Leading By Example

Our Christian identities: Are we seeking God or the world first?

What we base our identities on reflects what we find most valuable in life, as they determine our sense of purpose, goals, priorities and influence how we make decisions in almost everything we do

When it comes to our identities as Christians, the vast majority of us would say our identities are rooted in God. Yet, judging by the way we live, most of us are not drawing our purpose, life goals and priorities from our faith in a way which shows God is the most important part of our lives–how do we fix this?

We will get to that, but first things first:

What *Does* A Healthy Christian Identity Look Like

Since they are supposed to be anchored in eternity, our identities as believers should be more meaningful than what trendy Christian books or music we like, how much money we make, our social circles, hobbies, the style of clothes we wear or what conference we just came back from

Instead, our Christian identities should revolve around things much deeper within us as they are the truest expression of what we believe in, value, prioritize and live according to

Now, just as I thought about my Christian identity a few months ago, many of us will walk into this conversation thinking we have healthy identities rooted in good Christian morals and some form of Christian purpose, even if they are not perfect or perfectly applied

I say this in love, but for the vast majority of us, our Christian identities are not as centered on God as we think

*gasp*

The truth, is many of us have taken on the faceless, impersonal identities of whatever worldly things we have prioritized in our lives, rather than center our priorities on God

Regardless of whatever self-justifying ideas pop into our heads when we first hear this, as Christians, it is hard to make the argument that our identities should be based on anything but God’s character and promises, as we are told being a Christian involves being molded into the very character of Jesus himself

Romans 8:29
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son

(We can have a conversation on predestination later, that is a separate topic!)

1 John 2:6
Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did

Of course, being like Jesus does not mean we will lose our individuality and become robots who all think and act alike, it means we will grow spiritually mature to the point where we have the same eternally minded purpose and moral character Jesus did

But how do we do that?

By putting God’s kingdom and the pursuit of righteousness first in our lives, just as Jesus did before us, and instructed us to do

Matthew 6:31-33
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well

Jesus led by example in every way, especially when it came to living with full confidence that eternity with God is our final destination. It was this unshakable knowledge of eternal life and lasting rewards that gave Jesus the courage, strength and purpose to look past all worldly sin and distractions, even unto death, for the sake of fulfilling God’s will in his life

Knowing these things, if Jesus’ identity was wrapped around pursuing God’s eternal kingdom and living righteously, and we are told the point of Christianity is to be like Jesus, we should probably, oh, you know, seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness as our life’s top priorities in the same way

Just saying!

Okay, now that we know what a Christian identity is supposed to look like, how do we grow further into ours?

Even When We Think We Are Being Honest With Ourselves, We Still May Not Be Telling The Truth

To illustrate this point, let me share how God lovingly called me out on my own identity a few months ago

To start, we all know how Jesus promised anything we leave behind for the sake of furthering God’s kingdom will be returned to us a hundred times over in heaven, right?

Matthew 19:29
…everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life

This verse is amazing as God promises anything we sacrifice and/or de-prioritize for his sake will not only be returned to us, but multiplied one-hundred times over and given back to us for eternity–that is a pretty awesome deal!

However, even though I had read the verse above more times than I could count while growing up, found it inspiring and even encouraged others with it, I had no idea in my heart I did not believe it

Oh, sure, if anyone asked I would have said I believed God keeps his word and that his promises are always true, but in reality, my life did not reflect a heart which trusted this promise enough to live by it

To expose this misunderstanding, here is what God asked me a few months ago in prayer:

“Do you believe I will give you back a hundred times over what you leave behind for my sake?”

“Totally!”

“Do you live that way?”

“…no”

Um, talk about failing a simple test or what!

(Also, I am pretty sure God is going to ask simple, soul baring questions like this on judgment day–do not say nobody warned you!)

It is important to understand God was not asking this to make me feel bad, but through correction he was giving me an incredible gift by teaching how his definition of believing in his promises means living by them, even when they look impossible or when they require sacrifice on our part to achieve

I am going to repeat this point as it is completely life changing, here it comes in bold:

God’s definition of believing his promises means living by them

*dramatic*pause*

Once this sinks in beyond just an intellectual understanding, it changes how we see reality, as we typically think we believe in God’s promises, but if we are not living by them, we are deceived

The key part of the enemy’s deception is they lead us to believe we can intellectually believe God’s promises, but not actually *trust* them enough to act on them, which means we do not actually trust them at all

Think of it this way, imagine if you won the lottery but then never went to pick up your money because you thought it was a hoax, how silly would that be? We do the very same thing with God when we refuse to trust him yet say we believe he exists, died for our sins, and offers us eternal life–it makes no sense to trust God in some areas but not others, right?

