Commandments and Our New Identity, Part V: Knowing Who We Are

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Although we may believe Jesus died for our sins, and has given us Heaven, we often carry the weight of a lie within our hearts, thinking the commands are there to obey by exerting the power of our will; we attempt to find our identity in obedience. We think success in obeying means we are “good,” and failure means we are “bad.” This is the living death of which Paul wrote in Romans 7. It is the wretched-man existence, not the new creation life of union with Christ. It is a Christian saved from Hell in eternity by grace but trying to get free from the hell of his present sins by the exertion of his own will power.

This is the backwards Christian life. To oversimplify, we think erroneously that we’re saved from Hell so we’re to try by our will power to show God how grateful we are in return by being good, by trying to keep his commands.

This must be reversed. The commands are there to reveal when we’re not abiding, not living from our present-tense, God-given identity. They shine the light when we have tripped up in our trust and have started again to try being righteous by our own steam. Failure to abide, to rest, to remain, to faithe, to rely, leads to the frustrating life of Romans 7; we do what we hate, and don’t do what we love. We self-condemn, see ourselves as wretched sinners, and start again into trying to overcome the mess.

The cure is to go back out of Romans 7 via the narrow gate called No Condemnation in Christ and get back into living in the faith-life of Romans 8.

How do we do that?

In Christ there is now no condemnation. Now. We recognize our identity no longer comes from performance. We have been given a gift of sonship. It is something bestowed by God; we had nothing to do with it. We have been washed, and cleansed, and filled by the Holy Spirit. That is given to us by grace. We are partakers of the divine nature. That gift doesn’t diminish or disappear based on performance. We recognize that even when we sin, there is no “I have to get back to God.” He is there, in us, present, available, even though we have not recognized him as such, haven’t drawn on his resources; instead, we have lived from a false idea of our own independent, fleshly ability to be good. Exerting such ability ends either in Pharisaic pride or self-condemnation, because we are attempting to live from a mentality which thinks it can be good independently from God’s power within.

Our real identity simply is. It is a non-negotiable gift from God by his grace. When we step out of it, we thank God for the Blood, make necessary  apology or reparation to others, and move back into reliance on our real identity of being partakers of the divine nature.

Of course, we want to be good. How, then, to be who we are?

Playing music at a high level involves a lot of background knowledge and practice, years of it. Undergirding that, though, is an attitude of faith that drives perseverance in learning and growth. If a person doesn’t have that, much of his work will come to nothing.

“If you are going to be a Christian, it is going to take the whole of you, brains and all,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Also, an old pastor of mine often said, “You don’t have to park your brain at the door to be a Christian.” So, knowledge is involved. But undergirding our growth in knowledge of “What is a truly Christian life? Who is God? Who am I? Why am I here?” is a faith which continually goes to God for the necessary resources – the God who claims to live inside us, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

From God and God alone proceeds all necessary virtue: love, joy, peace, patient endurance, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility, moderation. The varied fruits of the Spirit are just that – fruits proceeding from the Holy Spirit into and through the abiding branch.

Without this reliance, much of our Christian life will turn to dust and ashes on that Day.

We have to begin to know who we are, and that means a Biblical definition. Not what the world says, not what the flesh says, not what the devil says. Not even what our friends say, or what our pastor says. Who does God say I am? The New Testament epistles are a litany of our real identity, and a word-picture of what that identity will look like when expressed.

How to live from our real identity? How to be what we are meant to be? Dig. The Word is full of it, and the Word spoken in faith causes the invisible to become the visible. Seeking, and the subsequent right seeing, will bring the goodness we desire. Knowing our identity, not just theoretically but in practical experience, brings a love-life through us, as 1John 4:12-13 says: “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” We know that we are dwelling, abiding, relying if our life is showing forth love. If our eye is single to our real identity in Christ, that Christ within us is the source and ground of our being, our body will be full of light. If we are doubleminded, seeing our identity half from God’s Facts and half from the world’s definitions, we will be full of darkness, and manifesting that darkness.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these will be given to you as well.” We will gain energy from the sustenance of the Spirit, and be walking clothed in his righteousness and not our own striving.

