Anyone who has ever seriously pondered the human condition for any length of time normally ends up at a universal set of basic questions: “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” and “Where do I belong?”
Our secular culture does a pitiably poor job of addressing these questions,[i] and sometimes the Church doesn’t do much better. Faith in Jesus Christ provides the only rational and deeply satisfying context/answers to these questions. However, we often do a poor job of communicating them to the world. We so easily obsess about questions that no one is asking except perhaps in our own Christian subculture.
For example, we engage in end-time speculations, predestination/free-will questions, baptismal formulas, Eucharistic issues, etc. These discussions and debates are more like “in-house family chatter.” They’re not unimportant, but they do not address the primal needs or questions of human existence. If the Church does not adequately provide answers for these inquiries, other philosophies and worldviews will, and have done so.
In our secular culture we answer the, “Who am I?” question (if it makes its way into our consciousness at all) with what we do: I’m a carpenter, I’m a lawyer, I’m a farmer, etc. Without a moment’s thought we answer a state of being question with an activity answer. We want to jump right to function—the what and how of things, and ignore the state of being issues. This is one of the many reasons why our culture is in trouble. We make time, make friends, make love, make money, and make a living. Our existence is defined by production—what we do. We have lost our sense of being and our sense of place. Even after we are converted we often do not recover either of these.
My wife and I were once in church-search mode due to a geographic relocation. In more than one church we visited, the first thing out of the greeter’s mouth after “Hello my name is____,” was: “We have lots of opportunity to serve here!” This kind of greeting is put forth as something commendable. These dear people actually think others want to join the slaves on the Christian plantation. Nowhere in their approach was there a personal aspect like: “Hi, we’d like to get to know you.” The interior mental sound track was running like this: “We have live ones on the hook. How can we put them to work?” This is such a clear representation of how deeply broken our Church culture is. There is simply no consciousness of any other way to process life. “Saved to serve” can be the unfortunate slogan that greets anyone who tenuously dares to engage us in our religious universe. This is not the way the kingdom of God works and it’s not the foundation for the ministry of spiritual gifts.
If you asked first-century believers who they were, they would not have answered by what they did, but by their relationships. They identified themselves from a perspective of personhood and inter-relatedness within a community. We identify ourselves individually and by what we do. Our last names betray us: Wolcott=wool cutter; Carpenter (self-evident); Fischer=fisherman; Crosby=dweller by the town cross; Fleischmann=butcher (flesh man); Smith=blacksmith; Bauer=farmer; Brewer (self evident).
Some have the remnant of something healthier from their cultural heritages that derived from areas that had a tribal or clan ethos (even in the West), rather than an individualistic one: O’Hara=son of Hara; Thomason=son of Thomas; Neilson=son of Neil; Larson=son of Lars; Ericsson=son of Eric, and so forth. Because it’s so second nature to us, we don’t realize that individualism is a relatively new phenomenon on the stage of human development. It was virtually unheard of on the planet as self-evident truth or the foundations of civil order, until the 18th century. To this day around the world, it’s a minority perspective of self-awareness.
Descartes’, “I think, therefore I am,” seems self-evident to us, but the people of the Bible would not have known what he was taking about. Their answer to the “Who am I?” question would be: “I have a place therefore, I am.” The place could be “in/from my father,” or my clan, tribe, village, or ethnic group. All these things contributed to an ancient person’s sense of identity. Some social scientists have coined the phrase the “Three G’s:” gender, genealogy, and geography to summarize how ancients got their sense of self-identity. It’s vastly different than ours and has profound impact on interpretation and application of Scripture.
While it’s important to separate eternal and universal kingdom values from the human cultural settings of the Bible, it’s also important to not unconsciously read our culture into it. The kingdom of God cannot be reconfigured to a Western 21st century framework of psychological presuppositions. Windows Vista won’t run on a software platform designed for Windows 3.1. God’s kingdom life and power won’t work using Western value system architecture. Attempting to do so will cause a spiritual systems crash. When spiritual systems crash, we are left to deal with devastated lives and human suffering, not just a frozen computer and a weeks worth of aggravation.
