Growing in Faith: Identity in Jesus

Let me ask you a question.  If you knew you were going to live forever – what kind of person would you want to become? No one will stand up and say, I’d like to become more greedy.  More self centered.  More angry and bitter.  No!

If you knew you were going to live forever, you would desire to become a person who is more loving.  More kind.  More generous.  Someone who is quick to encourage and slow to anger.  Someone who is abounding in love.    I have no doubt that the longer you had to describe the person you’d like to become, the more that person would sound like Jesus.

That is the essence of spiritual growth.  Spiritual Growth is a life long pursuit of being transformed into the image of Jesus.  It is a process that is empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, who lives inside of us and works in cooperation with us, to radically change us from the inside out.

Our bodies are decaying.  Some faster than others.  But all of us will have to face the truth some day that our outer bodies are decaying.  But we do not lose heart?

Why?  As the Bible says…  16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. 

2 Corinthians 4:16 NIV

The Bible teaches us that once we have placed our faith in Jesus, to expect to be changed – from the inside out – into a different kind of human being.

So I want to start this morning by talking about some principles of Spiritual Growth and then I want to talk about one change that must happen for us to be able to grow.

First – some principles of spiritual growth.

  1. Spiritual growth is for everyone.

See, the reason I can speak about growing in our faith is because all of us have a next step to take in our walk with Jesus.  It was the Apostle Paul – after all – who wrote to the church that met in Philippi that his desire was to know Jesus…  to become like him….  12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Phil 3:12

We all have growing to do.  And it honors God and brings us life when we make the effort to press on to know Jesus and become like him day by day.  It makes each day meaningful knowing we are walking with Jesus and he is teaching us how to live our lives as if He were the one living our life.  We are his Apprentices – and it’s an apprenticeship that lasts our lifetime.

  1. Spiritual growth is expected.

In Hebrews chapter 5 it says that newborn babies crave milk.  But there comes a time in your maturity when you need something more substantial in your diet – you need solid food.  And the writer of Hebrews is saying that your spiritual life is similar.  When you are a new Christian, you are learning some of the elemental things.  But at some point it’s important to press onward and dive in a little deeper.

So Spiritual growth is expected.  However, it’s not automatic.

  1. Spiritual Growth requires effort.

I remember a conversation I had a number of years ago where I say on the other side of a desk from a young woman and I told her – Listen- I think it’s time we parted ways.  This thing, it’s just not working out for me.  It’s not you, it’s me – I told her.  I just don’t feel that I can make a commitment at this time.

And I’ll never forget what she said to me – She took it surprisingly well and said to me,  “We’re sorry to hear that Mr. Human.  We hope to see you back here at Gold’s Gym in the future should you ever decide to get serious about caring for your health.

See – I discovered it’s one thing to think a transformed body- and another to put the work in.  And a transformed soul is no different.  Spiritual growth is participatory.  It requires effort.

  1. Spiritual Growth cannot be hurried. The soul likes to go slow.
  2. Spiritual growth cannot be delayed.

Author Bill Hull wrote a chapter in the book called The Kingdom Life, in which he writes that Spiritual Growth is slow work that cannot be hurried, however it is urgent work and cannot be delayed.  In America, slow and urgent are not compatible.  But in the Kingdom – they are yoked together. 

The formation of character into the image of Jesus can’t be hurried.  It is slow work.  And it can be messy.  It is slow work that cannot be hurried, however it is urgent work and cannot be delayed.

And herein lies perhaps the greatest problem in the church in America today.  Here’s another quote from Bill Hull – I wonder if you agree…

What is the problem in the church?  Many people have come to believe it is possible to be a Christian without being a disciple of Jesus.  

When we started Journey Church and we told people we’d like to be a church for people who don’t like the church, we found no shortage of people who told us they’d love to be part of a church like that.  And when pressed for details about what that meant to them, when asked about what they saw as a major problem with the church in their eyes – many times it came back to this issue here.

The church is filled with people who claimed to follow Jesus and yet, didn’t live like he lived.  Didn’t love like he loved.  Didn’t care about people the way he cared about people.  Didn’t display grace like he displayed grace.

Well we’re counting on Journey to be a church filled with people who are doing more than relying on Jesus to save them a seat in heaven.  We’re counting on Journey being a church counting on Jesus to transform us from the inside out into His image as we grow in our faith.

But how?  Where does transformation start?  It begins with making a decision to think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with our life – every part of it – we surrender control of our Kingdom and allow Him to reign.   If we don’t do that – then all attempts to change are just behavior modification.  And though certainly there’s something to be said about changing destructive behavior, that alone will not cut  deep enough to change your soul.

Rather, the Bible tells us that true transformation begins by changing the way we think.  Here’s a verse from Romans 12 that highlights the goal of transformation and also shows us where it begins.

Romans 12:2 says, Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think

Real change – real transformation of character – begins up here- in the head.  It begins with a change in the way we think.  This is why Jesus begins his public ministry in the book of Matthew chapter 4 with these words – repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

This word repent is one of the most misunderstood words in the bible.  Most people think it means to apologize or to say you are sorry – but the greek word is meta- meaning change – and noia – meaning think.

Jesus begins his public ministry – his sermon on the mount – with an announcement – I want you to change the way you think.  If you change the way you think – it will naturally change the way you act.   About what, exactly?

If you were to read through the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5,6,7, you will discover one remarkable invitation from Jesus after another to rethink what we think we know.

He tells us to rethink who is able to access the kingdom of God.  Is it just really religious or really good people – or can anyone just blunder their way into the presence of God.

Rethink who is blessable in the Kingdom.  Is it just people who have their act together?  Then why does Jesus say- the drunks and prostitutes are finding their way into the Kingdom party while the religious elite are outside looking in?

