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Jul 09, 2017

What's Our Identity?

What's Our Identity?

Passage: Colossians 1:1-7

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Colossians

Keywords: identity, identity in christ, self-identity

Summary:

This introductory message on Colossians looks at the importance of human identity and how either the world will shape every aspect of our identity or our life in Jesus Christ will.

Detail:

What’s Our Identity?

Colossians 1:1-7

June 9, 2017

COMMUNION: 

  • What are good reasons why we might take Communion today?
  • What are good reasons why we might not take Communion today?

Morning Greeting Time:  Have everyone introduce themselves to someone else by completing the sentence, “Hello.  My name is ________ and I am a _______________________,” using at least 3 descriptive words or phrases.

            For instance, “Hello, my name is John, and I’m a father of 6 kids, an owner of over 100,000 female workers [bees!] and I’m a backpacking enthusiast…especially where there are huckleberries.  J

INTRO:  We finished last week with our brief study in 1st Samuel of the lives of Eli, Samuel and Saul.  We’ll come back to David’s life and 1st Samuel again at a later date.  But today, we’re launching into a new N.T. book, Paul’s letter to the Colossian church. 

            Earlier this morning, I had you introduce yourself based on three descriptive factors.  We could spend the rest of the morning making long lists of things we think identify who we are.  But we won’t…thankfully. 

            “Identity” is a BIG deal.  It’s always been a big deal.  How we see ourselves and how others “see” us will impact our contentment or discontentment in life profoundly.  We can live out a mistaken identity for years or we can live out our true identity.  How we self-perceive or self-identify will impact the kind of life we lead.  The deeper the identity issues, the greater the impact. 

ILL:  For instance, if I view my physical body as the most important part of my identity, I will develop an image of myself that revolves around my physical characteristics:  sex, height, weight, race, facial or physique features, shoe size, etc.  That may or may not work out well for me, depending on how well I age… or what my natural characteristics are…or what I’m able to do with my body to make me feel good about myself. 

            But the deeper I go into my personhood, the greater the impact on my well-being.  If, for example, I desperately want to see my identity as an opera singer, I will spend the rest of my life trying to be a success in opera.  Having a great voice would really help…and having an average, non-performing voice will mean I’ll probably be very frustrated with life most of my life.

            There are hundreds of identity issues, some physical, others metal or emotional, others spiritual and relational, that will shape my misery or happiness through life.  Things like nationality, race, gender, intellect, social skills, disabilities, height, friendships, addictions, schooling, occupations, personality, relationship with God—these and a million other things will shape my identity and thus my sense of well being as a person. 

            The challenge today for Christ-followers like us, living in this culture, is to develop an identity that aligns with what God both has done in making us and will do in remaking us into the image of Jesus.  Every part of our “identity” can be under attack.  Every part of our identity can be confused…even the deepest parts of our humanity like our gender and sexuality. 

            Until the last 30-50 years, both gender and sexuality were pretty simple things:  you were either male or female, masculine or feminine.  Everyone knew most people were “straight” and a few people were “homosexual.” 

All that is now up for grabs.  We now live in a culture that sees gender and birth-sex as two (or 2 billion) different things.  We’re told that no 2 people share the exact same “gender” and that everything is gender-fluid.  Our children are told in school that not only can they choose what kind of gender-combo they want to be but they can choose what kind of physical changes they want to make in order to correspond with their new “gender.”  So now someone can be a “transgender male” (male self-image with femal organs).  So your neighbor, who is sporting a beard and looking very masculine but used self-identify as a woman and was born a female, might just show up pregnant at your neighborhood block party.  What a world we live in!

If this is where our culture is regarding “identity”…if this is the lengths to which people will go to “change” their identity… no wonder  identity has become the issue of the day for both Christians and non-believers.  What you think about who you are will shape huge swaths of your life experience.  In fact, it is probably safe to say that there is not a single area of our lives that is not going to be shaped in some way by how we view or understand or identify ourselves. 