Since Jesus is the kingdom norm for all time, we can rest assured that the cultural values He manifested are also kingdom values. By taking on human nature there are certain elements of human life and function that Christ elevated to a universal kingdom dimension by the place and timing of His incarnation. We don’t need to become more Semitic/Jewish in a cultural sense, but we do need to pay attention to those Semitic values that have been promoted to universal status in the incarnation of Christ. It’s not always an easy job to sort out.[ii]
Before Christ did any ministry, act of service, or miracle for His Father, He had His identity confirmed. He heard an audible voice from Heaven saying: “This is my beloved Son.”[iii] At critical junctures in His life, the Father didn’t give Him more power, but reaffirmed His identity.[iv] Christ’s identity as the Son, and His relationship to the Father, was the place the devil relentlessly assaulted Him all the days of His ministry: “If you’re the Son of God . . .” (Matthew 4:3); “We know your father, you’re a bastard . . .” (John 8:41), etc.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that from the manger to the tomb, Christ’s identity was under nonstop attack. This is especially true in John’s gospel. Why? Because the devil knows that identity, not the anointing, is the basis of kingdom manifestation. If he could get Christ to waver in His sense of identity, then His mission would be undone. Since the disciple is not above his master, we should expect no less. If we want to see healing gifts and physical healings flow in our midst in greater power and frequency, then we must move off an anointing paradigm of ministry, and onto a healed identity paradigm of ministry.
Our identity can be damaged in different ways. Sin mars our perception of God’s image from the day we are born. People who promised to accept us or validate us if we would just be more like them, distort the image. That can include authority figures, parents, leaders, and peer groups. Even the routine bumps and bruises of life experienced in this sin-stained world tend to mold us into an image other than God’s image for us. Thankfully, in our redemption Christ not only assures us of heaven, but He also renews the image of God in us.
The most beneficial and long-term effect of spiritual gifts will occur when they are in the hands of folks who’ve had their identity healed. Their doctrine doesn’t have to be perfect, and their behavior doesn’t have to be flawless. Yet knowing who Christ is, who He is in us, and who we are in Him, is the proper foundation for fruitful ministry. It’s the sure foundation.[v] The Scriptures are overflowing with references to our new identity.[vi] How utterly important it is to know:
- Who am I? Our creation (natural birth) and re-creation identity – personhood.
- What am I? What am I supposed to do? – Our talents and supernatural endowments.
- Where do I belong? What is the context for my identity and expression? Community, Body placement, and activation.
These are like the necessary minimum three legs of a stool. Miss any one, and the stool tips over. The sooner we sort these things out in our lives, the better off we will be. Young people could avoid numerous unnecessary sidetracks if these issues were addressed early in their faith. Paul understood the importance. The first three chapters of Ephesians are all about our new identity in Christ (what Christ has done for us, who we are in Him, etc.). No behavioral requirement is mentioned until the pivot verse of Ephesians 4:1: “Now, therefore . . .” It’s a mistake to push people for discipleship or spiritual gift functionality before they understand their new identity incarnationally, not just intellectually. The greatest favor a would-be discipler can do for a new convert or disciple, is reveal the greatness of Christ and the disciple’s place in Him.
Since I’m mortal, my identity and empowerment must have a context for expression on this side of eternity. My “in Him-ness” needs to find expression in space and time. We have a place in the heart of the Father and we have a place on earth. Identity cannot be expressed in a vacuum. It requires a context, a canvas, or a template upon which to operate. Identity’s context is community: family (natural), family (spiritual-the Body of Christ), and the world universal (we are ambassadors). He not only restored us individually to Himself and His Father, but He also restores us to others: family, community, the Body, and the world. We are recreated for community and our message to the unbelieving world should be, join us in this fellowship (1 John 1:3 – koinonia, more on this later.).
The believer’s placement is multidimensional. All three essentials are in Him:
- my personhood is new in Him (my new name).
- my strength is from Him (what am I, what I can do).
- my place is in His bosom, and in the Body.
The promise given to the overcomers in Revelation 2:17 and 3:12 is that a new name, literally a new identity, would be written upon them. Not only do believers get a new name, but the name of the city of God is also written upon them. These are two of the three legs of the stool: identity and a place of belonging. The implication is that these are the context for gift expression and operation and they need to be firmly established early on.
[i] Our education system is based on apprehension of correct technical information, not life-functionality skills.
[ii] The challenge of all Bible interpretation is sorting out which values are transcultural and universal, and which are not. It’s an honest job, and beyond the scope of this writing to delve into.
[iii] Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22.
[iv] John 12:29.
[v] 1 Corinthians 3:11.
[vi] Please refer to Appendix D for a list.
Copyright 2011. This article is excerpted from our book: Healing: Hope or Hype? by Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, Eloquent Books, New York, New York. All rights Reserved. www.drstevecrosby.wordpress.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact email@example.com.