“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel” (Romans 1).
“Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (I Corinthians 1).
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (II Corinthians 1).
“Paul, an apostle sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Gal. 1).
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Eph.1).
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1).
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God” (Col. 1).
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope” (I Tim. 1).
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 1).
I used to gloss over these verses sometimes not even reading them because they seemed insignificant compared to the “good stuff,” the real meat of the text. But in my study of Acts over the last several weeks, God has shown me that embracing my identity is the difference between living haphazardly and living with purpose.
Last week I said it’s time for believers to get over their identity crisis. Deciding who we are is the first step. The second is embracing it, the “E” in ENGAGE. Embracing our identity requires willful submission to a cause greater than ourselves. It’s no coincidence that in Paul’s introductions in these N.T. books he identified who he was. His identity explained his actions. He not only identified with Christ, He embraced the cause of Christ taking whatever came with that cause. If he had written Acts 1, he could have opened with something like this: “Paul, an enemy of the gospel and persecutor of Christians.” That would have made complete sense and backed up his approval of the stoning of Steven and others like him.
But as a new creation in Christ, he identified with Christ, embraced that identity and lived it to the fullest. In Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship, he has this to say about being a disciple:
“’Whom He foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren’ (Rom. 8:29). Here is a promise which passes all understanding. Those who follow Christ are destined to bear his image, and to be the brethren of the first-born Son of God. Their goal is to become “as Christ.” Christ’s followers always have his image before their eyes, and in its light all other images are screened from their sight. It penetrates into the depths of their being, fills them, and makes them more and more like their Master. The image of Jesus Christ impresses itself in daily communion on the image of the disciple. No follower of Jesus can contemplate his image in a spirit of cold detachment. That image has the power to transform our lives, and if we surrender ourselves utterly to him, we cannot help bearing his image ourselves. We become the sons of God, we stand side by side with Christ, our unseen Brother, bearing like him the image of God” (page 298).
So what does embracing who we are in Christ look like in the day-to-day? I think it requires two things: first, perspective. Unless we’ve bought in to the idea of the cross and what Jesus did on it for us, we will never effectively be able to convince others of their need for it. The best way to keep our perspective is to constantly stand in the shadow of the cross remembering that every person we meet is loved because of it, and every situation in life is redeemable by it.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV).
Second, I have found that embracing who I am in Christ usually requires a stepping out of my comfort zone.
One morning a couple of weeks ago my family and I awoke to a scene outside our windows that looked very much like a scene from CSI. In the night there was a shooting six doors down resulting in what was eventually called a triple homicide as one of the victims was pregnant.
My initial reaction was to call my realtor and throw a sign in the front yard, pull the shades and ignore all of it. But I couldn’t, and I knew it. Instead, my husband and I went outside and started praying with people from our street and others who had gathered. In the days that followed, I began the process of starting a neighborhood watch. Not because I’m all that and a bag of chips and not because I believe that the big blue sign with the eyeball on it will deter criminals. What I do believe is that God has handed me a perfect situation to engage my little corner of the world with the message of the cross through something like a neighborhood watch, something already in place where all of the work has been done for me!
In walking up and down the street getting signatures, I have just now met some of my neighbors who are only 7 houses away from me, but they might as well be on Mars. Some of these people have been my neighbors for five years! I’m ashamed that it has taken tragedy to get me to engage.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10, NIV).
So what would your life look like if you embraced who you are in Christ? What is the calling He has placed on your life? Have you asked Him? What would you do differently if you embraced this calling? What would you let go of?