Which is why this book of Colossians is SO important.  If, as Christ-followers, we are called to “become like Jesus” in what we think, what we feel, what we value, what we do, etc., then WHO Jesus really is is very important.  And so is WHO we really are “in Christ”…or “in the flesh” or “old nature,” as the Scripture calls our unredeemed and unsanctified nature.  Identity really matters. 

So turn to Colossians 1:1 (or read it off the screen.)  These first few verses of Colossians are going to give some strong identity factors for all of us. 

Vs. 1--Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Paul is the first person introduced in this letter.  For your information, we are pretty sure that he was, at the time of writing this, in prison in Rome because of his faith in Jesus.  Colossians is called one of the four “Prison Epistles” or letters. The other three are Ephesians, Philippians and Philemon.  There is also an interesting connection between this letter and one of the other Prison Epistles, Philemon.  Both of them were delivered by the same messenger to the church in Colosse, by Tychicus (4:7-9).  This letter went specifically to the church.  Philemon went specifically to Philemon, a member and probably a leader in the Colossian church. 

            Paul could have identified himself by a number of other markers, right?  What could those have been?

  • I’m Paul, a Pharisee
  • A Hebrew
  • A Benjamite
  • A zealous persecutor of the church
  • A murderer
  • A tongues-speaker
  • A church planter
  • A Roman citizen
  • A hunted man
  • A prisoner
  • A servant of Christ
  • A prophet
  • A gifted church leader
  • A miracle worker
  • A world traveler
  • A public speaker
  • An apologist of the faith
  • A pastor
  • A spiritual father
  • A disciple-maker
  • A Spirit-directed writer
  • ???

All of those would have been true.  But he chose one thing:  “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God.” 

Meaning of “Apostle” in N.T.:

  1. In a non-technical sense of a messenger or emissary (Phil 2:25; 2 Cor. 8:23).
  2. In a semi-technical sense of a Christian with a particular commission (Acts 14:14—Barnabas; Rom 16:7—Andronicus & Janias)
  3. A technical sense of one of the 12 Apostles (Mt. 10:2) and Paul (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:9).

Q:  If someone asked you to self-identify in Christ, how could you respond? Turn to someone next to you and introduce yourself spiritually.  “Hi, I’m John and I am…(a follower of Jesus…a pastor of God’s people…an Elder of God’s church in Spokane…a preacher of the Gospel…a ????”

Now, according to God’s Word, who are you in Christ? 

  1. A Child of God (Jn. 1:12)
  2. A holy brother/sister (Heb. 3:1)
  3. A Servant of God (I Pt. 2:16)
  4. An ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)
  5. A brother/[sister] off Christ (Heb. 2:11)
  6. Sanctified—set apart in Christ (I Cor. 1:2; 6:11)
  7. A Saint (Col 1:2; Phil 1:1; Eph. 1:1; I Cor. 1:2)
  8. The salt of the earth (Jn. 5:13)
  9. The light of the world (Jn. 5:14)
  10. Christ’s friend (John 15:15)
  11. A slave of righteousness (Rm. 6:18)
  12. An heir with Christ (Rm. 8:17)
  13. A temple of God himself (I Cor. 3:16;6:19)
  14. A member of Christ’s body on earth (Eph. 5:30; I Cor. 12:27)
  15. A new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)
  16. A minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18, 19)
  17. God’s workmanship/handiwork (Eph. 2:10)
  18. A fellow citizen of heaven with the rest of God’s children (Eph. 2:6, 19; Phil. 3:20)
  19. A prisoner of Christ (Eph. 3:1; 4:1)
  20. God’s chosen child, holy and dearly loved (Col. 3:12)
  21. A living stone in God’s spiritual house (I Pt. 2:5)
  22. A chosen race (I Pt. 2:9)
  23. A royal priesthood (I Pt. 2:9)
  24. A citizen of a holy nation (I Pt. 2:9)
  25. An alien and stranger to this world (I Pt. 2:11)

APP:  Which identity on this list feels most comfortable to you?  Which feels most foreign?

