by Gina Lynnes
Some years ago in downtown Denver just a few miles from where Kelly and I once lived, an unidentified man was found wounded and wandering an upscale area known locally as the 16th Street Mall.
Actually, he wasn’t just an unidentified man. He was something much more mysterious. He was an unidentifiable man. Unidentifiable because he had been stricken, so they say, with amnesia and had absolutely no clue who he was, where he came from, or where he belonged. Within hours, his mystified face began to appear on news broadcasts and front pages—first around the city and then across the nation—under attention-snatching headlines that said things like: DO YOU KNOW THIS MAN?
To me, the fellow’s predicament was like a modern day parable, and I felt sad, not just for him but for whomever he belonged to—for his parents or his wife or his children. No doubt, they were missing him very much and feeling quite rejected. They probably thought he just didn’t care about them anymore, that he wasn’t committed. But the truth was he’d just forgotten he belonged to them, and they to him.
His heart was right, it was just his head that was wrong. But most likely, they didn’t know that.
Hopefully, they will see his pictures, I thought, so they can come and help him get his life back or, more importantly, get himself back. Given all the publicity he was getting, it seemed they would surely find him. But then again, you never know. Tacked to the bulletin board in the park near our house are two signs scrawled in bold, black marker. One says, “Lost: Brown and white cat.” The other, posted just underneath says, “Found: Brown and white cat.” So, clearly, sometimes people just don’t pay attention.
Thank goodness, in the case of mystery man the proper attention was paid and his fiancé called and claimed him. She came to Denver, picked him up and carried him back to the state of Washington where, apparently, he belongs. Last I heard, he still doesn’t remember her. But he says it feels right for him to be there so for now he’ll stay put.
A Catastrophic Lack of Revelation
The more I’ve thought about that story, the more convinced I’ve become that, as believers, we are all, to some degree, like that man. We are all out of touch with our true identity. Even those of us who might consider ourselves relatively mature and enlightened have, at best, only a partial revelation of who we are, where we came from, and to Whom we belong.
In fact, I might go so far as to say that all the failures and defeats we’ve experienced in our Christian lives can in some way be tracked back to that one terrible problem. It’s the reason we’re sometimes drawn away from our First Love by the temporal attractions of this 16th Street Mall called the world. It’s the reason we sometimes stray from our commitment to the Lord Himself and the advancement of His kingdom, and end up more passionately pursuing our own personal agendas. It’s the reason we fail—sometimes in small ways and sometimes in big ways—to be walking revelations of the life, love and power of Jesus.
We don’t fall short because of some deep inward defect we can’t get free of, or even because of the seemingly overwhelming power of the flesh and the devil. Those things couldn’t possibly be the source of our struggles. When we were born again, we were created in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). Therefore there are no defects in our spirit. We died to the flesh, and sin has no more dominion over us. Jesus Himself conquered the devil and put him under our feet.
So there’s only one thing that could possibly be tripping us up. We lack revelation of who we really are.
Why is that lack so catastrophic? Because when we have no revelation of our true identity we are forced to define ourselves completely by what we see and feel at the moment. And the devil is a master at manipulating our senses to make us temporarily see and feel things that are contrary to the truth.
He’ll pressure our flesh with sinful thoughts and carnal desires and then lie to us and tell us they’re our own. He’ll catch us in moments of weakness and goad us into acting on them, then he’ll point his crooked finger in our face and condemn us. See what a low life you are? he’ll sneer. You’re a wicked, sinful person by nature. Your thoughts and actions prove it. Shame…shame…shame on you.
Of course, other voices inevitably chime in and confirm his accusations. Well-meaning preachers (we’ve all done it) and other Christian “helpers” jump on the bandwagon of condemnation and, in an attempt to correct the behavior of the wayward believer, endeavor to make him feel even worse about himself. “You’re a terrible person! Repent!” say the preachers and the believers. “You’re a terrible person! Give up!” says the devil. “There’s something wrong with you. You’re broken and you need to be fixed!” says the therapist.
…So continues the cycle of the saints in identity crisis.
Unlike the peculiar case of the forgetful man in Denver, such saints don’t usually excite much interest. Unless they happen to be occupying a pulpit when their amnesia overtakes them, they are often considered ordinary, even normal. And multitudes of them can be found wounded and wandering around the altars of churches in every city. Many have cried bucketfuls of tears at those altars…repenting of their offenses against the Lord…only to go out and repeat those offenses again. Repenting and repeating. Repenting and repeating. That’s the story of their Christian life.
