All too often, we think of Christians as religious “doers”. Go to Church. Read your Bible. Help the little old lady cross the road. Step out in faith. Serve in the nursery. Teach a Bible study. Cook a meal for the poor or sick. Clean your neighborhood for Jesus. Give a stranger a New Testament. The application points of many Christian books, devotions, youth messages and sermons are far too vast and numerous to be listed here. Before you misunderstand me, I want to say I appreciate great application after the exposition or study of God’s Word. However, I can’t help but think that many people think that Christians are identified simply by what they do, say, look like, visit and various other external factors. But being a Christian is more than what you wear or what you say or what you do, right?
We let our faith and belief be shaped by what we see around us and what we feel as well as whether this whole “doing” thing is working. We’re Americans after all. If it doesn’t work, why bother to keep trying? But being a Christian is far more than what you do. In fact, I’d argue that being a Christian has far more to do with your identity in Jesus than with what you’ve done. In fact, Jesus tells a parable that will help shape our sense of identity in a way few other passages can.
Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.
“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.(Luke 15:11-32)
You see in this passage Jesus illustrates a very simple point about forgiveness and the context is immediately obvious that we are the prodigal son and that the father in the story is God. But I don’t want you to miss it. If you or I had done this to our earthly fathers they might have been happy to see us again but they would have probably had some very harsh words for us (and rightly so). Notice that in this story when the prodigal son returns he is not welcomed by scoldings or a lecture on how his sinful actions have hurt the father. The Father rejoices that his son who was once dead is now alive. Because there is something true about the prodigal son’s identity in the family that was never lost no matter his actions, words, thoughts, clothes, choices or consequences. He was a son.
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-29)
I know that if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you might not have a good relationship with your father. Maybe he was distant, or abusive or wasn’t present in your life. Your earthly father might make it hard for you to relate to the fact that God is your heavenly Father. This breaks God’s heart because it distorts the way He wants you to see Him and it blurs the way He wants you to see yourself. But He wants you to know that He loves you. If you have Jesus you are a child of the King of Kings. You are a part of the family. That’s something that is true about your identity in Jesus. God loves you as He loves His son. You are like a brother to Jesus. What is more you aren’t just a long lost child. If you know Jesus You have been adopted into the family of God. It’s as though God had no obligation to you. He didn’t treat you as a son or daughter because of what was true about you but because in His goodness. He desired you.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. (Romans 8:14–17)
It’s as though God went through the red-tape, paperwork and agonizing waiting process to actually be able to legally adopt you as His child. He painstakingly signed the documents. Even though you were rejected and unwanted. Even though you were dirty, smelly, rebellious and undesirable. He took you home. He washed you. He introduced you to your new family. He showed you around your new home. He slowly acclimated you to your family members. Even though you ran away He still came to get you. When you broke things, cried and pouted He assured you that He still loved you. When you hurt yourself He wrapped His arms around you and told you that everything was going to be alright. He showed you how to behave properly. He demonstrated to you how to live. He tucked you into bed night after night. He whispered His love to you. He has wanted nothing more than for you to understand how much He loves you and cares for you. Because you are a child of the King of Kings. He wants you to see yourself the way He sees you.