But Paul is being even more specific here.  He’s identifying what he is to the church

APP:  Which leads me to ask, “If you were asked to identify yourself according to who you are to the church of God (not just Mosaic), what might it be? 

  • A doorkeeper at Mosaic?
  • A small group member?
  • A prayer warrior?
  • A sister/brother to many?
  • A teacher?
  • A sound tec?
  • A cook?
  • A counselor?
  • A mentor?
  • A spiritual coach?
  • A worship leader?
  • A generous giver?
  • A couch potato!!!??? J
  • ???

If you feel like you are casting about trying to figure out who/what you are to the people of God in Spokane, we want to help you.  We want to mentor and coach you into the “sweet spot” God has for you in His family.  We want you to know what God’s will is for you when it comes to ministering to others.

Paul knew WHO he was both in and to the church.  Even though he was chained as a prisoner, stuck in Rome, robbed of his rights and freedoms, his real calling and identity wasn’t bound, stopped, robbed or chained.  He was still a man “sent by God to be a messenger).  Of all the things he could have mentioned he was in this world, he chose God’s calling on his life:  an Apostle of Christ Jesus.

And Timothy, the other participant in writing this letter, is simply called “our brother.”  This “family language” has meaning. 

APP:  While God has made us spiritual siblings in the family of God, I’m not sure we’re all ready to embrace that role. 

            What do siblings do?  They live/spend time together.  They fight with each other.  They make up.  They feel a strong, emotional connection to each other.  They bond.  They protect each other. (Blood is thicker than water!)  They eat together, do dishes together, get together at special holidays and events.  They celebrate each other’s successes and grieve each other’s losses.  They play together and pray together.  They help each other as much as they can and when they can.  They call each other out when there are actions and attitudes that are hurtful and damaging. 

            Are we really willing to BE brothers and sisters to each other?  Or are we just “distant cousins”?  “Neighbors?”  “Acquaintances?”  Or “members of the same religious club?” 

From telling us WHO is writing this letter, the authors now turn to WHO is getting this letter:

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae:  

One of my long-time prayer partners, Dave Thew, would always address me, “Saint John.”  It’s kinda got a nice ring to it, don’t you think? J  Actually, I usually look around to see who he is really talking to. 

            “Saints” literally means “holy people.”  We’re a “set-apart” people—set apart by God for His purposes in this world.  He’s pulled us out of the common cupboard of humanity and said, “YOU are now set apart from everyone else as mine—a vessel for honor in the most honorable kingdom in the universe.” 

APP:  I wonder what difference it would make if we reminded each other of our high calling every time we met.  “Hello Saint Sandy!  Hello Saint Sarah!  Good to see you, Saint Steven!”  As humans we tend to live up…or down…to the names people call us.  Why not live like the saints we are? 

            The negative labels, the negative names people gave us seem to stick like contact cement, don’t they?  The words that parents or a spouse or a teacher or a classmate pronounced over us still rings in our ears:  STUPID…IDIOT…LOOSER…S.O.B… FAILURE…ADICT…ETC.

APP:  Think for a moment about some of the negative labels that have been stuck on you through life.  Maybe write them down.  Then I want us to REJECT them and ask God to replace them with His declarations over us. 

            It’s time we started reminding each other with our words who we really are now that we’re “in Christ.” 

Speaking of that phrase, Paul uses that phrase “in Christ” some 80 times in his letters.  He apparently wanted us to be impressed with and changed by all we have by nature of belonging to Jesus.  

            The second descriptive phrase Paul uses to label Christ-followers is “faithful brothers.”  “Brothers” is, of course, is a generic term applied to both men and women.  He’s describing the church as “faithful family members…brothers and sisters.” 

I think it is safe to say that this, too, is a positional rather than an actual, moment-by-moment description of God’s people.  Followers of Jesus are not always faith-filled any more than we are always saint-like or free from moral imperfection/sin. But just as holiness is to set us apart from the way non-believers live, so faithfulness to Christ is to set us apart. 