Also, what if Jesus “believed” God’s promises in the same way I did? As in, he “believed” he would receive an eternal kingdom, and pay for the sins of mankind, but when it came time to lay his life down to bring these things into reality, he choose not to

…yeah, that would not turned out so well for any of us

Which leads us to our next point:

If We Are Not Willing To Pay The Worldly Cost To Receive God’s Promises, We Have No Right To Lay Claim To Them

Okay, look, I am not saying this to shame anyone, God pointed out the flaws in my own identity to first illustrate this lesson, remember? However, literally every Christian I have asked the two questions above answers in the exact same way, ie: “…no”

(If you do not believe me, ask yourself the same questions and see what your answer is! Go ahead, I can wait)

Since this is such a common response, it shows the level of deception and victory the enemy has won over us, as they have led us to believe we can lay intellectual claim to the blessings of God without actually doing what is required to possess them

Yes, it is true some promises and blessings like God’s mercy, love and forgiveness cannot be worked for as there is nothing we could ever do to earn them anyway, but when it comes to promises like the ones above, there are clear conditions associated with them, ie: we need to sacrifice our pursuit of the world in order to receive certain kinds of heavenly and earthly rewards

For example, let us look at two passages we read previously:

Matthew 19:29
everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life

Matthew 6:31-33
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well

In both of these verses, we see it is necessary for us to prioritize the pursuit of God’s kingdom in order to receive the blessings these promises offer. By contrast, these verses also show if we are not willing to meet these conditions, we cannot expect to receive blessings as if we had

(I know, I know, super genius at work over here, watch out)

Much better than we do, the enemy understands they can rob us of protection and tremendous blessings, both on earth and in heaven, if they can lead us to prioritize worldly happiness before our pursuit of God

2 Samuel 22:31
As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him

(Notice how God is a shield to “all who take refuge in him”, not just every Christian who runs around following their own desires)

For this reason, the enemy constantly tries to have us set our identities, life goals, priorities and sense of purpose on worldly distractions as well as outright sin, rather than on God

Basically, the enemy wants us to show God how little we love him compared to our affection for the world he died to overcome

We cannot claim to be made in the image of Jesus if we continually reject his character

Just as I was deceived in the example above into thinking my Christian identity was in a good place, we need to examine what idols and worldly priorities exist in our lives which keep us from living according to God’s promises

For reference, here are some areas I have surrendered to God over the past few years as a way of bringing my lifestyle in line with his promise to reward us for leaving things behind for his sake, and his promise to reward us for seeking his kingdom and his righteousness first:

  • I used to not give or help people unless it was convenient or did not affect my lifestyle in any way, but I still thought I was a generous and kind person when I did
    • Now I give even if it requires a personal sacrifice of time, money or emotions to help someone
  • I used to prioritize romantic and platonic relationships as the most important thing in my life
    • Now I am careful not to prioritize any relationship over teaching or serving others
  • I used to play video games so much I never made time for anyone
    • Now I make time to disciple and befriend other Christians four to five nights a week
  • I was permissive of movies and music which did not honor God, even if they wildly contradicted his righteousness
    • Now I no longer tolerate entertainment that is offensive
  • I used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on clothes
    • Now I am very careful to only buy things I need, and at prices which make sense
  • I used to eat out at expensive restaurants all the time
    • Now I eat at home or eat at reasonably priced places so I can give more
  • I used to allow work to control my life
    • Now I keep good boundaries between personal and work time to make sure I have enough time for God
  • I used to not share the gospel at all
    • Now I evangelize both in and outside of the church
  • I used to let the busy-ness of my worldly life keep me from spending time with God in prayer, Bible reading and praise
    • Now I make sacrifices of my time to make sure I always have time to spend with God every day

When we look at a list like this, even though I was blind at the time, it is totally obvious I was allowing worldly attitudes and priorities to define my identity, life goals and purpose. All of these behaviors show I was devoted to seeking worldly, fleeting, even greedy happiness rather than seeking God’s kingdom or his righteousness first–my faith was hardly a reflection of Jesus’ character

Most importantly, as the result of living in these, and many other selfish ways, I was not selflessly loving others as Jesus instructed, and I was neglecting God’s calling on my life because I was too consumed with the world to walk with him

You see, this is the enemy’s real game, as they have tried to separate us from God ever since the Garden of Eden by putting things in front of us which look great on the surface, but lead to unhappiness, even death, in the end

Also, in closing, I want to be clear this article is *not* telling us to run out and legalistically abandon our entire lives, but we need to ask ourselves if we are really living for God in a way which shows our identities and priorities are centered on him rather than the world

If we examine our lives with honesty, it will be easy to see areas we know we can be doing better in, yet choose not to because we prioritize worldly things first. It could be our jobs, appearances, friends, desires for relationships or whatever, but these things exist in all of our lives if we take a moment to look

Remember, God loves us and sees all this stuff regardless of whether we do or not, just be honest about it, repent and keep growing!

Proverbs 24:16
…for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again

What are some areas of your life which separate you from having a truly God-centered identity?

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