Jun 14, 2019
Identity is a big issue today. We research our history with DNA. We claim ethnicity and gender, sometimes by fact, sometimes by feelings. We point to neighborhoods, regions, diplomas or rap sheets as qualifiers and forecasts of futures. But who builds the fences to plot the territory of our potential?
The answer is becoming clearer even amid all the chaos. We choose. It is an old answer, really. Modern society has ignored the truth of it by making excuses, but the Bible already told us that as man thinks so is he.
The Bible tells us something else: the mind is controlled by our spirit, either of flesh or of Christ. "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace." (Romans 8:5-6 NIV)
Paul wrote those words through the Holy Spirit. Unlike many of us, Paul had everything going for him, at least as his fleshly existence was concerned. He was a Hebrew from the tribe of his ancestor Benjamin. The tribe of Benjamin (and Judah) held a constant presence in Israel even into the New Testament.
Though it was small, only about twelve miles wide and twenty-five miles long, the tribal land of Benjamin was strategically located. It lay snuggled in at the crossroads of important traffic along routes north to south and east to west; thus it became a central link for communication and trade. It was a fitting site for the youngest of Jacob's twelve sons, Benjamin, the son all of them favored and helped to raise since his mother died after giving birth.
Benjamin was the only one of his brothers born in the Promised Land. The tribe was known for its bloody, fierce, capable warriors. They were part of David's secret weapons, able to fight right or left handed, and who could "sling a stone at a hair and not miss." (IChronicles 12 and Judges 6)
Paul proved himself a true son of his tribe when he persecuted Christians whom he thought were a threat to his traditions.
His Hebrew name was Saul. Perhaps his parents named him after the first Israeli king, a man of great stature also from the tribe of Benjamin. Paul gives a short biography of himself in Galatians 1 stating in verse fourteen, "I advanced in the Jews' religion beyond many of my own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers." Not too many of us could claim that.
He learned a trade even though he was given an elite education. He also said of himself that he was a Hebrew of Hebrews meaning strict, and as a young man must have held some influence because he was appointed as a witness to Stephen's death in Acts 7. (Acts 22) We understand then that Paul's identity was firmly established by outward realities. He thought he was a true success story.
Until Jesus showed up.
Paul had no working knowledge of the kingdom Jesus taught about. Before His death in John 16:2, Jesus said there was a time coming when people killing Jesus-followers would think they were helping God. But "they will do these things to you because they do not know the Father nor Me." (John 16:3) Paul was one of those people until Jesus knocked him off a horse in Acts 9.
What Paul came to learn was that the Kingdom is a different kind of existence. His education and his family connections couldn't get him there. Unfortunately, they pointed him in the opposite direction. He soon found out his Kingdom-born-again identity superseded his outward flesh identity. But like Paul, many of us flounder before we understand that– if we ever do.
Paul spent years getting to know Jesus and His Kingdom. What Paul learned fills almost half of the New Testament. He wrote that our fleshly identity has no bearing on our status in Jesus' Kingdom. There, equality is a real thing. (Galatians 3:28) And the cool thing is, we don't have to wait for it. The Kingdom's location isn't just in heaven; for believers, it is within us.
He talked about being birthed again from the inside, your spirit which is the real you, and becoming a completely different and new person. He wrote about being led by the Spirit and having a spirit-led mind. He said this Spirit gave life to his flesh.
His revelation about Jesus and His Kingdom made him claim all his former success, connections and tribal identity were like dung because he realized Jesus in him was more valuable. Paul realized his spirit gave him his identity, a spirit that was born brand new into the likeness of God. (1John 4:17)
With this new identity, he created a new life for himself.
Paul never lost his love for his people. On the contrary, it drove him to sacrifice and to try and serve them. But, he came to know the Jesus inside him gave life to his real identity and hope for a future.
He never lost the knowledge of his traditions. But, they came alive with new meaning and purpose when he gave his heart to Jesus.
So what does that mean for us in a world that wants to press us into a mold and limit us to groups: black, Asian, Native, Middle Eastern, white/European, rich, poor, educated, disadvantaged, etc.?
It means the Kingdom erases limits, and it doesn't erase our potential.
If you can accept it, your spiritual identity is the real you. It is not just waiting to be transported to heaven. It drives your life now. It can be tied to the flesh, limited by its existence or it can be joined with your Creator giving Him your full attention in word, thought and behavior where nothing is impossible even in this life.
Paul tells us don't let the world mold you. Don't allow it to set your boundaries. Instead, he said, renew your mind.
How? Replace the thoughts of what you think you know about God, His character and your thoughts about yourself with what God says, about Himself and about who you are in Him.
The world is like a noisy marketplace selling us its thoughts. Thank God we can choose not to buy them. We can create a new life for ourselves like Paul did, speaking God's words over ourselves.
Don't worry if you are considered under-qualified by worldly standards, and don't put on pride if you are over-qualified. They are both the same: in need of a Savior.
Jesus gave worth and valuable purpose to Paul's ethnicity and training. He can do the same for us and take us where we didn't think we could possibly go. Without Jesus we can only go so far. The result is either failure now or eternal failure later. But with Him alive in our hearts and led by His Spirit, we have favor in this earthly life. Now there is the real privilege anyone can own.
Got a testimony of how Jesus brought purpose into your life? We'd love to hear it! Write it in the comments below.
Image by Arthur Marshall courtesy of Unsplash
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