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Thriving in Your Identity

Date: Aug. 25, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Romans 8:1-39

Key Verse: Romans 8:37

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Before we start, let’s do a little background for those who have not been here very long. We’re taking a small break from our usual Mark’s Gospel study to get a refresher on our key verse for the year. So, at the beginning every year, we as a ministry adopt a verse from the Bible, and we try to hold on to it for the year. This year, Romans 8:37 was chosen as the ministry key verse for 2019, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Right at the beginning of the year, Bob gave a message on this passage, but we wanted to touch on the passage again two more times. Then, in April, Mike reminded us of the passage in a message that he gave, but with a little different flavor. Now two-thirds of the way through the year, it is time to refresh our memory once again. Our verse for the year is meant to remind us to thrive in our lives and not merely to survive. Mike added the wrinkle of thriving in hope, and today, I will be adding our identity.

That leads me to a question. Who are you? Not just what is your name, but who are you? We identify ourselves by our name, but that is not our whole identity. Our identity is composed of our beliefs, thought patterns, strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and other traits. Nowadays, identity is a big topic for lots of people. There are so many people unsure of their identity and they are searching for who they are. There are many people who do not know their strengths or weaknesses. They don’t know their preferences. They live confused. It is like their identity is stolen. You know, the events in our lives and certain numbers, like social security numbers, credit card numbers, phone numbers and student ID number are all intended to prove our identity. There are many people out there that are trying to steal that information so that they can steal someone’s identity. How many times, have we heard about some company being hacked and identifying information being stolen? It seems like we hear about massive breaches multiple times a year. Even babies have their identifying information stolen and have their financial history destroyed even before they are supposed to have a financial history. In the same way, our total identity is stolen by distractions as we chase after things that lead to death, but our passage today helps us to find that stolen identity. With that identity, we don’t have to be afraid of anything, but have confidence because of the love that God has for us.

So, let’s get into the passage. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (1-4) There is a lot here in these verses, but the author Paul starts out with the words, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In the passage before this one, Paul talks about the law and sin, and that even though we might want to do good, the sin that lives in us still drives us to do bad things over and over again. We constantly have this duality of good and evil fighting within us, but unfortunately, on our own, there is no way for us to conquer that evil. We are powerless to do so because it is such a fundamental part of us. We were born with it and it seems hopeless for us. If we can’t get out of this muck and funk, who is going to save us? To that, Paul answers, thank God for Jesus, and that is where this passage picks up. When we are in Jesus, we don’t have to sit condemned. We don’t have to wallow in our self-pity. We don’t have to live in fear that we are not good enough. We are not abandoned by God because of the evil that lives within us. Through Jesus, we are set free from sin and death and are given life. God had a law that showed us what was right and wrong, but it couldn’t free us from our sins. But God sent his own son down to this Earth to take the punishment for us. Jesus was the perfect person who never sinned, but he died so that the requirement of the law could be fulfilled and sin itself would be condemned and not us. This happens because we identify ourselves with Jesus. When we live according to the flesh, we identify with sin, but when we live according to the Spirit, we identify with Jesus.

Paul explains this a bit, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (5-8) When we live according to our flesh, we always focus on what our flesh desires. We act like kids, we see something that we want, and we have to have it, no matter what it will do to us. How many times have you eaten something and have been grossed out afterwards? How many times have you had those hot wings, only to regret it later when it is burning a hole in you? It goes beyond food to pretty much every desire we have. There are times we want a shiny new bauble and we don’t care about how much further it will drive us into debt. We may seek pleasure, but that may only lead us to becoming drunk or high, and we don’t even remember what happened. When we live according to our human desires, we will end up dead. People have died from being drunk or overdosing. Come on, people have died because they pursued the perfect selfie. They sought for themselves the rush of life, but in the long term, they wind up empty and they seek more and more until maybe their body has had too much.

Many times, it is those desires that we have that start to define us. Those obsessed with baubles become techies, while those who love a variety of food become foodies. There are the partiers, the adventurers and the chill. There are the influencers and the influenced, but is that really what you want to be known as? Do you want to be known for your clothes or your hair? Do you want to be known for what phone you use or what achievement you’ve unlocked? Is that your identity? None of that lasts. It leads to death. I’ve seen people live their lives resting our past successes and then they try to make their children to follow suit. Then, their identity becomes the mother or father of their child, and it places such a burden on those very children. Think about it, those children have to grow to find their own identity, but their parents have foisted their identity on the child as well. As the passage says, this mentality is hostile to God. When we are so caught up in ourselves, it is hard to think of anything else but our own desires and nothing else matters. How could this be anything but hostile to God? We don’t want to listen to him, and we follow our own limited way regardless if it is good for us to do so or not. There is no way for us to please God.

However, if you are here, I assume that you have at least some curiosity about God and even possibly pleasing him. To that, Paul writes, “You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” (9-11) If we seek God and accept Jesus and what he has done for us, then his Spirit comes to reside in us. Then, because Jesus is in us, we have life, even though we still struggle with our sin, the evil that lives within us. We don’t have to live like we are walking on eggshells, worried about any small sin we might commit. As long as we are alive right now, we will still sin, but it is no longer our identity because Christ now lives within us. Our identity is now found in Christ. Because of his Spirit living within us, we can use that Spirit for biometric access to life. It’s like Touch ID or Face ID on your phone. It is Spirit ID. With Spirit ID, we unlock eternal life because Jesus was able to rise from the dead to a life everlasting. Spirit ID opens the door and we are able to follow Jesus because the Spirit shows that we are identified with Christ and belong to him.

