The first time I heard a message on my identity, it hit me hard. By the time I entered college however, I had heard so many messages on “identity” that it almost became cliché. We all get that our identity is in Christ, and that the Bible says Jesus came to die for our sins… for a lot of us, it’s old news.
But if someone asked me “HOW did you live out your identity yesterday?” I would have been stumped. What do you mean? I’m a child of God. I’m just… loved? All of a sudden, what the Bible said about our identity seems a bit theological and distant.
For my brothers and sisters who can relate with me here- there is more to it than that. According to professor Mike Emlet from CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation), the bible says we are 1) sufferers, 2) sinners, and 3) saints. I treasure the Bible and want to live it out faithfully, but I’ve realized that there are many times when I live out my God-given identity in an imbalanced way. I saw myself differently than the way God saw me and that ultimately hurt my relationship with Him.
WHY does this hurt us?
When two people in a relationship have a misaligned view of one another, it ultimately harms the relationship. Have you ever had a friend whom you thought was a close confidant, yet they didn’t consider you to be the same? Or consider a relationship between a guy and girl—the girl believes it to be a friendship, but the guy is under the impression of it being something more.
Can you see how these imbalances can hurt relationships?
In a similar way, there are many times when we fail to see ourselves in the way God sees us. We often focus on only a part of what we are—thus, when we choose to make distinctions, our God-given identity becomes fragmented. This is unhealthy and ultimately distorts the way we view our Father.
Let me explain.
Sufferer: Turn to God as a sufferer in need of comfort. (Psalm 9:13)
As long as we live in a broken world, we will experience the sins of this world and the sins of other people around us. On a global scale, we hear horrifying stories of shootings and abuse. Perhaps, on a more personal level, have you ever had a relationship where another person betrayed you? Has your family ever wounded you? Have you ever become the topic of gossip at your church?
God sees our suffering. He sees you as a sufferer. God comes near to comfort you in your suffering because he is near the brokenhearted. Therefore, we should see God as someone who is our ultimate safe person and comforter.
However, if we don’t see ourselves as sufferers, we may react to sin in two ways. First, we do not expect God to be our comforter. God becomes someone who brings punishment and suffering, but not empathy and comfort. Second, we become angry at Him for allowing us to suffer and for bringing forth pain in our lives. Bitterness at God may become the dominant emotion we feel when we reflect on our present sorrows. This disconnect is harmful to our relationship with Him. God sees us as sufferers in need of comfort and longs to give it to us, however, we do not run to God for the comfort we long for. In essence, God does not become our comforter.
If you believe you are a sufferer, allow yourself to receive the compassion and comfort that God offers you. Realize that God cares for you in your physical, mental, and emotional pains, and sees you as a sufferer. Turn to him in the brokenness and receive the comfort he offers to sufferers like us.
Sinner: Don’t cheapen God’s grace. (Mark 7:20-23).
We are undoubtedly sufferers. Yet this doesn’t mean we are only the products of our circumstances. Sometimes, we encounter brokenness because we are sinful. We are not merely victims of sin—we are guilty of sin. We hurt our friends (intentionally and unintentionally), get swayed in the excitement of church gossip, become self-absorbed, and are quick to judge others. The gospel points out that Jesus came to rescue sinners, and that’s who we are—the ones who were mocking him as he was being nailed to that cross.
If you are someone who doesn’t identify as a sinner or you don’t understand the weight of your sins, you are primarily living to serve your own desires. As a result, you feel that your sins are of little to no consequence, so you give into your temptations frequently and often repeat the same sins without experiencing much remorse. You become sensitive to the sins of others more than your own, and are bothered more by what others are doing wrong. Eventually, this leads you to see God as someone who offers cheap forgiveness and lives to serve you.
Those who don’t understand the depth of their sin cannot understand the greatness of God’s grace. Believer, if you truly believe that you are a sinner, understand that your sin holds much more weight than you know—your single sin caused our savior to be nailed upon the cross to save you from it. Only if you understand this are you able to taste the sweetness of God’s grace. God views you as his beloved whom he redeemed at the highest possible cost. Do not cheapen his grace.
As a sinner, ask the Spirit to reveal to you the depths of your sin and to help you towards true repentance. God has dominion over heaven and earth, and certainly has power over your sins.
Saint: Hope trumps hopelessness. (1 Thess 5:23-24)
No matter if you’re sinning or suffering, if you are a believer, there is reason for hope despite the circumstance.
God is so confident in his work of redemption that he guarantees we will be completely sanctified and holy one day. As of now, we are saints in progress. Therefore, if this is what God is going to do, we should not fall into hopelessness.
There are dangers if you don’t see yourself as a saint: you are characterized by the 3 D’s: disillusionment, despair, and defeat. Your sin and suffering become too much to handle and you become easily defeated. This causes you to fall into despair, and lose hope in what you are going through. You also lose hope in other people, because your view of sin becomes greater than God’s power over their sin or suffering. God becomes a powerless and distant God.
Dear believer, we as saints need to understand that God’s power is greater than any sin of man. When you grasp this, you will be able to see others as a work in progress and have confidence in God’s promise to redeem them. We can even begin to treat ourselves with grace in the midst of our sin and suffering, knowing that God will surely make us whole one day (1 Thess 5:23-24). This will always be our strength to fight this good fight. So no matter how bleak or hopeless a situation may be, we should never lose the hope that God has guaranteed us through Christ.
Our God is the God who raised Jesus from the grave. Therefore, we can now live understanding that His power is greater than the power of any sin on this Earth. Hope always trumps because Christ triumphed over all!
My hope is that we can view ourselves not just as our sins or only as victims, but as ever-sinful people suffering in a broken world, ever-becoming who God intended us to be—holy and blameless through the blood of the Lamb. The Bible calls us to live out our lives understanding these three identities. As we strive towards achieving a balance in this way, I hope we can come to know ourselves rightly, and our compassionate, gracious, and powerful God more intimately.