ILL:  Conversation this week at the bike shop with a young man who was working on his bike.  At one point I asked him where he was from and what schools he had attended, to which he replied, “Cheney”.  We got to talking about the Masons who teach out there.  I mentioned I had done the funeral of one of them a few years ago. Through tears told me that just a couple of months ago he had written to one of them from jail because he was so grateful for the impact he had on his life.  

            That got me to thinking about Tim, one of the Mason brothers who worked on my church staff at 4th Memorial and still runs Riverview Bible Camp.  Tim was on staff awhen a tragic boating accident claimed the life of his oldest son.  So Tim lost his son, his father and his brother in the space of a very few years, two of them tragically. 

            And yet Tim continues to run one of the best Christian camps in the area.  He and Katrina have stayed married and are raising their other 3 wonderful boys.  And Tim has stayed faithful to Christ through all the anguish, depression, sadness and anger that grief brings.  That is a sure sign that he is both a saint and a faithful brother.  And that is what our calling is no matter what the challenges—to be faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. 

APP:  If you’re in a hard time right now, just stay faith-filled.  Cast all your doubts and questions on God and let Him answer the ones he knows will get you through.  And the ones He chooses not to answer, have enough faith to trust that you don’t need the answer to those questions to finish your race of faith well.  Trust Him. 

            This greeting ends: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.  While this is a very common greeting of Paul, it combines two expressions of God’s generous nature towards sinners.  Grace is God’s undeserved goodness and blessing towards us while peace is being right with our holy God. It picks up the old Hebrew greeting of Shalom and Greek greeting of grace (charis).

APP:

  • How might we redeem simple greetings to make them statements of God’s work in our world and lives? Certainly we could end every conversation with a “God bless you today” or something that reminds people God is at work in our world.
  • In what experience or relationship or trial do you need God’s undeserved blessing (grace) in some way OR in what area of your life do you need peace? [Speak God’s grace and peace into these points of need.]

Let’s read the remaining paragraph.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

            Obviously the Gospel-based triad of faith, hope and love are present here—faith in Christ Jesus, hope laid up for us in heaven and love for all God’s people (vs. 4) “in the Spirit” (vs. 7).  For a few minutes, let’s talk about how these 3 are working in our experience here as God’s people.

FAITH:

  • How are we expressing FAITH in Jesus Christ here today? What are we doing TODAY that demonstrates our faith in Him? (Worship, obedient in fellowship, sacrifice, service, giving, ???) 
  • How many of you first put your faith in Jesus less than 5 years ago? 10? 20? 30? 40?  50? 60? 
  • WHAT was it that finally convinced you to put your faith in Jesus Christ?

HOPE:  “…laid up for us in heaven….”  So the hope God wants us to carry within us is not so much about things that are happening here (on earth) and now in time but then (eternity) and there (heaven).  Why would God want us to cultivate a way of thinking that is rooted in heaven itself? 

ILL: 

  • What did the “hope” of summer vacation do to you when you were a kid?
  • What does the “hope” of dinner at home after a long day’s work DO to you in the late afternoon?
  • For engaged couples, what does the “hope” of your impending marriage DO to you during your courtship?
  • So just WHAT is that hope that is “in heaven”?
  • Eternal life with God (Titus 1:2; 3:7) experiencing his glory (Rm. 5:2; Titus 2:13)
  • Jesus Christ himself (1 Tim. 1:1)
  • Complete salvation, total righteousness (Gal. 5:5)
  • Bodily resurrection
  • Grace brought to us at the appearing of Jesus (I Pt. 1:13)
  • What can that hope DO to us?
    • In crises of health?
    • In relationship pain?
    • In financial problems?
    • In housing problems?
    • In work problems?
    • In life disappointments?

The kind of HOPE God wants us to experience isn’t something our culture or non-Christian friends will ever experience.  

LOVE:  “…the love that you have for all the saints (vs. 4)…your love in the Spirit” (vs. 8).

  • When is the last time you thanked God for the love you have experienced from other “saints”?
  • Just WHAT was it about their love for you that you thank God for?

