a commodity. There doesn't seem to be enough of it in the day to do what we need/want to do. I understand the time crunch. I often feel that my week doesn't have enough hours in it to do everything. That said, there are certain issues that arise with how we manage our time and how we prioritize our time that play into this barrier. Think about this: Is there anything more significant or important that you can be doing than discipling someone? That will have an eternal impact if prioritized. It does however take intentionality. I would suggest taking an inventory of your week. Where do you spend your time? Does the time you spend in various pursuits (many of them probably noble and good) reflect the priorities God lays out in Scripture for the believer? If intentional time with others with the aim of talking about eternal things is not in your week, I would submit your priorities don't line us with the priorities of Scripture. Two brief thoughts before we move on. First, if you are a parent, your primary calling to disciple people is in your home. Being intentional in pointing your children to Jesus and discipling them IS discipleship, and it's where you should prioritize discipleship first. Second thought, discipleship can begin as simply as asking someone to meet for coffee or inviting a family for dinner and having a conversation. It can be as easy as inviting someone to drive to Lincoln with you to run an errand or inviting someone over to have a game night with the family. Don't over complicate it. Don't over program it. Just start with simple steps to build relationships with people in your life with the aim of pointing them to Christ and the gospel.
#2: I Don't Feel Like It
Let's be honest, we don't always feel like being obedient. Here is the interesting thing though, as you take steps of obedience in faith, with a heart that desires to see God honored, the result is excitement and joy. We have a saying in our house... "obedience brings joy". We know that when we are intentional in pointing others to Christ, we receive joy in that. Yes, it can be hard. Yes, we might not feel like it initially, but in the end, we know that obedience to God from a heart that seeks to see him honored always results in joy. Let me ask a couple of diagnostic questions. First, if you knew that being intentional in discipleship would yield eternal results, would you want to do it? Second, what if God himself came to you and said "I want you to do this for me because I have decided to use you to encourage others and bring them to faith"? Would those two things change your desire? While we may not see the immediate results, we can know for sure that when we are faithful in discipleship, God uses it. I have seen this not only in my own life, but in the lives of people I have invested time in discipling. There were people who were discipling me before I came to faith that probably thought "man, this is a waste of time". It wasn't though, because God used them in ways they didn't even know. But what if God directly told you that he was going to use you to advance the kingdom? Well, he has. That is what the call to discipleship is. It's a call from God to his people to be used by him to impact lives for eternity. When you think about it in those terms, for a believer who wants to honor God, discipleship becomes a desire, not a duty.
#3: I Don't Know Enough
Sometimes we think that we have to know all this stuff before we can be obedient. That's not always true. If you read Acts 9, you will see that Paul started sharing the gospel with others almost immediately after the scales fell from his eyes. You don't have to know a lot to encourage others with the gospel. You just have to know the gospel. If you are a believer, you know the gospel. You can simply encourage others with the gospel and share the gospel with your friends who don't know Jesus. "What if someone asks me a question I don't know the answer to"? Here is a little pastoral secret: those of us who are pastors don't know everything. There is nothing wrong with saying "I don't know but I will get back with you", and then going to someone you trust and working through that with them after looking at Scripture for yourself. I can tell you this, the more you spend time in the word and grow in your relationship with Christ, the more you will be able to answer those questions you don't know the answers to. Don't forget, as a believer, you have the Holy Spirit within you. You are equipped to be able to do this by sovereign grace. At the very least, you can remind believers and tell unbelievers about the basic truths of the gospel and how that plays out in our lives as Christians (Titus 3:1-8)
#4: I'm Not Gifted To Disciple Others
Let me ask a question: Did Christ say that one had to have the "gift" of discipleship to disciple? I cannot find that anywhere in Scripture. Yes, some people are naturally better at it than others. That doesn't mean that you are not gifted to disciple others. The first step is being a disciple yourself and having that relationship with someone else. Odds are, that will give you a model of what it looks like that you can replicate. Remember, discipleship has three elements: Relationship, Experiences, and Information. I would be willing to bet that you have some relationships in your life. Start there. Redeem the conversations you have with others to point them to Christ. Invite them over for dinner and have them sit in on your family bible reading time. Be willing to speak the redeeming and healing truth of the gospel to someone who is hurting. Discipleship is simple... not easy, but simple. When we make it a program, we make it hard for everyone to do it. When it is a process, we can all participate in it. You can speak the truth in love to others. You have the Holy Spirit. You have other believers that can come alongside you. You have the word of God. You have prayer and grace to empower you. You have everything you need as a believer to do this. Discipleship is about bringing God's truth to bear on people's lives and it is not divorced from the local church. If you're struggling in this area, talk to a trusted believer that you know will be able to come alongside you and help you.
