Sorry it isn’t Sunday, but I hope you can forgive me. This weeks Sunday sermon is now up and online. I hope it encourages and challenges you to grow closer to God and to each other.
You will need to read Philippians 3:2-9 before you go on.
A few weeks ago, well maybe two months ago now, I attended a mental health initiative launch here in Wagin. The keynote speaker at the event was Glenn Mitchell. Glenn Mitchell is most known for his sport commentary on the ABC. He now however is a former commentator, and it is the story that surrounds his departure that was the reason he was invited to share with the group.
In his talk he told us about his life and his struggle with depression. He shared about his ABC career; the different Olympic games that he had commentated for, the different grand finals that he commentated for, and the different cricket tours around the world that he’d been on.
It was great to hear all these stories but the bit that stuck out the most was where he talked about the immediate period of time after his sport commentary career had ended.
Reflecting on those dark days, he said that when he worked for the ABC he was Glenn Mitchell, ABC commentator. He wasn’t a father, though he was. He wasn’t a husband, though he was. He was Glenn Mitchell, ABC sport commentator. That is who he was.
And so in that period after his dismissal he had to come to terms with the fact that he was no longer Glen Mitchell, ABC sport commentator, but rather just Glen Mitchell. And hearing him speak about it, you quickly got the impression that it destroyed him.
For all these years he was Glen Mitchell ABC Sport commentator, that was who he was, that was his very reason for existence, and when it was taken away from him, he was nothing. He no longer knew who he was, he no longer knew what to do, and he struggled to make sense of the value of his life.
Fortunately Glen came to a crisis point where he was able to get help, and he’s moving forward with his life after ABC commentary. But what really stood out for me from his story was just how important our personal identity is. Identity is extremely important for our lives. In fact from Glen’s story I realized our identity can make our break us.
Now we all have an identity. Our identity is, according to one dictionary, the condition of being oneself, and not another. Basically our identity is what makes us us. What makes me me and what makes you you. It is who we are. Identity is what gives us purpose. Our identity is the very essence of our being.
Now you can generally work out your identity, by thinking to a time when you’ve met someone for the first time, and after you discover each other’s names, you are then ask the “identity” question? You know the one, it often goes something like this, “so, who are you?” or “and so what do you do?” or “tell me about yourself?”
Now we have a number of different ways of answering this, but in answering this we are establishing our identity for the other person. Now we answer these kinds of questions by talking about what we do; “I’m a farmer.” “I’m a teacher.” I’m a pastor.”
We can also answer by talking about our relationships; “I’m Sam’s husband.” I’m Elizabeth’s Dad.” “I’m friends with a really famous person.”
We can also answer with our achievements; “well I have a PHD in blah blah blah.” or “I’ve just discovered another planet in our solar system.” or we can talk about what pulls us down; “I’m broke.” “I’ve got a serious illness.”, “I’m struggling.”
All of these answers, and the many more that we come up with are all part of establishing our identity. We find our identity in our job, we find our identity in the important relationships we have, we find our identity in our achievements. We can even find our identity in our weaknesses or those things that bog us down. But basically any or all of these things make up who we are. And as a result these things give us a purpose for living. These thing make us us.
From the Bible passage that was read just minutes ago, we discover that the Apostle Paul had an Identity. In Philippians 3:4-6 Paul answers the, “Who are you?” question.
“4 …If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Philippians 3:4–6 NIV11)
Paul’s got it sorted. As far as he is concerned his identity is based on his confidence in the flesh. Now the word flesh, used here is basically used in contrast to the spirit. Flesh means man made, or self made if you will, done without the spirits help.
Paul’s confidence in the flesh is seen in his impeccable Torah observance, his high birth status, his strong nationality, and his super Jewish Jewishness. This list sums him up, this list is who he is, or at least who he was.
A bit like Glen Mitchell, Paul has all the credentials. But instead of Glen Mitchell ABC Sport Commentator, this list describes Paul of Tarsus, a Jewish to the core pharisee. But just like Glen Mitchell Paul comes to a crisis point where his identity is shattered. Except there is a rather dramatic difference between the two guys.
Glen Mitchell has an identity crisis when he is asked not to come back to the ABC. It destroys him. He is no Longer Glen Mitchell ABC sport commentator. For Paul it is a different story.