[Popcorn answers (as a sort of verbal thanks to God) to WHAT we are grateful for in our experience of the love of God’s people.]

APP: 

  • What kinds of expressions of love do you think we as God’s people at Mosaic should grow into?
  • If agape love is doing that which is in the best interest of the person receiving the love, WHAT could we be doing better to love each other “in the Spirit”?

These 3 qualities—faith in Jesus Christ, hope about heaven, and love for one another in the Spirit—have always been the hallmarks of the true, living, Spirit-filled church throughout the centuries. And it is that kind of life God’s people have shared that has made the Gospel of Jesus so compelling in every place God’s people have gone. 

ILL:  The Celtic Way of Evangelism—a book given to me by a Presbyterian pastor friend of mine.  It talks about why St. Patrick’s outreach in Ireland was so transforming.  I came away with 2 very interesting and strategic thoughts.

1.)  Patrick didn’t try to impose the Roman model of reaching people which was a 1-size/style-fits-all approach to the Gospel.  One mass, in Latin, one liturgy, one priest, one way of expressing our faith.  Patrick let towns and villages develop practices that fit their culture, their language, their way of life, etc. It was an indigenous model of worship and church life.

2.)  Patrick didn’t try to convince people intellectually, theologically, apologetically that the Gospel needed to be accepted. He wasn’t first asking them to believe something first, a set of beliefs disassociated from life together.  Instead he invited them into community to belong before believing.  Once they experienced what the people of God were like and what life in Christ was doing to others like them, then they would often believe.

            God can and has used both models—the Roman 1-size-fits-all and the Celtic—belong and then believe.  But I have a hunch that the Celtic way is going to be more powerful in our present culture that is very skeptical about people wanting to convert others to a “belief system” or “theology” before showing them the actual power and life of that belief. 

Vss. 5-6 are really a description of how the Gospel of Christ has changed the entire world over the last 20 centuries it has been lived and preached worldwide. 

“Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth….”

            How many of us here today can honestly say that we not only heard the truth of the Gospel of Jesus (his saving work for us and our need of responsive faith in Him) BUT we have also seen the “fruit” of the life-change it brought to our own souls, lives, families, marriages, etc.? 

Group Experience:  get in groups of 5-6 and take the remaining ____ minutes to share just HOW you have seen the gospel “bear fruit and increase” in some area or aspect of your life.  (These are the stories/experiences/testimonies that God wants to use to grow his church in Spokane and around the world.

According to God’s Word,

You are the following in Christ:

  1. A Child of God (Jn. 1:12)
  2. A holy brother/sister (Heb. 3:1)
  3. A Servant of God (I Pt. 2:16)
  4. An ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)
  5. A brother/[sister] off Christ (Heb. 2:11)
  6. Sanctified—set apart in Christ (I Cor. 1:2; 6:11)
  7. A Saint (Col 1:2; Phil 1:1; Eph. 1:1; I Cor. 1:2)
  8. The salt of the earth (Jn. 5:13)
  9. The light of the world (Jn. 5:14)
  10. Christ’s friend (John 15:15)
  11. A slave of righteousness (Rm. 6:18)
  12. An heir with Christ (Rm. 8:17)
  13. A temple of God himself (I Cor. 3:16;6:19)
  14. A member of Christ’s body on earth (Eph. 5:30; I Cor. 12:27)
  15. A new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)
  16. A minister of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18, 19)
  17. God’s workmanship/handiwork (Eph. 2:10)
  18. A fellow citizen of heaven with the rest of God’s children (Eph. 2:6, 19; Phil. 3:20)
  19. A prisoner of Christ (Eph. 3:1; 4:1)
  20. God’s chosen child, holy and dearly loved (Col. 3:12)
  21. A living stone in God’s spiritual house (I Pt. 2:5)
  22. A chosen race (I Pt. 2:9)
  23. A royal priesthood (I Pt. 2:9)
  24. A citizen of a holy nation (I Pt. 2:9)
  25. An alien and stranger to this world (I Pt. 2:11)