Who am I? What do I have to prove?

God’s Word is timeless. But the world changes. As culture continues to change, there are new challenges to interpret, apply, and communicate God’s Word.

Harvie Conn authored a book entitled
Eternal Word and Changing Worlds. Another scholar, John Stott, wrote a book Between Two Worlds. How do you connect the ancient world of the Bible in order to speak to the world today? Lesslie Newbigin, after almost 40 years in India, returned to a different home than the one he left behind in 1936. Britain had become a post-war, post-Christian, post-modern world.

I have now accumulated enough years to watch significant cultural change. I was in college when I first heard — and thought I understood — Jesus’ words of invitation and challenge:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” What self-denial and daily self-sacrifice did Jesus require, if I became his follower?

In the mid-1960’s,
deny yourself sounded like sacrificing self-indulgences, like sexual promiscuity or recreational drug use. Jesus challenged me to repent of these behaviors.

Fast forward to 2018 — a world of racial, gender, political, religious and other
identities — not just behaviors. Our personal identities intersect, compete, or even conflict with each other as we try to answer the question “Who am I?” To find a community, I must find my “tribe” — one that will welcome and accept my identity — or my multiple identities. This is a more challenging world.

But Jesus’ Word is the same:
“let him deny himself and take up his cross daily …” In my ears, self-denial now sounds harder. I must not only repent of “self-indulgent” behaviors, but also repent of my attempts at self-definition. To deny myself is to not define myself.

But there is good news — and not in “just say no” moralistic messages. We are offered an identity in God’s story, and not in the judgment of other people or ourselves. There is a
“kindness that leads to repentance.” God offers an answer to the question “Who am I?” on a more profound, deep, and forever level.

Jesus got it right where we all — every one of us — continually fail. Confronted by undisguised and devious evil, Jesus did not need to repent of anything. But he faced the temptation to define and prove himself.
“If you are the Son of God — prove it — do something special.” Jesus remembered his Father’s words: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus had nothing to prove to anyone, and only his Father's words of love to remember.

God's good news to build community is that acceptance (inclusion) is not based on personal affinities or tolerance of those who are "right" or "wrong." Jesus was excluded so that we might be included. Jesus got it right for us, and absorbed all our wrongs for us. Like identity, building a diverse, loving community is based on Jesus-plus-nothing.

If you follow Jesus, you can say — to the world, to yourself, and even to the devil —
“I was made in God’s image. Because of Jesus Christ, I've been accepted as a beloved and adopted child of God the Father. This is my identity — one that will define my life forever. I have nothing to prove to anyone, even to myself.” Only the Father's words of love to remember.