This pharisee on the way to Damascus to rid the world of this rebellious group of Jews, now worshiping an executed false Messiah, is stopped on the road. Not by an executed false Messiah, but by the resurrected true messiah-Jesus.
Paul is then told that he is no longer to kill Jesus’ followers rather he is to take the message of Jesus to the world. Paul losses his identity. Here Paul is no longer Paul the Pharisee, Christian killer, but just Paul. But rather than let this destroy him, he losses his identity and is in fact very glad that it is gone.
Not only is Paul happy that what once identified him has now gone, he counts it as nothing, and not only that he goes a step further and counts it as rubbish. In Philippians 3:7-9 Paul says it how it is.
“7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:7–9 NIV11)
The very things that identified him, that summed up the essence of his being, that made him who he was, he now considers trash, and a negative balance.
What a difference that would be in Glen Mitchell’s story. Rather than Glen loosing his identity as a ABC commentator and it destroying him, could you imagine him celebrating it, even to take it further could you imagine him considering the ABC sport commentating identity as trash?
Getting back to Paul for a minute, what makes him consider his former identity as trash?
Well, Paul considers his former identity as trash in v7, because of Jesus the Messiah, and not only that, but in v8, Paul considers his former identity as trash because knowing King Jesus as my Lord is worth far more than everything else put together!
Paul in confidence goes on to say that, In fact because of the Messiah I’ve suffered the loss of everything, and I now calculate it as trash, [why?] so that my profit may be the Messiah, v9, and that I may be discovered in Him, not having my own covenant status [or righteousness] defined by Torah, but by the status which comes through the Messiah’s faithfulness: the covenant status [or righteousness] from God which is given to faith.
Now what does all this mean? Well basically it is like this; there are two kinds of identity choices that we have. Firstly we can have our identity found in the flesh, and by flesh we mean man made, human identities, things that are not the spirit. The other option is we can be found in Christ, meaning that our identity is in Christ. The essence of our being is found in Christ, and what he has done for us.
For Paul his identity was no longer found in his own strength or his own righteousness, which will eventually fade. His identity was found in God’s righteousness, worked out in Jesus death for our sins on the cross. How great is this? Let’s look back at Glen Mitchell’s story.
If our identity is found in Christ, then loosing a job that once gave us our identity won’t actually take away from who we are, it won’t destroy us, because our identity is in Christ and that can not be taken away from us.
Our identity in Christ is also found in his love of us. He died on the cross because he loved us, he made us righteous because he loved us, our identity is found in Christ because he loved us. Paul in his letter to the Romans has this to say, Romans 8:35-39
“35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35–39 NIV11)
Nothing can take away our identity in Christ.
So in closing what are the out-workings of our identity in Christ? What does it look like? Well firstly we need to embrace the reality of Christ’s love of us, worked out on the cross which made us righteous in the eyes of God.
That knowledge needs to be stronger than anything thing else. As a result of the cross our identity in Christ is not reliant on whether we make the cut or not, it is reliant on Christ. So whether we loose our job, or our kids move away, or someone has a better achievement than us, we are still in Christ.
Secondly our identity in Christ, helps to put things in perspective. A job loss, or a criticism, or whatever it may be can not destroy who we are, if we are in Christ, then we are in Christ no matter what our circumstances.
Thirdly our identity in Christ frees us up to not crumple under the pressure others put on us, and even the pressure we put on ourselves. Paul writes to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 4:3…
“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” (1 Corinthians 4:3 NIV11)
Why because my identity is in Christ.
Now in all this I am not saying that our Job, or our relationships, or our achievements are not important, they are. Pastoring is part of my identity, being a husband to Sam and a Father to Elizabeth is part of who I am. But these aspects of my identity are not the sum total of who I am. First and foremost, I am in Christ. That is who I am and all other things stem from that.
Lastly I just want to say, that our identity in Christ is a freeing thing. Because we are in Christ we are able to step out and take risks for him, we are able to try new things in our relationship with him without fear of loosing our identity, Because our identity is based in what Christ has done, not in what we can do for ourselves.
Step out, take risk for Jesus, knowing that your Identity is safe in him.