So, we must ask ourselves this question. “Do I see myself as God sees me? When the Word says I am dead to sin (Rom 6:2), do I agree with it, or hedge it about with all sorts of mental reservations? When God says I am a new creation, that the old man was crucified (Rom 6:6), do I eat that and say it is true, within myself? When the Word says I was buried with Christ through immersion into death, and raised to walk in newness of life (more Romans 6), do I faithe that as true, count it as fact, regardless of how I feel?

Faith is conquered doubt. Do we doubt God and his Word? Then something has to give.

Profile photo of Ron Block

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


20 Comments

  1. yankeegospelgirl

    “We recognize that even when we sin, there is no ‘I have to get back to God.’ He is there, in us, present, available, even though we have not recognized him as such, haven’t drawn on his resources; instead, we have lived from a false idea of our own independent, fleshly ability to be good.”

    But don’t people who sin without repentance do so not out of an attempt to be good, but a hatred of God and deliberate choice for evil?

  2. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    YGG, first, this article is written to believers – “This is the backwards Christian life.”

    Christians sin for what seems a variety of reasons. But the central, source reason is that they are temporarily suspending faith/reliance/trust. Whatsoever is not of faith – that is, whatever does not energize itself from the plugging in of the power cord of faith to the outlet of God – is sin.

    For instance, a Christian man looking at pornography suspends his faith that God is omnipresent, and immanent. “God with me.” “Christ in me.” These things are suspended because the outer world calls him, and he has turned his gaze from the God who is his continual source of strength to something which has stimulated his desires.

    This is as true of gluttony, or gossip, or ambition, or trying to gain the approval of others.

    It is equally true of self-righteousness, which is sin. Self-righteousness is the turning of our gaze from Christ’s total sufficiency to our own works of self-effort. Whether we do that trying to earn God’s favor, or to live a righteous life, is irrelevant to it being sin.

    The source of all sin is failure to rely on the God who is righteousness itself. It is failure to throw the switch of faith, just like Eve, and then Adam.

    I don’t think Eve hated God when she listened to the serpent. Not in the sense of wanting to strike back at him, or rebel. She listened to the serpent’s counsel and was deceived. “I’ll be made wise. God is holding out on me, maybe. Wisdom is a good thing. I’ll know good and evil, and I’ll be like God, choosing good. Plus, it looks tasty, and is beautiful. Can something beautiful be bad for me?”

    Most who choose evil rationalize it. Satan and his bunch may be the only ones bent on evil for its own sake. Most people who do evil seek some sort of benefit from it – pleasure, or money, or power – something that is not necessarily evil in and of itself. Satan seeks destruction for its own sake.

    A Christian who is struggling with pornography, or eating disorder, or self-righteousness, or a desire to beat people in debates (I met many of those in Christian chats through the years), may not fully understand the gravity of what he is doing. He likely is rationalizing (being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin).

    But good for all of us, it is the kindness of God that leads us all to repentance. Not just initial repentance, as a sinner coming to know Christ for the first time. But repentance as a way of continually turning from unbelief to reliance, daily.

    I think it important to understand people, to empathize, to love, like the Father in the prodigal son story. The elder brother never had the experience of blowing it. He was a “good boy” but ultimately worse than the younger brother because he was seething with self-righteousness. This is why ex-drug dealers often make great pastors. Someone who has been a good boy or good girl their whole life, pleasing parents, pleasing others, thinking they are pleasing God as well, often cannot (though they sometimes can) see empathetically those who struggle with sin, those who fall, make mistakes. If such an elder brother does sin, they often repent immediately, and so their own righteousness (compared to others) is intact: “At least I repented right away.” It is ridiculous to what lengths we will go to establish our own righteousness rather than relying on the eternal, life-giving, reliable, and ever-present righteousness of Jesus Christ.

