So, there are some stories in the Bible that seem very telling of identity in Christ. For instance, the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-30, Luke 18:18-23) [which I am thrilled to continually reinterpret in wonderful new ways]. What is it really about? We have a guy say that he has kept the commandments of the Jewish law asking how he can have eternal life and then Jesus says, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Does this make much sense? Not really. I mean, why should he have to give up his riches? Riches aren’t bad or evil. There is nothing wrong with money and power in his youth.
So, if that’s not it, then it’s got to be something else. And as I see it, it’s very clear that Jesus simply asks for the man’s full identity to be rooted in Him alone. It wasn’t commandments/obedience that were keeping him from eternal life, but it was his security he derived from his status, power, riches, and expected longevity.
This is why I love the gospel. It’s always about give up everything; lay it down; forget yourself, your money, your past, your future. Jesus goes on to say only a few verses later “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.” Basically, I see Jesus saying that we have to give up things of great value – even things that seem like very good and beneficial things – to fully devote ourselves to him. (But when? How? What does that look like?)
I wonder about the “rich young ruler” some more. Why didn’t Jesus tell him to throw a big event where Jesus could preach? Or why didn’t Jesus say that he should have the man use the money to build a trust and support the church movement? Or a bunch of other good things that could advance the gospel? And, I believe it’s because this man’s security (identity) was wrapped up in his riches. But, I take it a step further to his achievements. He had achieved an abundance of money and power at a young age and to give them up was unreasonable [Jesus is generally pretty unreasonable, but somehow the nonsensical lifestyle is always full of adventure, abundance, and joy]. Maybe using them to enhance the kingdom would be reasonable, but I bet the man would just find security in doing what looked good and advanced the reach of the gospel message. Rather, Jesus cared about His character more than how many Bibles the rich man could distribute (yet another thing derive security/pride).
I see character as what is most important to God throughout the Bible – not achievement of God-type things. I wonder why Moses wandered for 40 years, why Jacob had to wait 21 years for Rebecca, why Abraham was told to slaughter his only son (whom the promise was to come through), why Joseph was in jail for 7 years, etc. God could have just given them their goal immediately, but he didn’t. Why is that?
Then, this same God not only wants to develop our character, but he also tests us. Why does he test us? I wonder. I mean, God knows everything, it’s not like God needs to find out something about us (Does God wonder, “I wonder how he’ll handle this?”). So, maybe the only reason for a test is so that we can see our true character plainly. For when Abraham passed the test to kill his son Isaac, it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:9). But, God knew Abraham’s heart beforehand and what he would do. But, I bet Abraham doubted himself – if he would actually follow through and fully trust God. But, after he put his faith and God and saw that God was faithful, how much more confidence does Abraham have in God and himself?
So, Jesus tested Philip with the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:5-15) – He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do (John 6:6). Again, why? So that Philip would see his own lack of faith. Then we look at Jesus tempted. I wonder about this at times, for these would have been very tough tests that Satan put before him. For, Satan basically told Jesus that he could save the whole world from Satan’s domination if Jesus would only worship Satan. Wow, that is exactly Jesus’ goal – to save the world. There is a small nuance difference, but both routes achieve Jesus’ goal to save the world. It’s just what is “good and right” as I see it. There is the “good and right” way to achieve the goal and the seemingly straightforward and immediate way. Jesus focused on the eternal perspective and knew that immediate gratification (no matter how tempting) is not the way of righteousness (aka God).
Where do I find my identity? How do I handle seeing the results of the character tests God places before me (both success and failure)? Am I willing to give up everything to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousnesses (what is good and right)? Do I trust him over these things I’d love to find security (money, job, intellect, physical abilities, charisma, health, youth, status, etc.)?