CROSSING OVER ♦ YOUR NEW IDENTITY
What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? There are a few things it implies. It means to accept the Bible’s account of Jesus’s life, ministry, and significance. This is to acknowledge that Jesus wasn’t just a good man or wonder-working prophet in his day; he was God come to the earth to redeem sin-loving humankind.
He did this by opening to people a way to God that hinged on their repentance and faith, not by keeping a scorecard of good works. To be a follower of Jesus is to confess this in the heart and to allow belief in Jesus and his words to guide one’s life. Ultimately, it means to love him and diligently obey what he asks of us, which only deepens our relationship with him.
Being a Christian means living committed to the principles Jesus and others taught found in the Bible. Jesus taught many things, but here we’ll discuss some of the hallmark teachings he gave. One of the most important ones concerned himself. Jesus stated that his purpose was to reveal God to humankind. He referred to God as his Father and implied his special relationship with him. Further, the Bible details his miraculous birth, and, in his final three years, we witness his astonishing ministry and countercultural preaching.
His most shocking claim was that he was himself God and part of a Godhead that includes the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to himself as the Son of God. He described the Godhead as eternal, all-powerful, and all-loving. Jesus said he had come to earth as their representative to show humans what God was like and to announce that the time had come for God to restore humankind back to full fellowship with him. This had not existed since Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden. So to follow Christ is also to acknowledge Jesus’s divinity and the worth of his sacrificial death on behalf of humans who deserved to die his death.
Loving God and Our Neighbors
Another principle Jesus taught is our duty to love God and our neighbors and the interrelation of the two. He stated that the greatest command given by God was to love God with our whole selves. Humans were lovingly created by God as the object of his affection and made to enjoy him. For us it is a dependent relationship that teaches us that our full sustenance and satisfaction originate in God alone.
Think on it: What parent wouldn’t feel slighted if his or her child enjoyed a friend’s home more than their own? Although this happens in life, it is difficult to comprehend with God when we understand all that we walk away from to choose sin and the pleasures of life.
Jesus stated that the second greatest commandment was similar: to love our fellow humans as we love ourselves. It is a concept that emphasizes the inherent value of each individual. We all deserve respect and respect is not difficult to offer when we consider our own self-respect and desire to be respected. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Golden Rule—“Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Jesus said this, too, and it relates very well with his neighbor rule. Our way with others explains how we feel about ourselves. Every person loves him or herself, unless they have deep psychological problems. So Jesus charges us to act toward others out of our own emotional need.
Now it is the interrelation between loving God and loving our neighbor that is peculiar. We can love our neighbor without caring about God, but we can never fully love God without genuinely loving our neighbor. Most living things were made to be social, and humans are certainly no different. When we share, nurture, help, heal, and provide for one another, it is an expression of love to God who created us all. We cherish him when we cherish one another. Christians must get this one right.
Taking Up Our Crosses and What It Means
Jesus preached about our identification with him. He phrased it as taking up our crosses to follow him. In the Roman Empire, criminals that were to be put to death were made to carry their crosses to the place of execution, just as Jesus was made to do. The idea is that those who follow Jesus’s teachings should expect to be disgraced and to bear the burdens that may come with making a choice for him. Our cross is our identification with Christ who came to earth to identify with sinful humans.
Taking up our crosses also signals that we are to never be ashamed of our faith. Just as Jesus’s disciples took the gospel message to the world, were persecuted, and gave their lives for what they had witnessed, we should consider ourselves just as worthy of paying the ultimate price for Jesus. We too will be met with rejection and even hostility, but we are not to be dismayed by it or to fear it. The Bible encourages us to count it our joy because we become partakers of Christ’s suffering.
The expression also implies a call to radical self-denial. We no longer live to satisfy our own whims and purposes; instead, we seek the will of the Lord. We ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to please God, body, soul, and mind.