  3. Tom Murphy

    Ron, not sure if you’ve thought about expanding these series of posts to a Rabbit Room Press manuscript, but two communities shaping artists would be glad recipients – The Scripture to Music Collective and the readers of My Song in the Night (Bobby and Kristen Gilles of Sojourn Church’s blog).

    Both of these two groups have been priceless in their contributions as I stand up the Biblical Counseling Through Song concept at Redeemer Seminary.

    Scripture to Music Collective
    http://www.scripturetomusiccollective.com/about-the-project/

    My Song in the Night – Blog of Bobby and Kristen Gilles
    http://mysonginthenight.com/2011/12/14/top-10-books-for-worship-modern-hymn-songwriters/

  4. Becca

    Ron, I’m so glad you mentioned the dangers of attempting to win debates online. This is a particular danger to intellectuals. What allure could possibly be more appealing for bright young minds than the promise of publicly proving themselves brilliant, educated, agile, equipped, and enlightened?

    I confess, this has been a temptation of mine. For years, I didn’t even see the rot in it. And even though I know the dangers now, I can still be lured toward back so easily. Thank the Lord, He stops me more regularly now. (Though sometimes, at the very last minute.)

    Part of the problem is that there are Christian communities that promote a self-fueled, polemic approach to theological conversation. I’ve seen trusted formal training programs that model a proud, elitist demeanor. I’ve listened to videos that encourage students to zing others with a rapier, right-answer wit. Body language, tone, and method emphasize a warlike dominance.

    Young people who grow up in this environment are trained that walking with Jesus means being a rattle-mouthed bully. They have confidence, but no real wisdom. They pop off too fast, showing off their stuff, drawing attention away from Christ to self. Their hearts are so far from the gospel, and yet they feel they are dead center. Bleh. Over time, however, the most adamant show-offs tend to crash.

    I think there is a place for hearty faith conversation. Yet what fuels the dialogue, self or faith? That makes a difference, doesn’t it?

  5. Becca

    One of the differences I’ve noticed about you, Ron Block, is that you write from a position of security. You do not write needing approval or admiration from anyone. You write filled with Jesus. Therefore, there is a deeper wisdom in your words than that of someone who is simply trying to show off and “be right.” This difference shines through your writing so strongly. You are always a great example to me of a Christ-indwelt response vs. a self-fueled response. I learn from that.

  6. Joe Morse

    Tom up there. Hey if you read my post here send me an email if you don’t mind. This material has been used before in like manner. Be interested in your take on it.

  7. Donna S

    A recent situation of misunderstanding, and subsequent hostility, between some much beloved friends has broken my heart, and caused quite a bit of grief and anxiety to many people in a large circle of friends/fellow churchgoers. Reading this post has not only immediately refreshed my spirit, but has also brought a much needed reminder of the place of rest that may be found in abiding in Christ. Thank you, dear sir – I think I can go back to bed now and actually sleep!

  8. Alyssa

    I consider it a great mercy that much of my own self-fueled debatiness (what do you mean that’s not a word, computer?), and subsequent Internet humiliation, has happened right here in this room. I’ve learned and grown so much from having my rattle-mouthing met with love. Arguing with the arguers, at least in my case, accomplished nothing. Arguing with pornographers, or the self-righteous, or heretics, or pick-your-favorite-sin — all that seems fruitless as well. But meeting all that fear and self with love, mercy, grace — with the sureness of the indwelling Christ — that changes things. Thank God.

  9. Jim Crotty

    Powerful. Thank you Ron. Growing up Catholic I know full well the fallacy of conditional redemption. Your words reinforce of what I’ve always felt within my heart as being the true nature and meaning of grace. So often people become trapped within their own religion, never realizing faith. The person who lives his or her entire life believing that the temporal of this world can actually deal and negotiate with the divine is almost comical if it were not also so very tragic, particularly when this same type of “understanding” (negotiate, deal and control – the “rationalizing”) is applied by the narcissistic over the passive. I’ve experienced firsthand the destructive results beyond just religion but also in organizations and families.

    He lives in us and through us. Thank you very much.