A Closing Challenge
Pray about someone in your life that you can start being intentional with. Pray that God would point you to someone you can speak the truth of the gospel to. Someone you can invite into your life and come alongside. Someone you can point to Christ and the gospel. When you have that one person or family, share that with another believer and ask them to keep you accountable and pray for you. Then take a step of faith and go after that person for Jesus. Your joy and fellowship with God will increase and you will have an eternal impact on someone. The gospel empowers us to overcome these barriers by reminding us that we are redeemed and that God is for us. He is active in our lives and will use us to accomplish his eternal purposes.
In our last episode of The Pastor Discussions Podcast, we mentioned a resource that might be helpful in revitalizing your prayer life called Praying the Bible by Don Whitney. I took Dr. Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines class in Seminary before this book was published and it walks through everything we covered in class. This is an excellent and easy read that I highly recommend for you. You will seriously never pray the same again. I've also added some other resources we mentioned in the show that might help with your prayer life. Click on the links below to buy them on Amazon and we will receive a little kick back to help with show costs for every purchase.
Praying the Bible by Don Whitney: http://amzn.to/2nF0vlQ
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Day One Journal App: http://dayoneapp.com/
This last week I posted on the Arbor Drive Facebook page that there was some exciting news coming down the pipeline. Well, here it is. Starting in January, we will be launching a weekly podcast called Pastor Discussions. Hooray!
I came home yesterday after a long day and walked in the house to see my two year old daughter run out of the bedroom, but this time she looked different. He shirt was bulging out from her belly to her chest with the outline of a stuffed bear. I asked her "what is in your shirt"? She replied "bear"! "Why is bear in your shirt" I asked. She responded simply... "He's eating". To fully comprehend this story, you need to know that "bear" is her baby. She plays with him and kisses him and carries him around. About 15 minutes later, bear's head was poking out of the neck of her shirt. "I'm wearing bear" she said.
Maybe you read the title and you are already overwhelmed. You hear the words "family discipleship" and you have no idea what that can or should look like. I am assuming for the sake of this article that you are reading this because you either a) want to start doing family discipleship but are not sure what it would look like or what it would involve or b) you are already doing something but are looking for additional ideas.
11 years ago, a young man woke up and after showering, he opened his closet, got dressed in a suit, tied a tie, and drove from Manhattan, Kansas to a little town called Minneapolis, Kansas. He drove with a young lady sitting in the passenger seat. Both were excited, nervous, and had no idea of the seriousness of what they were about to do. They were filled with hopes and dreams for the future and intoxicated with affection for each other. When they arrived in Minneapolis, they drove to the courthouse and walked inside with two of their friends. They both stood before a judge, handed her a piece of paper, and she began. Though neither of them realized it, when they walked out of that court room, something profound had changed. They were married.
My aim is not to give a political commentary on the events that transpired this week in Charlottesville, Va. This issue is not one of political ideology or party affiliation. It is, above all, a theological issue. As a pastor, I am not called to be a political activist and I refuse to do so because political involvement will not really change anything. As I read the Bible, I see that the problem with humanity is the problem of sin. It's a spiritual one, not a political one. My aim is simply to point out that as Christians, we cannot be silent about the issue of racism. Put simply, there is no room for racism within the family of God. If you are claiming the name of Christ and harbor animosity, bigotry, or hatred for another person on the basis of the color of their skin or their ethnicity, you are in sin. If you claim the name of Christ and believe that one race is superior to another, you are in sin. Thankfully Jesus redeems us from sin and gives us new hearts. When we look at the root of racism, we see hatred and hatred is not compatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, here are 12 reflections on racism that I think all believers need to embrace.
Today, I'm starting a series of posts on the church. I'm starting with the question, "what is the church"? This may sound like a superficial question but how we answer it says a lot about how we view the church. We live in a very interesting time. On one hand, many parents that have kids that are in High School and College grew up in the church and likely raised their kids in the church to some degree. On the other hand, there are others who have perhaps never set foot in a worship gathering or think of the church as an institution. How should we think about the church? What is the church?
How much stuff happens throughout the day that you forget and wish you could remember? I'm not talking about scheduling things or meetings. I'm talking about little events in your life that you would like to remember in a year or five years and laugh about again? Enter Day One.