What that means is that we become like Christ, a child of God. The passage says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (14-17) When we have God’s Spirit, when we are led by it, we become children of God. That is our identity, children of God. It is an identity that is not driven by fear. But being a child of God means that we can call him Father. We can come to God like a child comes to his daddy. A young child has no fear but just wants to be with their daddy. They want to please their daddy and come to him with open arms. That is the type of relationship that we can have with the creator of the universe. One of the things that it means to be a child of God is that we become heirs of God and co-heirs with Jesus. Jesus becomes like our brother and what he inherits, we too have a claim on. We will not only have a residence in heaven, but we will have a stake in ownership of heaven and all things. We will have a share of his glory.

Now, to have a share of his glory means that we will also have to share in the sufferings of Christ. Our life on earth, even as believers, is not going to be easy and rosy. This world is still a broken world, but the pain that we may feel is like the pain of childbirth. It is temporal and it leads us to hope in the coming future, one where there is no pain or death, when we come into our inheritance. We have a hope that our frail, broken human bodies will be redeemed when we are fully brought into his glory. As a child of God, we know that we will conquer our selves. We conquer our fear, pain and doubt. The limitations that we have will fade away and we are protected by the great love of God.

The author writes, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (28-29) Because God becomes our daddy, everything he has in mind for us is for our own good. He protects us from all sorts of evil. The world waits for us to stumble and fall, and it laughs at our pain and doubt. The world mocks us for believing in God, thinking that we are fools for putting our hope in God, but God protects us and uses all that scorn to build us up. It strengthens a believer’s resolve and helps conform us to the image of his Son. When we are a child of God, we become more and more like Jesus. We become more and more like God. Being a child of God means that we start to look like God, just like a child looks like their parents. I found an old passport of mine from when I was nine. When I showed my father-in-law the passport, he didn’t hear that it was mine, but he asked if it was Lucas, my oldest son. Everyone I show it to thinks it looks just like Lucas. However, it is more than just a physical appearance. Children also take on many of the personality traits of their parents. As we are growing up, we never want to turn into our parents, but inevitably we find ourselves acting them. In Christ, through Christ we start being remade in the image of Jesus. We start acting like him. What that means is we grow in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, because those are the very attributes of God. We gain God’s strength and his power. We gain his compassion and love. We gain his righteousness and sense of justice. We gain his humility and we gain his victory.

Our identity is to thrive as a child of God, and nothing can take that away from us. “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (31-35) There is no one greater than God and if he says that we are his child, then there is no one who can tell us otherwise. It doesn’t matter what our life was before. It doesn’t matter what we did or who we were. By believing Jesus, God justifies us and intercedes for us. There is no one to condemn us, no one who can truly mock us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Our passage says, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (37) Thriving in our identity means that we have the greatest identity possible and we are not ashamed of it. Being a conqueror and overcoming so many things is something, that in many ways, is considered the pinnacle of life. How many athletes want to conquer all their opponents and become the champion of their sport? Even if it is not a championship, we all want to conquer something. We have goals that we want to accomplish. But the Bible says that we are more than merely conquerors. Being at the pinnacle of human society is not enough, because once we conquer our goal, become a champion, what else is there? How many people have become jaded because they reached and surpassed their goal only to be left empty? They peaked and life was downhill afterwards, but we are more than that. Through Jesus, conquest is only the beginning and not the end. We conquer our sins and we conquer even death, but that all leads us to eternal life. We enter into eternity and our life and the time we needed to conquer anything is small compared to eternity.

We all have an identity. Usually, we think that our identity is what makes us special, what makes us unique. Sometimes, what we think is our identity is not what other people see. There may have been one thing that happened to us and that is what people remember. Sometimes that is a good thing, but other times what people remember is something embarrassing. Who ever wanted to be the kid that wet his pants in class or cried publicly? Who ever wanted to be the weirdo that wasn’t like everyone else? Who ever wanted to be known as the kid from a broken family? Those are horrible identities, but those are identities that get put on people, because that is what they remember. There are other people that don’t feel special, and so they don’t think that they have an identity. They don’t feel very unique, so they go searching for something to be. They live confused by trying to find their worth in things that make no sense. Their lives can become about school or work, but everything else suffers and neither of those last. One day, school will be over, and your work may collapse. Who you love is also not who you are, because your identity will become dependent on someone else. None of those things will amount to anything, which makes them a really horrible identity.

I’m a pretty weird person and have often felt estranged from others. I have felt alone and thought that no one can understand. How I see the world is different, and how I think is different. I’ve never met anyone like me, and I have felt like an alien among everyone else on this planet. Even my own family didn’t know how to talk to me. I’ve held on to this for so long, but that is not my identity. I was good in school, top of the class. It was all easy for me, even started PhD studies, but that is not my identity. I am a father of three wonderful kids and a husband of a beautiful wife, but even that is not my identity. If I were to focus my identity on any of that, good or bad, it would lead to death, because none of that lasts. Each one of those things is or will be broken. None of them should be my identity. Instead, my identity is found in Christ. I am a child of God. I am more than a conqueror and I am more than what this world says I am. I am who God says I am, and no one can tell me otherwise.

Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (38-39) When we accept Jesus as our Savior. When we invite his Spirit in us, when we seek God and Christ dwells within us, we are children of God and nothing can take that away, nothing. We have victory, but more than that, we have life and a life that never ends. We don’t have to be ashamed of who we are. We don’t have to be fearful or alone. We are not merely someone that knows God, but we are his children and his heirs. That is an identity to thrive in.

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