Others have managed to live relatively upright lives, yet they are still plagued by feelings of unworthiness. Their faith is crippled by a subtle sense of inferiority so when they try to stand on
God’s promises for healing, provision, or protection they stumble and fall. Because they aren’t boldly confident in who they are, they leave the riches of their divine inheritance lying on the table, and turn sadly away to live like paupers.
It’s Time to Dig Out the Family Albums
Jesus once said, “…the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light” (Luke 16:8). Most of us have proven that to be true by how we’ve responded to this Christian identity crisis.
I wasn’t actually there, of course, but I’m guessing that the Denver police didn’t condemn the man they picked up on 16th Street for his amnesia. I’m guessing that when his fiancé came to get him, she didn’t thrash him for being such a jerk and acting like he didn’t know her.
No, they probably went right to work helping the man to re-discover himself instead. I bet when he got home, his family dragged out all the old photo albums and showed him faded snapshots of himself as a baby cradled in the arms of his mother, or playing baseball in a red little league jersey, or grinning at the school photographer from beneath a freshly mown crewcut.
I bet they helped him get back in touch with his heritage. They probably figured, and wisely so, that once he remembered who he was, the strange 16th-Street-Mall-wandering behaviors would disappear, and he’d act like himself again.
What would happen if we, as believers, did that for one another? What changes would we see if, instead of focusing on everything that’s wrong with our flesh (or our outer man) we fixed our attention more on what’s right with our spirit (or our inner man)?
Some months ago, I was ministering in a prayer meeting and the Lord said something to me along those lines that absolutely shocked me. He said, “Many of you who have considered yourself mature in the body of Christ have prided yourselves in your ability to see what’s wrong with My people. You consider yourself discerning because you can identify their flaws. But the true mark of maturity is being able to look past what’s wrong and see what’s right. That is the kind of leadership that changes people’s lives.”
Are We Tearing Down or Building Up?
I realize there are those who would argue with that perspective. “What about the apostle Paul?” they would say. “He pointed out what was wrong in the churches he wrote to. He corrected them about their bad behavior.”
Yes, and at times we may have to do that too…but only after we’ve adequately done what Paul so masterfully did. Only after we have reminded each other of who we are in Christ. Only after we’ve looked each other in their eyes and said, in all honesty, “I see Jesus in you.”
If we can’t say that…then we have no right to talk to a fellow believer about their misbehaviors. Any correction we have will tear them down rather than build them up. Although our words may be scripturally accurate, they will make things worse not better. So we’ll do more for the kingdom of God in such cases by keeping our mouths shut.
Paul could correct the saints in the churches he wrote to because he fully believed they had been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. He actually saw believers like those wine-guzzling, lawsuit-happy, immorality-condoning, divisive, carnal Corinthian Christians as “sanctified in Christ Jesus…enriched in everything by Him…short in no good gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2, 5, 7).
Despite their crazy behavior, Paul said to them right up front, “…you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption…“ (verse 30). Sure, Paul corrected them, but it wasn’t just because he was disgusted by the bad things they had done. It was because he was totally in love with the good thing God had done in them through the new birth and he longed to see that goodness come forth.
He also knew better than to try to curb their bad behavior with threats and accusations that left them feeling hurt and ashamed. On the contrary, he said, “…we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us… we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:7-8, 11-12).
Paul could charge the saints to walk worthy because he truly loved them, believed in them and treated them as if they were worthy. No matter how badly they behaved, he never forgot their divine heritage. He never forgot who they really were.
Hagios? Are You Sure?
Paul’s letters clearly indicate, however, that the believers themselves did forget that fact. They frequently suffered from the same kind of spiritual amnesia we see among Christians today and wound up wandering around downtown Corinth—or wherever—acting like heathens.
Even when Paul didn’t personally witness their wanderings, the Holy Spirit let him know about them. I don’t know exactly how He did it. Maybe in the nighttime as he prayed and meditated the Word, God would flash pictures of wayward believers across Paul’s mind. Maybe he would see their mystified faces looking lost, ashamed, and confused, peering out under the headline, “DO YOU KNOW THESE SAINTS?”
