Summary: Our identity must be in Christ, and no where else.
Today of all days, Super bowl Sunday, you can imagine the plight of the poor town of Washington, PA. Just a few miles south of Pittsburgh, it is doubtful that you will find too many fans of the Seattle Seahawks fans. And yet, for this town of about 15,000, they don’t want you to have any doubts. So, Washington, PA has officially changed it name – for this week only – to Steeler, PA. Still, pity the poor town – the Post Office will only deliver your mail if it is addressed to Washington. Talk about an identity crisis.
I can sympathize with that town. Depending on the time of day, my identity is that of engineer, a daddy, a husband, a student, and yes, even a pastor. If it weren’t for the fact that I didn’t have to time to think about it too deeply, I’d swear I had multiple personality disorder. But admist all of these roles, my chief identity must always be this – I belong to Christ. What would he be in my life today?
Basing your identity is a difficult thing. There are people who enjoy being known as sports fans; that word, by the way, is simply short for ‘fanatic.’ -i.e. one who worships, as in a temple... Their identities are, for the day, caught up in the successes and failures of a group of men doubtful few have ever gotten to know individually, and probably never will.
What is identity?
Psychologists will tell us that identity is the thing that defines who we are – it’s our purpose for doing what we do. Deep inside each of us, there is a need to belong to something greater than ourselves. We seek meaning and belonging by joining families, tribes, teams, classes, nations, and race. We seek to identify with those things that we believe in. In doing so, we have a tendency to define ourselves as different from “them.”
There is an historian by the name of Girard who has suggested that the central dynamic of all history – the process that explains every action we’ve ever written about – is this negative form of identity, the scapegoat. Every war, every law, every class and racial distinction – it’s about defining “us” as better than “them.” That scapegoat dynamic leads to conflict when “they” think they’re better than us. He wronged me! I’ll wrong him. It’s not until Jesus can come and say, “Stop” that there can ever be peace.
You see, Jesus didn’t draw lines. He never compromised who he was, but he didn’t use that identity to distinguish himself. The whole point of who Jesus was – was to bring others to God through himself.
Paul’s Identity leads him to break down barriers
In our text this morning, you can almost hear a sort of identity confusion in Paul. Paul, of course, was a guy just like you and me. He grew up with a very religious identity. He was a Pharisee – a good man – you might even say he was like a deacon in his synagogue. But when he had an encounter with Christ, that identity was shaken to its very core. In coming face to face with the risen Christ he realized one thing – his identity needed to be in Christ alone.
And so, for the rest of his life, he had one purpose, one aim – that was to see Christ be glorified in as many places as he could find. Tactically, that meant something rather difficult. You see, as a Pharisee, identity was simple. You just obeyed the commandments and portrayed the same, faithfully observant face in all situations. It didn’t matter how people would react, you just kept the commandments.
As a follower of Christ, however, it got more complicated. It wasn’t that he was supposed to compromise his faith – no far from it. But if Paul was to identify himself with Christ that meant that he could raise no barriers of his own. You see, Jesus was perfect, and yet he was perfect both in the setting of the synagogue and the slum. He was perfect whether he was in the presence of the preacher or the prostitute. Jesus’ identity was fully in God no matter what the situation. And Paul realized that if he truly was in Christ, he needed to be the same way.
I’m sure there were people who wondered about Paul the same way there were people who wondered about Jesus. Why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners? Why was he hanging out with dirty gentiles? After all, don’t good people keep themselves clean? They wouldn’t want to dirty themselves with … them!
But that’s not what Paul is saying in this text. Let me read this to you again: