May 31, 2015
Rev. Michael F. Bailey
Identity: A Child of God
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
Today we begin a sermon series on our “identity” as followers of the Christ.
We’ll start today by thinking together about the meaning of being a “child of God.”
Then, in the weeks to come we’ll look at how our identity is shaped by having an “eternal destination”. One of the sermons will be on being a new creation in Christ. We’ll also have a sermon on how our identity is shaped by the promise of God’s sustaining presence in our tough, difficult times in life. All of these spiritual and Biblical themes remind us, ultimately, of who we are and Whose we are.
And how we need such reminders. There is intense messaging in contemporary life that can crowd out, steal even, the truth of who we are and Whose we are.
Last year, I read somewhere, the criminal world carried out 14 million acts of identity theft in our nation alone. Why, just this past week, Lauralee and I received communication from a financial institution we deal with letting us know they had a possible security breach. Identity theft is an awful fact of contemporary living perpetrated by the criminal world.
The “fallen world” seems to continuously find way to carry out a type of spiritual identity theft regarding Christians! Sadly, this seems to be especially true if you look at the kind of influences toward warped identity the fallen world hoists on our young people.
Think of the ways the messaging of the world causes spiritual amnesia:
Some, in response to the question, “what is a human being?” would say without hesitation, “the highest form of mammal or animal life, nothing more.” Just think of how one would live if that was the only and primary identity held? Others in the world define people with a kind of socio-economic determinism. For instance, you’re a middle-aged, middle class, white male with a high school diploma. This is your identity. You will believe this, behave in this way and act in this manner; no ifs, ands or buts! Some proffer an environmental or genetic determinism as an identity robbing technique: you were raised in this kind of neighborhood, home or culture or you have these genes at play in your life – this is all you can and will be, no escape!
Others, take such generalizations to generate fear and hate of folks who are different in nationality, race, language, income or sexual orientation. Think how people who are on the receiving end of hate or fear have their identity shaped by such.
The fallen world has ways innumerous for robbing Christians of their true identity and causing a kind of spiritual amnesia. Because the enormity of such messaging, our first sermon is this series is crucial. Paul couldn’t be clearer. He teaches that those who are led by the Spirit have as their primary, foundational reality, being “children of God.” What a blessing this is! I can think of none greater.
He teaches that the Spirit leads us not only in “claiming our divine childhood” but also to an intimacy that let’s us call God, “abba,” daddy. Spiritually, this brings us to the right order of living: God is our heavenly parent and we are God’s dependents, in every sense of that word. And how liberating this is! Paul likens this not to fearful slavery but adoption into the divine family as full portion heirs with Christ. What hope; what promise, is found in being a child of God, heirs and heiresses with Christ.
There is assurance in being a child of God. God’s love for God’s children is an everlasting love. There is nothing we can do to earn more of this love; the cross and resurrection is the ultimate in love and can’t be added to. And here’s good news, there is nothing we can do that will cause our Heavenly Parent to love us less. Oh, we can grieve the divine Parent’s heart but God’s love never diminishes. And Paul teaches that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we’re children of God and in that divine touch we are assured of God’s love and God’s salvation given to us. John Wesley loved this verse. It was his favorite in sharing the Methodist way of expecting and praying for the gift of assurance, from the Spirit. This wonderful component of life in the Spirit was one he took from his association with the Moravian people. I sense that God wants to bless the people called Methodist with assurance to bless the world. Assurance is not an “I’ve achieved” salvation, attitude; it’s an humble “I’ve received” salvation attitude. In a religious atmosphere where the stock in trade of so many is doubt, “are you sure you are or were saved?”, “maybe you weren’t and maybe you better do it over again and again” are all rife with human agency! In contrast, we, the Methodist people, are the people who share our experience of assurance, because of who our Abba is, not for any actions we take.
And being God’s children together, makes a huge difference in how we are community; the congregation of Christians called Christ Church and how we engage the world.
Think about what this means.
It means that person in the pew nearby, you know, the one who rubs you the wrong way, the one you can’t stand (now, don’t look or point at them) but you know who I’m talking about; that person is your brother or sister.
It means that person you don’t want to get to know or love because you’ve already made up your mind about them and their type of person; that one is your family member and you’re hopefully going to spend eternity with them, so start getting to know them and love them now, it’ll help heaven be heaven!
It means that at our radically hospitable church that the person with an alternative lifestyle, with tats and piercings, that person out of your comfort zone; is your kin! Kin love each other, despite differences! And remember you’re just as strange to them as they are to you!
Do you catch my drift? When our primary identity, even in, especially in the church is as children of God, it makes a difference in how we love, accept, offer grace and are open to one another. In contrast when we have our primary identity in the church wrapped up in the perceived status of holding a church office; our tenure in a congregation; being a “cradle” 4th generation Methodist, being a large giver...and on and on, we subtly begin thinking we’re better than others; we fracture the family and worse, we invalidate the witness of the church!
Let’s all commit to understanding our equality as children of God, especially in the church. After all, that’s how God sees us; God doesn’t practice favoritism regardless of what the prosperity preachers tell folks. And we, we shouldn’t expect such and certainly shouldn’t practice such; we’re equal children of God.
Who are you? May the way you view God as Abba Parent and yourself as a dependent child of the divine; may the assurance you have in your salvation, grounded in God’s steadfast love; may the way we treat each other, in the church and out, be a showing of your answer and ID in letters writ large: I am a child of God.
Let us pray.