When that happened, Paul responded by writing letters to those people, and he almost always started those letters by reminding them of their spiritual identity. He understood that their confidence in that identity was continually being assaulted, that the devil was constantly breathing down their necks pointing out every failure and every misstep, accusing them of being inwardly defective, unrighteous, and unworthy.
So the first thing he did was pull out the old family album. No kidding. That’s exactly what Paul was doing when in the very first verses of Corinthians (and Romans, and Ephesians and Phillipians and Colossians) when he addressed the believers as “saints.”
The term saints wasn’t just a meaningless Christian moniker to the people Paul was writing. It was a carefully-chosen word that painted a vivid picture. Taken from the terminology of the pagan religions of the day, the word saints or holy ones (hagios in Greek) literally meant devoted to the gods. It was used to describe the offerings people brought to the pagan temples. Those offerings were called hagios because they could no longer be used for secular purposes. They had been separated to the service of the god to which they had been given.
The word hagios was also used to describe the opulent, magnificently constructed and appointed temples themselves because they were created exclusively for the worship of a particular god and served exclusively as that god’s dwelling place. The pagan temple wasn’t a “multi-purpose” facility. It couldn’t serve as a temple by day and a Laundromat by night. It was completely dedicated to the god for which it had been built.
Words That Strengthen Us When We Stumble
By calling these believers saints, Paul was reminding them that they been completely dedicated to God and separated from all secular purposes. They were divinely designed and created exclusively to worship Him and be His dwelling place. Paul was saying to them, “Remember who you are. You aren’t cheaply constructed, all-purpose beings that can be hired out to serve the purposes of the world or the devil. You aren’t made that way! God has done a work in you that has set you apart forever for Him.”
Paul was also letting them know that they were by nature and by their very identity holy. He wasn’t excluding the possibility that they might, at times, act in a way that was contrary to that nature. But he was establishing the fact that if they did so, they would be going completely cross-grain to who they really were.
My, what power can be released in us when we are reminded of that! What strength we can impart to each other when, in the face of even the most dreadful sin or failure, we can say to the despairing brother or sister:
“Take heart! That sin is not a reflection of who you are! Grievous as it may be it cannot mar the image of Jesus that has been imprinted upon and sealed within your spirit. You are a saint of God, an offering set apart by Him and for Him. You are an exquisitely created temple of the Almighty God made by His own hand to perfectly fulfill His purposes. And there’s nothing…absolutely nothing the devil can do to change that. So repent of that ridiculously uncharacteristic behavior. Receive your Father’s abundant forgiveness. Throw off the devil’s lies, rise up by faith and be who you are!”
As Spotless and Pure as Jesus Himself
Every believer needs to hear words like that—whether they’ve fallen catastrophically into sin or they’re just feeling discouraged because they aren’t measuring up to the Christ-like standard in their heart. Every believer needs someone who will look them in the eye and see not what’s wrong but what’s right with them. Every believer needs someone to honestly say to them, “I see Jesus in you.”
Sadly, such folks are often scarce. People who consider themselves anointed to point out what’s wrong with us are always more plentiful. But that’s okay, because we all have one Person in our lives who will faithfully remind us of who we are.
Our beloved heavenly Father will always say to us in one way or another, “Don’t be discouraged, sweet saint, I see Jesus in you.” He will say it because He doesn’t have the eyes of a critic, He has the eyes of a doting parent, eyes that, despite our outward, temporal flaws, continually gaze with delight upon our permanent inner pefection. He always sees us as “holy and without blame before Him in love.” (Eph. 1:4)
The phrase holy and without blame refers not to what we do but to who we are. Like the word saints, it points to a picture in our family album—a snapshot that shows we are not only hagios, or set apart for God, we are also without blemish, totally free from faults, as spotless and pure as the Lamb of God Himself.
God doesn’t see us that way just because He loves us, either. For just as He is a God of love, He is also a God of truth. He cannot believe a lie. He sees us as holy and without blame because that is what we truly are. He Himself has made us that way. When He regenerated our spirit in the new birth, He obliterated once and for all every trace of darkness and sin in our spirit. He wiped out every effect of the fall and burned up our old, Adamic nature with one lightning-like flash of His holy power. He made us in every detail of our nature, sons of God just like His Firstborn, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Unlike other people, God doesn’t get confused and fail to recognize us when we’re covered with the muck of the world or coated with a dusty film of ignorance and immaturity. As Ephesians 1:4 says, He still see us holy and without blame before him in love.