  10. Karen

    I had never heard of “The Rabbit Room” until I recently attended “The Behold the Lamb” concert. Today I was on Jason Gray’s site because my daughter and I were so blessed by his new song, “Remind Me Who I Am” which led me to your blog. It is so exciting to see your writings on our identity in Christ…so few Christians are living in this truth. I praise God for bringing me to “The Rest of the Gospel” years ago…to live- Christ in me, for me and as me. Thank you for your blog…I am going to read all the rest of them.

  11. Africa S

    Oh, the importance of seeing ourselves the way God sees us, not as the world sees us, or even as we see us. Living in the mentality of doing, trying, striving, effort upon more effort then disappointment when (surprise) we don’t find the results we want is not only tiring, but futile. At least for the purpose of obtaining a goal of living that Christ-led life.

    Many think that we can earn our way into heaven through performance, by trying to enact those Commandments and gifts that are GIVEN to us with the entering of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. Strange, that we would think we’d have to earn something that is already given to us. Imagine opening a gift on Christmas morning and turning to the person who gave it you and saying, “Gee, this is a really great thing you got me. But instead of accepting it and using it, excuse me though while I go mow your lawn and clean your house so I can earn it.” Not only is it rude, but how would that person feel, seeing that you don’t trust them enough to believe that they could give you a gift our of the love that he/she has for you.

    Of course the gifts of God are not material possessions that we receive on a yearly basis, but they are gifts none-the-less.

    So, these things that we strive for are already here, lovingly given to us, and readily available when we abide in the Giver of it All: the living Christ inside of us.

    It’s sort of fantastic, don’t you think?

    Very timely and relevant post, Mr. Block! Thanks you as always.

  12. zachary

    Mr. Ron Block, Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I grew up in the church and never knew that there was no condemnation for those in Christ until this summer, when I read the book of Romans over and over and over. Honestly, what got me started on my hunt for grace was a post here on the rabbitroom about halloween. I was a legalist and miserable in my sin. The grace of Romans 8 has changed my life.

  13. Loren

    Thank you once again, Ron, for reminding me of our true identity!

    Perhaps you can give some light on this recent conversation:
    I was talking with a friend whose family is trying to make a significant decision for their kids’ education, and she spoke of how she and her husband feel it’s vital that they think carefully and do their best to make the right decision because Satan is looking for ways to knock them down. “Yes,” I said, “but in a way this isn’t your responsibility. ‘Doing your best’ is recognizing what God wants you to do and doing that.”

    My thought was that Satan is taken care of if you’re resting in Christ, and I think my response was the right one. Afterward, though, I was wondering how we can best know what is the right decision when we have two good things to choose from. Not sure if this can tie into the identity in Christ conversation, but it seems to relate. We want to rest in Christ, but there are times when we are faced with choices that are both good choices–How do we choose? Can we go wrong?

  14. Jerome

    These posts are full of assurance because they reveal our identity based on our relationship with the Holy One of God, Jesus, Who lives in us, rather than our own virtue, ability or performance. We were negatively implicated in the life of the first Adam, and now, thankfully, we have been positively implicated in the Life of the Last Adam. It is helpful to remember that Jesus remains the Incarnate Lord, still flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Astounding! Jesus, in His continuing humanity, has joined us to Himself forever. We are called upon to receive this state of existence, to rest in belief, not to try and actuate it by our own goodness or effort. Why did He do this? Because the Triune God loved us before creation and desired to share the life of God with children – us. I think Tom Torrance puts it well:

    “God loves you so utterly and completely that he has given himself for you in Jesus Christ his beloved Son, and has thereby pledged his very Being as God for your salvation. In Jesus Christ God has actualised his unconditional love for you in your human nature in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself. Jesus Christ died for you precisely because you are sinful and utterly unworthy of him, and has thereby already made you his own before and apart from your ever believing in him. He has bound you to himself by his love in a way that he will never let you go, for even if you refuse him and damn yourself in hell his love will never cease. Therefore, repent and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.”

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