Understanding Your Spiritual Heritage
Besides these teachings of Christ, being his follower means other things, too. You have now become part of a rich faith heritage that extends 3,500 years in history. Christianity is just over 2,000 years old, but it sprouted from the seedbed of Judaism. The God revealed in Christ in the New Testament is the same God in the Old Testament. Judaism and the people of God preceding Christianity are our first heritage, so to speak.
The disciples and earliest converts to Christianity encountered persecution after Christ returned to Heaven. Persecution only deepened their faith, but it forced many out of Jerusalem, where the church was based, and into other parts the world. The significance is that the gospel message spread throughout the Roman Empire and abroad.
Over time persecution became more than torture and death, but also the threat of extermination of the fledgling Christian church. Some attacks came from followers of other beliefs, yet much of it came from sincere Christians who introduced teaching that undermined important Christian beliefs, many of these having to do with Jesus himself.
The church answered with primarily three defenses, two of them being significantly important. One defense was to form a canon of writings authored by Christ’s apostles or certainly containing their teaching. Apostolic authorship or teaching ensured credibility because it was a virtual connection to Jesus himself. This led to the formation of the Bible we read today. The second defense was to simply and concisely explain the teaching of Christ and the apostles and to point out how Christianity differed from altered or opposing teaching. This describes the formation of the Christian creeds.
Most of this occurred in the first 350 years after Christ. But more significant is the fact that for over 1,600 years the Christian Church has been in evolution determining its doctrine and figuring out how to explain God relationally to life, ideas and concepts, sin and evil, and more. You are part of an incredibly rich spiritual heritage of believers whose entire pursuit owes to Jesus Christ and the message he preached. Reading books on church history is exciting. They will explain how all this began, introduce you to great Christian defenders, and leave you with a stronger conviction and determination regarding your faith.
So your church is not merely the one you attend on Sundays. It is the universal Church led by Christ himself and comprised of those in Heaven now and all who will one day serve Jesus. You are part of a great family!
You are God’s Ambassador
Finally, let’s discuss one more thing in greater detail. As a follower of Christ, you are his representative. He was the sign of God to humankind; now you are the sign of him to those around you. This is something to be happy about. But the way of the world today is to make you think that Christianity is old-fashion and irrelevant to life and social issues. You may have thought this way before accepting Christ; however, Christianity answers life’s questions very well and in superior fashion. People have a problem with it because it cuts against the grain. They will have a problem with you, as well, if you stand for God’s truth.
Never be ashamed about your faith. Never be ashamed to speak up for what is right. Jesus’s parting words to his disciples were to take his message to people everywhere because it is truly good news. It is substantive and powerful enough to change one’s life. As his followers today we bear responsibility to make his love, power, and coming judgment known. The Bible calls you God’s ambassador. You will be received by some and rejected by many more. You may lose friends and be ridiculed, but always speak God’s truth and show others how Jesus’s life has made every difference in yours.
It is not necessary that your every word is about God and church. That is a good way to make people avoid you. But never hide the light in your heart. Explain it—how it got there and who put it there. Give God the glory publicly. What has happened in you…isn’t it worth sharing with someone else?
God’s Purpose & Your Responsibility
God’s purpose for you is that you recognize the special relationship you share with him. Your life has discovered its highest purpose. God expects you to think and act like you belong to him, although there may be days when you don’t feel like it and when the Devil will try to make you turn back. His promise to you is that your salvation is secure in him. Your responsibility is to learn about your new Christian life. Understand what Christians believe and why we believe these things. Know how to explain these beliefs and incorporate them in your life. Then, never be ashamed about your faith, but give public witness to it when opportunities arise.
INPUT: Tell one relative, friend, or peer about what has happened in your life. OUTPUT: You will discover more confidence to share your faith. Your Christian identity will be more evident to you.
Daily Bread: New Identity
Matthew 22:37-40—“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Luke 9:23-26—“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’”
1 Peter 2:9—“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Matthew 7:12; 28:16-20; John 3:30; 6:46; 14:15; 2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:1-3; 1 Peter 4; 1 John 4:20-21; 5:1-4