The phrase before Him comes from a Greek word that means to see down in. It speaks of a penetrating gaze that looks to the heart of something. According to Greek scholar K.S. Wuest, “It is not a gaze conducted in a critical attitude which looks for faults, but a satisfied, delighted contemplation of the reflection of the holiness and spotlessness of the Lord Jesus in the character of the saint…implying a special nearness and dearness to Him.”
God doesn’t just look at us, He looks down in us. Sadly, many believers cringe at that thought. They’re afraid for God to look inside them because they think they’re full of things that would be offensive to Him. But the truth is exactly the opposite! When God looks down in us He always sees the image and nature of Jesus, and Jesus is so eternally precious to Him that His heart leaps toward us in love. He wants to hug us to Himself because we are so indescribably dear to Him.
That does not mean, of course, that God simply overlooks sinful or disobedient behavior. His tender heart is grieved when our outward conduct doesn’t match our inward righteousness, and He disciplines us as necessary. But even His discipline arises from His love for us and His knowledge of who we are in Him. He corrects because he perfectly recognizes our marvelous potential and yearns for us to be all we are created to be.
Have an “Aha!” Moment Every Day
“But Gina,” you might say, “I know Christians who possess all this information about their spiritual identity and they still can’t find the inner strength to be who they are!” Sure you do. That’s because information, in itself, (even good Bible information) has no transforming power. It doesn’t come alive until it collides with the very Person of Jesus Himself. Biblical truth is nothing more than theology until it is processed in His magnificent, loving presence. That’s when information becomes revelation. That’s when it truly becomes spirit and life.
People who just have spiritual information are like our 16th Street-Mall-amnesia-man Even after his fiancé retrieved him and told him who he was, his memory was still a blank. In his brain he believed people were telling him the truth. He believed he was the person they said he was. But he was wearing his identity superficially, like he might wear another man’s jacket.
The emotional, experiential lights had not come on in his soul. He hadn’t yet had that “Aha!” moment when all his old memories and feelings come flooding back. That’s when the mystified look will disappear from his face. That’s when he’ll start jumping and shouting and hugging his fiancé (and probably everybody else in sight.) Only then, will his true identity be restored. Only then will he really be himself again.
Personally, I believe every saint on the planet needs that kind of “aha!” experience. To some degree, we need it every day. How do we get it? It’s simple. All we have to do is draw near to the Lord and fellowship with Him over these truths. All we have to do is come confidently before the throne of grace and say things like:
“Father, I come to you in the name of Jesus, washed in His blood, faultless and without blame before You in love. Thank You, Lord, for putting the very heart of Jesus in me. Thank you for cleansing me and making me as holy as He is holy, as pure as He is pure, righteous with His own righteousness. I’m so grateful that when You look into me You are totally delighted with who I am…that You are as in love with me as You are with Jesus Himself…and that You are completely satisfied with the work You have done in my heart. I love You, Lord, and I will love you forever for making me like You. I will praise You forever for creating me to be a holy habitation of Your presence. Father, give me the grace today to be who I truly am.”
When we say words like that to our heavenly Father, something extremely powerful happens. The Holy Spirit begins to reveal to us the essence of those truths. Instead of just thinking about them with our brains, we encounter them with our souls. Our emotions are effected. Our consciousness is altered. We are literally transformed.
When we come into God’s presence clutching by faith the scriptural truth of who we are in Christ, we begin to awaken from the carnal coma we’ve been caught in. The reality of our identity dawns on our hearts and we want to leap and cry and hug our heavenly Father—the One who through all our wanderings has never let us go, the One who faithfully follows us down all our 16th streets and lovingly pursues us when we forget not only who we are, but to Whom we belong.
Of course, we ourselves are joyful beyond measure at moments like that. But the joy doesn’t stop with us. It extends to the heart of the God and then beyond, to our brothers and sisters in Christ. For once we have truly seen the satisfied, delighted gaze of our Father resting upon us, once the lights of our soul come on and we realize that we are worthy of that delight because of what He has done in us, we will finally be able to look with that same gaze upon other believers.
We will finally be able to say, in all honesty, the words they’ve been starving to hear. “Don’t be discouraged, sweet saint. I truly see Jesus in you.”