I finished our series last night on the life of Jacob that we called Identity Theft. I was really fun to address the issue of identity through the life of Jacob and to see the way that his journey with God over the years formed and shaped who he was. Last night we ended with the story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32) and eventually receiving a new name from him. It’s a beautiful culmination to the story – because the way the story starts is by Jacob lying about his name, the way it ends is with God giving him a new name. It’s a picture of redemption and hope.
Anyway, as part of the message I handed out a pretty famous list of what the Bible says about us – it’s called “Who I am in Christ.” It’s really what the whole series pointed to – that we need to look to God to define us, not the world around us. It was really interesting – someone handed back in the handout that I gave out (the one about who we are in Christ) with the written objection stating (amongst other things), “I think that instead of having this paper to show us who we are, I think it should be about God and Jesus Christ, and through him we find ourselves… It’s not about us!!” It’s funny because the whole handout is about who God has made us to be.
I completely agree on some levels that it’s not about us, but I wonder if it’s possible to take that idea too far. I guess I have to wonder which of the scriptures listed on the sheet the person disagrees with? Which one of those are we not supposed to focus on? I thought that all scripture was God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). I agree that it is nothing of ourselves that makes us lovely, but is it wrong to focus on the fact that God loves his creation and to rejoice in that fact? It seems to me that the Bible makes a big deal out of that truth, that we are loved by God… and that it’s a truth that is supposed to transform us.
Often times Christians spend a lot of time focusing on how bad we are and not the other side of the coin… that in spite of our sin, we are loved by a great God (Romans 5:8). It’s interesting to do a study of the way that Paul refers to people in the church throughout his letters in the new testament. He refers to them as saints… not sinners. This person went on to object,
“It’s not about us being loved, it’s about a God who loves a horrible, wretched, deceiving, lustful, liar, human being! It’s when we realize how unlovable we are, then we see God’s true love.”
There are a few (more than that, but we’ll start there) problems with this theology – the least of which is that it is functionally impossible to separate these two things (it is about a God who loves, but it’s also about the people that he loves!). That’s why the Bible talks a lot about the people whom God loves and the way that we are supposed to imitate that love. Here are a few issues that I see with this line of thinking:
First, we fail to affirm the whole of scripture and the portions that teach that we are people, created in the image of God (Gen 1:27), and that all life is significant… even our very own. Why is that something we feel we have to rob ourselves of (and the rest of humanity for that matter) in order to elevate God? If, like this person suggests we simply need to focus on God, why does Jesus spend so much time addressing the way we treat other people? If it’s really only all about God, why did Jesus teach his followers to love our neighbors and enemies, to forgive other people, to turn the other cheek, etc. Jesus taught that the first/greatest command was to love God. But, in the next breath he said that the second greatest was like it… to love other people! (Matt 22) Now, if we are to love God because he is ultimately lovable and worthy of our love (which I would wholeheartedly agree that he is), why are we to love others? Could it be that they are worthy of love also? Jesus doesn’t say, “love others even though they are wretched people unworthy of love,” does he? Now, if that is true about other people (that we should love them), and we always affirm that it is (that’s why we hate abortion, genocide, murder, etc. – because people have value) why would it not be true about ourselves? And if it is true about ourselves, why are we afraid to state it? I get it, we don’t want to make the story about us… and I agree with that. But God has invited us to play a part in History. It’s part of his grace! Not only that, but he says that when we trust him and know him, then we are made “new creations” (2 Cor 5:17). So, at least that point do we gain worth?
The second objection I have is that when we simply keep reminding ourselves that we are garbage and unworthy of love, we live up to that image. We always live out what we really think about ourselves. That’s why Neil Anderson wrote, “The more you reaffirm who you are in Christ, the more your behavior will begin to reflect your true identity!” That is so true, and the opposite of that is true as well. The more we remind ourselves that we are failures, the more we will fail. The more we remind ourselves that we are sinners, the more we live up to that name (probably why Paul refers to us as saints at the beginning of nearly every epistle he writes). Not only that, but the book of Ephesians (amongst others) claims that we are His (god’s) inheritance (Deut 32:9, Ps 33:12, 1 Pt 2:9, ***Eph 1:18). So, if people are garbage and unworthy of love, then so is God’s inheritance.
So, to the person who thinks it threatens God’s greatness to affirm that his creation is lovable, I’m sorry. God is not threatened by that. It does not rob him of the glory that is due him. I think it is impossible to function healthily with that view of yourself… it’s sad that many people do – that’s why we see things like suicide, people giving themselves to other people sexually, and self-mutilation at such an alarming rate. As the church, my desire is that we would hold out a greater hope! That we would affirm the God-given value of all people… includes ourselves.
Is it possible that we are lovable simply because we were created by God? Not because we earned it, we didn’t, but because he is our maker. Could that in and of itself be enough? Could that be why he loves us enough to send his son to die for us?
I think so… I’d love to hear responses from anyone who has thoughts on the matter – even if you disagree!!!