We ladies all stood there reading aloud together things we know to be true; the Bible says so…"I am God's child…I am a friend of Jesus, I have been justified…I am free from condemnation, I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances, I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life…I am God's temple, I am God's workmanship…."
All we said was true. Why then my misgivings? The list was long, grouped under headings of "I am accepted", "I am secure", and "I am significant". Ah yes, my ultimate set of needs according to secular theorists. Having these needs fully met is said to be necessary for self-actualization, critical to reaching my self's full potential.
Seems that God knew what I needed. As His child I am all these things. So, what's the problem? Why my uneasiness? I couldn't put my finger on it right away. Apparently others haven't either. Consider the logical extension of these Biblical "I am's", and I quote:
"I am amazing!"
I am God's greatest creation.
He loves me to death.
I was born to do greater works than Jesus.
I was born for glory.
Nations are attracted to me 'cause I'm so good looking.
I have the mind of Christ: I think like God.
He's my inheritance. I'm His inheritance,
And He actually likes me.
I like me too, and if you got to know me you would like me too.
Creation knows who I am.
The devil knows who I am.
God knows who I am.
Angels know who I am.
Today, I know who I am.
I kid you not. This is a verbatim script recited responsively with great enthusiasm by a large gathering of earnest students.* They are being trained to recognize who they are so they can go out and release all of Creation from the curse and take dominion of the earth. They are being taught they are little gods and therefore they should be asking: "Where's my power?!"
This is 'self-esteem on steroids', as Jim puts it.
If ever there has been a self-actualized generation, ours should be it! We have no want of teaching on who we really are…(or do we? Have we missed something?) Now if we can just get this self-talk into our psyches till we really believe it. Just think what we might accomplish?!
Is focusing on ourselves really what we need?
This same teacher* had more to say:
"When you act like God you're being yourself" he explained, not realizing the full implications of what he had said. Wasn't this the original sin-- wanting to be like God!
"The only reason you have a bad thought in your head is because you have [there is] a Devil who wanted to be what you became," he explains, complete with a mocking depiction of those who contest that we are actually 'sinners saved by grace.'
The Devil wanted to be like God, he explains. God said, "No way", stripped him of power and made him watch while billions of people were made what he wanted to be-- the image of God. [This is messing with my head, and my Bible, what about yours? Have I really gotten what Satan wanted--God-hood?!]
It seems so right… God has glorified you. You rock! You have only to recognize who you really are to exercise the dominion you've been given. This is the natural (humanistic) extension of the focus on Who I Am (in Christ).
And the kids lap it up like so much sweet antifreeze…
But somehow the 'IN CHRIST' part of the equation gets lost in the flattery. Everything seems to come from Scripture, right? kinda? This message did have a text—Daniel 7, with the key verse: "And the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom."
And there was a great collection of 'Kingdom of God' Scriptures fired off like so much ammo culminating in this heady conclusion: The time is here and now. You rock!
But where did Jesus go? I thought the whole point of life, the universe and everything was the 'summing up of all things in Christ' and 'the praise of His glory'. Eph.1:10-12
How did we get to this place of being so amazing anyway? Used to be we were content to be 'sinners saved by grace'? I was preparing this morning to play piano at the local old folks' home. As I leafed through the old hymns I marveled at how far we've come…
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…” [oops that slipped by the 'self-esteem police!]
Beneath the Cross of Jesus: "two wonders I confess: the wonders of redeeming love, and my unworthiness."
When I survey the Wondrous Cross: "Forbid it Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God; All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood."
"Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress. Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head"
“Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus—By it I have been pardoned. Saved to the uttermost.”
Oh sweet relief. I do not have to work myself into a fever-pitch of egotistical affirmations. When my eyes are on the One who really is amazing, worship is the only fitting response. When I take my rightful position, one of gratitude and awe at this Wonderful Saviour, this Coming King…self takes its rightful place--as catalyst for praising my Redeemer, not something to gratify, build up, and make much of.
Could it be that in shifting our focus in the here and now to 'Who I Am' we have set ourselves up to fall for Lucifer's temptation? His own beauty went to his head. Considering it intrinsically his he declared: "I will make myself like the Most High." Is.14:14
This was raw pride, the same substance that lurks in our hearts the instant we think we are or have some good thing originating in ourselves. Original sin is as good as it gets! Eve demonstrated the nature of our hearts when she opted to do her own will rather than God's (Gen.3). This is who we are when left to our own devices. Of course this is why we needed a Redeemer. But is that need all in the past? Can we afford ever to forget "[our] purification from [our] former sins" (II Pet.1:9).
Is it really inappropriate for redeemed saints to speak of themselves as sinners? Do we not still daily need this Redeemer?
Yes, there is the objection that we are new creations in Christ. We are declared 'holy ones'. And of course this is true. We do indeed stand freed from condemnation. And we are seated in the heavenlies too! Yet, here these bodies are living in earth's gravity. And sinning. We are prideful. We continuously consider our selves to be of greatest importance, far more than we recognize I suspect.
As long as we inhabit these natural bodies we will know the nakedness of self-consciousness where we were intended only to know God-consciousness. For good reason our Redeemer ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb.7:25). For good reason we are called to 'die daily'--to put to death the self-will that dogs our every waking moment
(I Cor.15:31; Rom.8:13).
Who I am in Christ is an incredible marvel. The list is worth reading regularly, but only as a backdrop to Who Jesus is. We will be on a surer footing to major here—on Christ-esteem.** Otherwise we are apt to mistake "Who I am in Christ" for my claim to fame, and to forget from whence we've come. To confuse my identity in Christ with my intrinsic nature is to fall for a subtle lie. And from that lie stems all manner of horrible, self-exalting, God effacing nonsense. I am… I am… I am… And forgetting all self-restraint we are soon feeding the flesh instead of putting it to death!
Do we think God's Kingdom and ours can co-exist? It's no use declaring who I am in Christ until I've filled my mind and bowed my heart to Who Christ Is. And when I'm occupied with that, who I am becomes a non-issue. I simply don't need to talk about it. I am accepted, secure and significant in Him and the rest of my story is all to His credit. He is amazing and not only does he 'rock' but He is the ROCK of my salvation!
His Kingdom will come and He will be the uncontested glory of it. We will be forever the grateful creatures enthralled with Who He is, oblivious to how glorious we have been made, intent on worshiping the Lamb that is worthy because He was slain to redeem us to God. We will be free at last from self-interest, free to reflect His glory fully; this will be our ultimate fulfillment.
When we are tempted to ponder who we are we might do well to consider God's response to Moses when he asked "Who am I…" in the face of a daunting assignment. God made no attempt to affirm poor inept Moses. Instead He diverted His attention to His own identity as the great I AM. This was in fact what Moses needed most to know. God would go with Him and that was enough. Ex.3:12-14
“And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
" His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence... be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; …for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” II Pet.1:3,10-11
When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you… Col.3:4,5
*Kris Vallotton, “Your Identity as Sons of God” audio, Jan.27,2011.
**If you’ve ever grappled with how Biblical the concept of self-esteem is, you will be keenly interested in the book: Christ-Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends by Don Matzat (Harvest House, 1990). Now out of print, the unabridged text is available online in easily-readable pdf format. It’s perceptive and challenging, well worth reading. I’ve tucked in a book review and some favorite quotes at my book review site.