I don’t know about you, but both sets of truths (where we find our identity, and what we have in Christ) really struck me forcefully. God certainly spoke to me on both counts. As I said in yesterday’s piece, I do not consider myself to be a leader as such, but I am involved in some aspects of Christian ministry. And I know how easy it is for me to get my sense of identity and self-worth from what I DO for Christ instead of who I AM in Christ.
In this piece I want to bring together two bits of commentary on two spiritual realities. The first has to do with our identity as believers, and the second has to do with our blessings in Christ. Both are closely related of course. The first one comes from two books I read yesterday, both by a noted Christian author, Paul David Tripp. I quoted from him extensively yesterday: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/12/27/christian-leadership-sin-and-restoration/
I quite like what he says about how too many Christian leaders find their identity in their ministry instead of in Christ. And that is always a recipe for trouble. As he said early on in his 2012 volume, Dangerous Calling:
Human beings are always assigning to themselves some kind of identity. There are only two places to look. Either you will be getting your identity vertically from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life. This is true of everyone, but I am convinced that getting one’s identity horizontally is a particular temptation for those in ministry….
Ministry had become my identity. . . . My role as pastor was the way I understood myself. It shaped the way I related to God. It formed my relationships with the people in my life. My calling had become my identity.
Blind to what was going on in my heart, I was proud, unapproachable, defensive, and all too comfortable. I was a pastor; I didn’t need what other people need. . . . I didn’t realise that I looked horizontally for what I had already been given in Christ and that it was producing a harvest of bad fruit in my heart, in my ministry, and in my relationships. I had let my ministry become something that it should never be (my identity); I looked to it to give me what it never could (my inner sense of well-being).
And in his 2020 book, Lead, he has a whole chapter on this matter. He writes:
Since the fall, people look horizontally for what they were designed to find vertically. They ask people, places, and things to do for them what only identity in the Lord can do. And what people fail to understand is that wherever you look for identity will then exercise rulership over your heart and, in so doing, will direct the way you live your life. Things that were never meant to be sources of human identity become just that, creating endless layers of difficulty and brokenness….
There is always the temptation this side of eternity to look for identity horizontally, but looking there never delivers what you seek and never results in a harvest of good fruit. This is why the New Testament works to instill in every believer an identity in Christ and to exegete what that looks like in terms of the way we think about and approach our everyday lives.
He then goes on to list 14 such passages which speak to who and what we are in Christ. They are all very familiar texts, but it is so easy to forget these marvellous truths, and to overlook the tremendous blessings that all believers do have in Christ.
And that leads me to the second bit of commentary I also came upon just recently. In another brand-new book, this one by William Osborne called Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God (Crossway, 2020), I was struck by a quote he featured by another noted American pastor, John Piper.