Today is Thursday, April 2! Welcome back to another day in our Lent Journey! This is Gina, and I want to thank you for rejoining me for scripture reading, reflection and prayer.
Theme: Our identity is in Christ
Scripture: Genesis 17:1–8 (ESV)
There is a lot of talk in our Western societies about identity. It seems that in our era, understanding our own identity, and being able to then express that identity, has become very important to people.
What is identity? Webster’s English Dictionary describes it as “the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” A person’s identity is what sets her apart as a unique individual from all other persons.
In some societies, people understand their identity – and thus their purpose and meaning – primarily in relationship to others: I am a mother; I am a husband; I am a brother. I am a grandparent, or an aunt.
In other societies, people primarily understand their identity through their work: I am a carpenter; I am a computer programmer; I am a farmer or rancher; I am a truck driver; I am a police officer or a nurse or a teacher.
In some societies, people have come to believe that their identity is “fluid” and that they can change it at will, such as their gender, sexual orientation, or race or ethnicity.
In our 21st century, identity theft has become one of our most pervasive and disturbing crimes. And “identity politics” shapes our societies and political landscape.
Abusers may manipulate someone to view their identity in a way that allows the abuser more control.
All this implies that our sense of identity is a fundamental aspect of our existence. Our identity shapes how we understand ourselves, our role in our family and society, and drives how we relate to others. Our identity can shape our sense of purpose for our lives.
The scripture today describes a time that God changed a man’s identity.
When God initiated a covenant with Abram, God promised to make Abram the ancestor of a “multitude of nations.” Not just one nation, which would already be quite a big deal. And not even “a couple of nations” or “several nations,” which would be even more astonishing, but a “multitude of nations.” That’s virtually incomprehensible.
God went even further, promising to expand the covenant between the two of them to include all Abram’s offspring for generations. In other words, to include that multitude of nations. He asked of Abram in return only that Abram “be blameless” and “walk before me.” The Living Bible translates this command as “obey me and live as you should.”
To seal this covenant, God changed Abram’s identity. The name Abram in the language of his time meant “high father.” Abraham meant “father of a multitude.”
God has changed the identities of other key figures in the Bible, especially in Abraham’s own family.
God changed the name of Abraham’s wife from Sarai to Sarah, which means “princess” because she would become the mother of this multitude of nations. Abraham’s grandson, was Jacob, whose name meant “supplanter.” To supplant, in English, means to use betrayal or deception to take power from another person. Jacob had done that to his older twin brother. But when Jacob had a life-changing encounter with his grandfather’s God, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “one who struggles with God.” Abraham’s God became Israel’s God.
Sometime after Saul was struck temporarily blind by his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus, he became a zealous missionary for Christ. He changed his name to Paul, which means “small” or “humble,” to signify that although once arrogant, he had been forever humbled by meeting Jesus.
In each of these stories, we see that God asks someone to leave behind part or all of their former identity to embrace a new one. Their identity is now oriented around their relationship with God. Who they were before they encountered the living Creator God is not who they remain afterward. They are changed.
Some of us take pride and confidence from knowing and being rooted in our identity. We feel secure knowing we are living fully into who we were designed to be, whether or not we recognize and credit God as that designer.
Some have pride and confidence in being a mother, having assurance they are really good at it. Some have realized that they are a gifted business person or entrepreneur. Others have found their path in life as an excellent teacher, taking deep joy and purpose from shaping and mentoring young people every day.
Others of us desperately wish we could change our identity, and many of us try. Some feel that, from their very birth, something deep inside is skewed or off-target. Some can’t seem to find the purpose that others so easily recognize and embrace, whether it is a purpose found in relationship to others, or in finding that vocation or talent that fills their lives with meaning.
There are times when we go through a radical life change, such as a loss of a job, loss of a relationship, or a permanent change in our health. We might ask, “Who am I now?” And we don’t know the answer. It is as if the very foundation is pulled from beneath us. We feel lost.
Some of us feel that we have been assigned an identity by others, and it is ill-fitting. We don’t want to be the social outcast that others have told us we are, or the low-achiever, the one who struggles in school or at work. We don’t want to be identified as someone who’s depressed, or who has an auto-immune disorder, or who is barren. We have had bosses or teachers tell us we’re lazy or undisciplined, and we start to wonder if that is who we are. The world has told us that we’re no more than our gender or race or caste or economic status, but we know that can’t be all we are. There must be more. Yet, then, who are we?
The answer is waiting, for every person who has given their lives to Jesus: Our identity is now found in Him.
When the world tries to tell us who it thinks we should be, or our enemy whispers lies about who we are, we can set all that aside and look to Jesus to understand our true identity in relation to Him. It simplifies everything when we no longer define ourselves by who other people think we are, or who we want to be, but only by who God says we are.
God says we are His children. Jesus says we are the beloved and beautiful bride of Christ. As the Holy Spirit grows us to be like Christ, we can come to say that our identity is loving, joyful, peaceful, kind, persevering, good, faithful, gentle, self-controlled.
When we find our identity in Jesus, we can become assured, confident, and at peace with ourselves. We are rooted in our only real purpose in life: To love God, to be like Christ, and to love others as we learn to love ourselves. That’s it. It’s simple. Beautiful. Reassuring.
No matter who people tell you you are, no matter who the enemy tries to convince you you are, no matter what you fear you might be, if you have given your life to Jesus and are following Him, you are a beloved, precious, treasured child of God.
That is your identity.
- When someone asks me who I am, what are the first words that come to mind?
- What have I seen as my purpose or identity in life?
- Are there aspects of my identity that trouble me or cause me shame? Give those parts of your identity to God, and ask Him to give you back a new identity in Him.
By acknowledging You as our father, we identify as Your children. By learning more about who You are, we learn more about who we are in relation to You. You are our creator. You knew us when we were still in the womb, and You designed us carefully as unique, one-of-a-kind individuals, with a purpose for our lives. And this purpose is simply to know You, to love You, and to be loved by You. And for that love to flow out of us to the world around us. That’s it.
What a beautiful, restful blessing to know that You give each of us our identity as Your precious, treasured, beloved child. We need no other identity than that. Nothing and no one can take away how You see us and who You tell us we are. Our identity is secure in You. Strengthen our confidence in our identity as Your children.
For those identities that cause us shame, guilt, or burden us, we give these old identities to You. We pray that You will make us new. Make us like Jesus. Thank You that You remake us in Your image, as we surrender to You and allow the Spirit to work in us.
We love You and we need You.
In the name of our Lord Jesus, we pray, Amen.
The additional scripture readings for today are from: