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Identity, Part II

Living in Two Places at Once

I was talking with a friend the other day about living in the “now and the not yet.”  I take that phrase from a song I heard sung by Amy Grant many years ago, written by Pam Mark Hall:

The Now and the Not Yet

No longer what we were before,
But not all that we will be.
Tomorrow, when we lock the door,
On all our compromising,
When He appears,
He’ll draw us near,
And we’ll be changed by His glory,
Wrapped up in His glory….

We will be like Him,
For we shall see Him,
As He is.

No longer what we saw before,
But not all that we will see.
Tomorrow, when we lock the door,
On all our disbelieving,
When He appears (holy, holy),
Our view will clear,
And we’ll be changed by His glory,
Wrapped up in His glory….

But I’m caught in between
The now and the not yet;
Sometimes it seems like
Forever and ever,
That I’ve been reaching to be
All that I am,
But I’m only a few steps nearer,
Yet I’m nearer….

~ Pam Mark Hall

As believers in Jesus, we live in the midst of a paradox – we are holy, and yet still sin.  We are made perfect in Christ, and yet are still being perfected.  When God sees us, He knows our weaknesses and will hear us when we repent of our sins in prayer.  And yet He also sees us through the righteousness of Christ, which is credited to our account on our behalf by Jesus – who took our place on the cross, and rose again after His death.

If you’ve not thought it through, or if you haven’t done so in a while, take a moment to do so.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, He was paying the penalty for each one of our individual sins.  All the times you or I have lied, cheated, been greedy, gluttonous, hateful, lustful, manipulative, proud…all of our sins were seen and dealt with.  His sacrifice was accepted in the place of the death that each one of us deserved for our sins.

And for those who have accepted that Jesus did this, and have chosen in gratitude to make Him our Lord and King, God can now see us in both states of being.  One that is in need of forgiveness, and one that has already been forgiven.

This illustration came up in the conversation I was having with my friend.  As a Physical Therapist, (well, after having been one for many years and seeing hundreds of clients), I can see a person with an injury or illness in front of me in the condition they are in, and at the same time I can see them as they will be after they recover.  And, in these cases, I know what it takes to get them there.

One example was a fellow who came to me with a certain condition while in a wheelchair.  As I was listening to his history, within the first 15 min. of meeting him, I realized that he did not need to be in that wheelchair.  He was in need of orthopedic surgery, and could not have that surgery done until he had lost a significant amount of weight.  Although this was not the main reason he had come to see me, all of these health conditions were related, and I started challenging him to think about the bigger picture.  I evaluated and began treatment for the condition he was sent to me for, of course, but before he left that day I asked him to think about a goal – what activity would he like to be able to return to if he could walk again?

His wife, who was sitting a bit behind him, started crying.  Sometimes, especially after a long struggle, even daring to hope is a painful thing to experience.

When he came back he had an answer to my question.  “I’d like to fly an airplane again.”

While I could quickly assess that he could physically get back to walking very soon after he rolled into my door, I also knew that it would take a lot of work and determination.  When he came up with that goal – well, I knew it was the kind of high bar that could mentally and emotionally sustain him through what was to be many months of hard work.  It was an aim worthy of the effort.  I could really see him in “the now and the not yet.”

It was my honor to see this man make incredible progress – he was able to walk into his orthopedic surgeons office BEFORE his surgery, and gave away his motorized wheelchair to a charitable organization.  At one point in his rehab., he had just started to work on standing, and had accepted an out-of-town invitation to give a speech.  When he returned I asked him how it went, and he told me that he had, “Pulled a Roosevelt on them.”  I had a quizzical look on my face and he explained that he rolled up to the podium in his wheelchair, but then stood to deliver his speech!  That absolutely cracked me up.  “You should have heard them gasp!”  At that point, I didn’t even know that he was able to stand for that long.

Of course there are a ton of obstacles that could have blocked the way of him achieving his goal, but that is true of any client who walked in the door.  You don’t forgo the effort just because of the list of “what if’s” that are a part of the reality of life.

God’s Woman in a New Kingdom

So this is the state of things for every believer in Christ, and it affects our identity.  We are living in the present, but we are also living in light of eternity, when we will fully experience the victory already achieved.  This is our inheritance, and our homecoming.*

When Jesus was teaching, He put following Him in the context of the Kingdom (see Kingdom Scriptures page – tab available above).  He didn’t teach that He was calling us to join a club, or even a church – but to become a part of His Kingdom – and to pray that it will be here on earth as it is in heaven.  The Lord is our King, and all other identities I might have come second to this one.  I live in the light of the truth that I am the daughter of the King, the heir to His inheritance, and a loyal and grateful subject of His Kingdom.

A friend the other day remarked on how that concept is so foreign to our American ears and said, “We serve no Sovereign here.”  It can be a tough adjustment, but it’s also an incredibly rewarding one…to know that the King of kings is for you, and not against you.  That He has invested in a long-term, permanent home for us as His sons and daughters.  To know that He is faithful to complete the work begun in us as His much loved children.

“…a Christian – Christ’s man, a Christ-ian.  I think I might claim (proclaim) that title even if the lions were waiting, growing.  Still, perhaps not:  I might develop a sudden allergy to cats.  One never knows till one is put to the test.  It’s like that with any sort of dying  One would like to die well, not howling; but only the event will show.”

~ Sheldon Vanauken, Under the Mercy (Emphasis his.)

Understanding that this is my permanent identity – not hard-wired genetically, but supernaturally paid for and given to me spiritually – has made a huge impact on my life in countless ways, and certainly as regards my sexuality.

This is why you’ll not find me calling myself a “gay Christian.”  I’m just a Christian.  I’m not defined by anything that might tempt me, whether it does for a long amount of time or not.  The Lord does not look at us that way, so why should we?  I think it’s short-sighted to do so.  (And I hypothesize that is comes as a reaction to the mainstreaming of GLBT culture in our country.)  When would it make sense to do that with any other temptation?  Should I call myself a “lazy Christian” or a “greedy Christian” – for I’m often tempted by these desires.

And I’m concerned about the self-fulfilling prophesy factor – Jesus made it clear that putting anything before Him is a bad move.  (See His teachings on the Kingdom.)  To do so in your mind, out loud or in writing has an imprinting effect that I could live much better without.

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 10:37-39

I understand that the church has blown this particular sin way out of proportion (again, all the more so as homosexuality has become celebrated in many ways culturally), but “coming out” by labeling oneself as someone permanently tempted by whatever-the-thing-happens-to-be is not the way to turn the tide within the Kingdom.  And I find it confusing for many to understand.  When using that term, do you mean “A Christian who finds homosexuality compatible with Christianity,” or “A Christian who is often tempted by homosexual desires but finds them incompatible with Christianity?”  There is quite a significant difference.

I tend not to call people out on this point when reading writings of those with this perspective on the internet, etc.  I’d rather speak to an individual about it after I’ve gotten to know them, because identity is something I assume one has spent some time thinking about, and I respect that.  And I’d rather speak about identity in the larger context which I’ve tried to address here.  And now, I can direct whomever is interested in this topic to these posts on the blog.

There is something vastly important that I don’t want anyone reading this to miss.  I know that identity is a hot-button issue, but to lose this truth in the midst of thinking over labels would be tragic.  Beyond all the tags, descriptive terms and designations, the choices that we make can and do leave a mark on our soul, and impact our destiny.  C.S. Lewis wrote about this powerfully in his essay entitled “The Weight of Glory” – the choices we make every day are making us into more Christ-like or Hellish creatures – there aren’t any other destinations.  Choices override labels – they form our authentic selves.  And this is the level which God sees and deals with – here and now, and on the Last Day.  With belief in Jesus,** comes the freedom to walk in obedience, which is the accumulation of all things – life, joy, and love, that fulfills our souls.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter:  it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.  The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.  It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature, which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.  It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conducts all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, al play, all politics.  There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.  This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.  We must play.  But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption…

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.  If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat  the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

~ CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory (with British spellings)

*As followers of Christ as Lord, we have an inheritance:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  I Peter1:3-5 (Emphasis mine.)

And we have a homecoming – our home is not here, for we only live here for a short while.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Hebrews 1:13-16 (Emphasis mine.)

**The Good News

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.  John 3:16-21

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 8:9-10

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