It’s time to rethink how we treat one another – and to imagine becoming the kind of person who sees others as human beings created and loved by God – and therefore worth treating apart from contempt and anger and lust and control.

Transforming our soul begins with re-thinking what we know about reality.

This morning I’d like to talk with you about one thing you simply must think differently about if you expect to see real spiritual growth.

And this is it:  I want you to think differently about how you think God feels about you.

There’s a fairly famous story in the bible where Jesus goes to be baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River and when Jesus comes up out of the water the people hear a voice speaking from the heavens – clearly the voice of our Heavenly Father, and listen to what he says about Jesus.

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”  Matthew 3:17

You know, there are many people in this room, and any room, who wished their father had spoken such a blessing over them.  Jesus has that kind of father – who would speak a blessing over Jesus.  And just a reminder – this is before Jesus does a single miracle.  He hasn’t yet begun his ministry.  He hasn’t earned this blessing due to his excellent performance.

This is just a picture of a Father who is immensely proud of his Son and wants the world to know – I love this guy.  He brings me great joy.

And this morning I want you to know – that through faith in Jesus these very words apply to you as well.  Can you bring yourself to believe that God would stand in front of this church and put his hand on your shoulder and announce to the room – this is my beloved son.  Whom I love.  And who brings me great joy.  This is my cherished daughter – I love her so much.  She brings me such joy.

Can you bring yourself to hear God speak that blessing over you this morning?

Or do you think he might stand over you and say, “When are you going to get your act together?”  Or tsk tsk.  Or I’m disappointed?

Listen – if you hear God speaking over you any words that aren’t in line with these words from Matthew 3:17, then you need to re-think your thinking.

Because you’re not basing your thinking on reality.  You cannot grow in your faith until you realize that through faith in Jesus you are his cherished daughter, beloved son.

And the reason why you cannot grow until you understand and embrace and celebrate this reality, is because your soul is on a pursuit to answer the question, “Who am I?  What makes me important?”  Your soul will not rest until it settles on an answer –

Psychologists call it Identity.  Here’s a quote from psychology today.

Identity is largely concerned largely with the question: “Who are you?” What does it mean to be who you are? Identity relates to our basic values that dictate the choices we make.  These choices reflect who we are and what we value.

For example, we can assume that the investment banker values money, while the college professor values education and helping students…   Lack of a coherent sense of identity will lead to uncertainty about what one wants to do in life.

And I’d go even further than this – not only will you be uncertain about what to do and the choices you make – but your soul understands the danger that comes from placing it’s identity on something that can be lost – and therefore will never truly rest.

What do I mean?  Well, If you base your identity on having money – or being able to make money…  what happens when you lose it all?  If you base your identity on being a great spouse?  What happens to you if they walk out the door on you?

If you base your identity on being an athlete, what happens when you break a leg?  If you base your identity on your appearance, what happens when you age, and gain weight?  If I base my identity on being a pastor of a growing church, what happens when it stops growing?  Or shrinks?

Never base your identity on what can be taken from you.  What can be lost or stolen or walk out the door on you.

Rather, base your identity on the fact  the hard truth, that through faith in Jesus you are a deeply loved child of God in whom God takes great delight.

And I want to reiterate it again – this is not a plea to engage you imagination.  I’m not asking you to pretend God loves you.

I’m telling you that through the work of Jesus on the cross, God looks at you with the same love and devotion that He looks at Jesus.

Our status with God has changed.  We were once an enemy of God.  This is the exact wording the bible uses to help us understand how dire our condition once was…

Colossians 121 Once, you were far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 

Does it make you feel uncomfortable to read in the Bible that God perceived us as his enemies?  Well – what else would you call an attempt to overthrow the rightful government of God?

Even today the punishment for treason is death.  And before we placed our faith in Jesus – It was a game of thrones.  It was a war to see who’s kingdom would prevail.  And our rebellion against God’s rule and reign placed us in opposition to the one true ruler of the universe.

And we would have remained far from God – and under the penalty of death for our treason, had not God himself orchestrated a plan to rescue us and to bring us back to himself.

22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

God in his mercy and love did not simply squash the rebellion and dole out the just penalty for our treason.  Rather – God, in his justice, doled out the penalty upon Jesus, who willingly swapped places with us in order to change our status.

He swapped places with us.  He took our penalty.  We took his sinlessness.

And make sure you catch this – now God looks at you as someone who is just as righteous as He is.  Just as innocent of wrong as He is.

Through faith in Jesus, you are holy and blameless as you stand right now – this very morning – before him, without a single fault.

You are righteous in God’s sight – and if that term is hard to understand – the opposite of righteous is rejected.  You are not rejected.  You are embraced.  Brought into God’s presence, holy and blameless without a single fault.

You are God’s beloved child.  In whom he takes great joy.  It’s reality.  Because of the cross.  , John 1:12 NLT But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.

Only when we allow our soul to be planted in the rich soil of God’s love will our faith begin to grow.

In a moment I will pray and we will have communion and we will celebrate what Jesus has done on our behalf.  But before I do – let’s take a moment in silent prayer.

And as you pray allow me to ask you – what have you based your identity on?  Is it your charm?  Your smarts?  Your athletic prowess?  What is the most important thing about you?

If it’s anything other than God’s love for you – than it’s a house of cards.  Talk to the Lord now and ask Him to help you rethink who you are.

Is there anything in your life that you feel remains between you and God?  Anything you need to confess to Him – something He’s asked you to give up but you’ve been rebelling against his reign?

Finally this morning.  Will you let me speak on God’s behalf this morning.  Will you allow yourself to be spoken a blessing to by our heavenly Father.  You are His cherished daughter.  You are his beloved son.  He loves you.  He takes great joy in you.