16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not con demn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:16-24 ESV)
Who are you?
In today’s world where, or so the logic goes, the old classification of class or gender is breaking down and the claim of meritocracy – hard work, diligence, and education will be rewarded – has been found wanting because of the structural problems that support privilege – there is the rise of identity politics. Here those of a particularly identity band together to promote their concerns – particularly for justice. In relation to the wider society possibly two of the most prominent examples are the Me Too Movement and Black Lives Matter. In society, we are having discussions about cultural appropriation and whether artistic portrayals – particularly in film – of nationalities can only be undertaken by those of that nationality. And it seems to me that our identities are more atomised than ever before and we choose them while at the same time others will try to put labels on us or tell us that a label (identity) is not for us.
So I ask ‘Who are you?’.
And here in this time and place, in this activity of worship we will each say one of two answers – we can’t say both – it is one or the other – either we will say ‘I’m baptised’ or ‘I’m not baptised’. You see that is the identity classification that counts here – are you God’s adopted children? Have you been joined to Jesus – to his death and resurrection? The goal of being here is baptismal – if you are baptised, then it is about return ing to your baptism, to your identity – and if you had said that you were not baptised, then the goal of being here is that you are baptised and have a new identity, be a new creation in Christ – and join the rest of us in … living by faith, discipleship in this world.
For the last few weeks I have been talking about spiritual truths as mysteries because you need various words to explain them. I’ve mentioned Holy Communion, Jesus, God as Trinity, and the Bible. I have cautioned against emphasising one set of words over against another – Jesus is truly human and truly divine and yet there is only one Jesus – true man and true God who died for us. The Bible is God’s Word and also human words written in particular times and places. And today the mystery that needs exploring is us – human be ings who are baptised.
Those who are baptised are children of God. The Church word for such people is ‘saint’ – not meaning a good or super good person but rather a person touched by God – holy – which doesn’t mean good but one touched by, in contact with God. Those baptised are touched by water and the Word – and they are born again – new creations in Christ – and this new identity is believed, trusted, relied on through faith. We can’t see this reality – you can’t spot it walking down the street or in the church – and even our own experiences of this reality is mixed – it is a faith statement for the baptised to say ‘I am a child of God’.
And yet each person here, in fact each person on this planet, has a common experience – human being, mor tal, fallible, fearful, ashamed, guilty – not all at once or at least I hope not – but our experience and our sight reveal that within us and society and the world we make are selfishness, greed, anger, control, fear and be fore the Christian God in this place it is called sin – which is rebelling against God, against rules, missing the mark, not doing the good we know we should do, laziness, lawlessness, wickedness, perversity, cruelty, and more. And so we all know – whether we say it or not is another issue – that before this God we are sinners because he says so but we know it deep inside.
And thus the followers of Jesus find two identities – both true – one believed and through faith – and one ex perienced and part of our daily living – the first is called ‘saint’ and the other is called ‘sinner’. And Chris tians are both – claiming God’s words and deed, they know, believe, trust, they are God’s children – and when facing their daily living dealing with the realities they experience – the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, the fears and loves but also the bad we do or the good we don’t do and still also the sin and evil done to us by others. There are two realities here – faith and experience – and which one is the best guide?
We have been hearing 1st John through Easter and he wants to make it clear …
8If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the right eous. (1 John 1:8 – 2:1 ESV)
Do you hear the tension?
The children of God are to live so that they may not sin but we do sin and God is faithful and forgives us not to be slack about our living but rather to live in this faith identity – saint / child of God – while in this body and world of sin and death which is our experienced identity.
Saint and sinner – faith and experience – that is the Christian tension in this world. And now we hear that the lifestyle of the ‘little children’ – the followers of Jesus – is marked by love – not a talk fest and generalised niceness – because it is easy to say one loves humanity or a group – but practical, active love can be so much harder when one has to love a specific person – family member, work colleague, neighbour, someone not of our identity.
I won’t ask you to put your hand up if you’ve done this perfectly – to God’s standard this week, this month – because our lived experience, our heart, our compassion especially when fatigued can easily condemn us. We miss the mark, do or say the wrong thing, get exasperated and a lot more – and even kick ourselves ‘you call yourself a Christian!’ sort of thing. Can you sense the two identities – and we live by faith alone in our struggle to live in this world – faith not just in God and what he has done in Christ but faith that Jesus is pre sent and he loves us – and faith in that we are God’s children – because God has given us life in Christ in our baptism. The identity is God’s gift to us and we spend our lives here on Earth learning to ‘be who we are’.
On other days we have better days because we are conscious of the circumstances with that situation or this person – we do know what we should do to love the person and we do give it our best shot. On that day our heart doesn’t condemn us and we smile or acknowledge that God has helped us and our confidence grows that God is gracious and helping us to live as his child. We follow God’s command because we believe that Jesus has given us this new identity and so God is with us and we are with God.
The Christian identity is not based on our good days or bad days but in Christ and given to us in our baptism which we receive through faith. We live this true identity in the struggle with our old identity and worship is very much God coming to his people and reminding them, cleaning them, feeding them to be who they are in Christ.
If you are here today or you are listening online and you are not baptised then God today loves you too – Je sus laid down his life for us all – so that we can be forgiven and live with him no longer with the identity of sin and death – the sinner who will one day die – but rather as the forgiven one who lives with Jesus and even when we die we live with Jesus. This is the identity that has struggle to be sure but all living has strug gle – but this identity also has a confidence and a joy and a peace that God loves us and is with us and his love is not just talk but action – on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago – and through words, water, bread and wine today. If you are not baptised then this identity and life with Jesus is yours in baptism and so I invite you to seek baptism and your new identity in Christ.
Our identity in Christ is the best identity to have to be the most alive ‘you’ you can ever be! God bless us all.
- 1 John 3:16 - 24