Who Are You? by Greg Albrecht
Friends and Partner Letter From July 2014
Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990, was the longest-serving British Prime Minister of the 20th century. While she was in office Mrs. Thatcher visited a home for seniors, the kind of place often referred to as an “old folks’ home.” As she made the rounds shaking hands, she came to one older lady who seemed to be suffering from dementia. She gave no indication that she had any idea that she was shaking hands with the Prime Minister. Mrs. Thatcher asked the woman:
“Do you know who I am?”
The dear lady replied, “No dear, but if you really want to know you can ask the nurse. She usually knows.”
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20.
When God draws us to himself, he enables us by his grace to discover and know his unconditional love. Then, when we have been empowered by that same grace, we absolutely trust him and we are then given a new identity in Christ. His grace propels and energizes us to willingly set aside and discard who we have been and what we have done, counting it all as so much rubbish (Philippians 3:7-11), that we may be known of God and that we may be in Christ and he in us.
If you want to know who you are, ask Jesus! God changes, converts and transforms us so that in Christ we become children of God. We have been given a new identity. God adopts us, proclaiming us to be his children and opening our eyes to realize our incompetence to please him by our efforts.
A few weeks before writing this letter, I was chatting with a former colleague, via email. The last time we had much contact with each other was a little more than two decades ago. It was just about the time when Jesus mercifully intervened in my life and started to gently inform me that my religious pride in my obedience to what I thought God wanted me to do was just like a great big hot air balloon. Looking back at that time in my life, it seems to me that Jesus was asking me a simple and straightforward question:
“Just who do you think you are?”
I first started grappling with my response to Jesus over 25 years ago, and as I did so, I gradually started to enter a dark night of my soul. I now realize that this walk through a lonesome valley of the shadow of death was a time when Jesus was mercifully helping me to see the error of many of my ways. Among other lessons, I came to see my life and my identity up to that point had been all wrapped up in my utterly mistaken idea of how important my religion and my perceptions of God were. To use the term Paul uses in Galatians, I had been “bewitched” (Galatians 3:1) into taking myself and my religion so very seriously while scarcely giving a second thought to Jesus.
At the time, my identity was all about who I was and what I could do and what I had done and accomplished and the power vested in me by a religious institution. My friend was telling me about her experiences during the time when we were both enslaved by Christ-less religion – I told her that I came to realize, by God’s grace, that it was a time when I felt my main task in life as a pastor, an employer-supervisor, a college professor and administrator and a husband and a father was to control other people. Control of others, in case you have not yet noticed, is a huge priority in many, if not most, religious institutions.
God’s grace helped me realize that I had been living a lie – I was actually nothing more than a self-important jackass. I suppose I could take some comfort in the fact that I was one jackass among many, but the fact is a jackass in a herd is just as much a jackass as a lone jackass. Who was I? I was a deluded religious authority, only too happy to zealously enforce rules and regulations.
During our exchange of emails, I realized my former colleague had many painful memories of her past and I felt that Christ in me wanted me to extend an apology to her. She needed to hear someone who had represented her past religious “command and control” admit that the times we had both endured were far from the teachings of Jesus. She accepted my apology and thanked me for it, noting that while I was not a prime offender in her own life, I was the only one thus far who had ever expressed regrets about “the way I was.”
Again, while I can take some comfort that I was not the only self-important religious jackass at the time, the fact remains that the Jesus I knew then was far from the Jesus I now know, by God’s grace. My friend knew the “old me” back then – when I was convinced that human relationship with God is all about earning merits via performance that lead to trophies, ribbons and commendations awarded by the religion one is serving. I now know that all that stuff is a handful of wind.
By contrast, a Christ-follower does not identify themselves with power, authority, commendations and awards of religion – a Christ-follower identifies with Jesus. Who are we, as Christfollowers? We are in Christ and he is in us. That’s all – nothing more, nothing less. As Christ-followers, who we are, in terms of diplomas, achievements and status is inconsequential – beyond that, such things are, as Paul says in Philippians 3:8, a “great big steaming pile of manure” (my translation).
Who am I? I belong to Jesus Christ. Who are you? You belong to Jesus Christ. By God’s grace, he lives his risen life in us. We are therefore Christ-followers. By grace, God has adopted us as his children, so that by that same grace we are heirs of his kingdom. Everything we have, do and accomplish apart from Jesus’ life in us is inconsequential to our existence – Jesus is our all in all. Our identity is in Christ. Before and above anything else that might identify us, we belong to Jesus.
What a supreme blessing and priceless privilege it is to be redeemed and released from the rat race of worrying about how self-important we assume we are. Some people sit around and worry about what their legacy will be. When we are in Christ, we don’t have to give a second thought to our legacy, because most important of all, we are in Christ forever. Jesus has a legacy, and by grace we have been given that same legacy. Our legacy is the dynamic reality of life in Christ, now and forever.
Over two decades ago, a movie titled “Places in the Heart” won several Oscars at the Academy Awards. “Places in the Heart” was set in a little town in rural Texas in the 1930s, a time of great pain, abuse and discrimination, I deeply identify with little towns in rural Texas – in the early 1950s I lived, off and on, with my aunt, uncle and cousins on their small farm near the little town of Needville, Texas. The heart of Needville was clustered around a blinking yellow light that served as a four-way stop sign. The handful of stores in Needville had wooden boardwalks in front of them to help shelter them from the rain and the mud that accumulated in the streets when it rained.
I vividly recall the time when we went “into town” and the kids were given some money and turned loose so that we could buy some “sody-waters” (now called soda, pop or generically, “cokes”). With no thought that any other human being existed on the face of this earth, I ran lickety-split toward the general store. Suddenly I came face to face with an older African-American woman (not the term we people in South Texas called people of her race at that time). She saw a seven-year old white boy running toward her, and she stepped off the narrow boardwalk into the mud to make room for me to run by. I will never forget that incident.
At the beginning of “Places in the Heart” a young, intoxicated African-American accidentally shoots the sheriff, and shortly thereafter a lynch mob kills the young man. As the movie continues, a tornado kills several residents of the town, while racism, hatred, poverty, betrayal and pain abound. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) violently beats an African-American man. Several couples in the town experience the pain and betrayal of infidelity in their marriages. But in the final scene an incredible picture of reconciliation is depicted as many realize that who they are in Christ is far more important than who they have been – in fact, the scene depicts those who had recently died as well, so for them the reality of being with and in Christ is illustrated as far more real and relevant than who they had been during their earthly lives. In the final scene all the characters who had already appeared in the movie, dead or alive, are sitting in the little church in town, sharing communion in a little country church.
There they are, passing the bread and wine to each other. The sheriff passes the wine to the man who killed him, and the man who was severely beaten by the KKK receives the bread passed to him by a member of the KKK. Couples who had their lives torn apart by infidelity and betrayal come together in this grand picture of the kingdom of God, a spiritual reality where the only identity one has is one’s relationship with God, by grace.
Let us give thanks to God that we are in Christ, and he is in us. Who are we? By God’s grace, we are his very own children! By God’s grace I am, with you, a child of God whom he has mercifully allowed to share this ongoing ministry with you.
In friendship, because of Jesus,