“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” – John 8:31-32 (ESV)
We are all no doubt familiar – at least somewhat – with the story of John Clayton, the Earl of Greystoke. He and his parents ended up stuck on the coast of Africa. His parents both soon died, and Clayton was taken in and raised by a tribe of apes. John Clayton’s identity disappeared, replaced by his new primate identity: Tarzan.
Tarzan thought he was an ape himself. He acted like one. He swung from trees, ate what the apes ate, acted as the apes acted… probably even ate bugs off the backs of the other apes.
Of course, Tarzan of the Apes is a fictional work by Edgar Rice Burroughs. But, in reality, stories abound of puppies raised by cats (and vice-versa) who ultimately believe they are of the species that raised them, not the one that bore them. In a sense, sin has done the same thing to our created identity. Man was created to commune with God, to live in His pure and holy presence.
Then came the serpent. And now we are separated from God, no longer enjoying the identity we were created with. We identify with the world, identify with our sins (past and/or present), identify with our jobs…
But, the truth is, our identity is found in Christ. While I realize that is a phrase that has almost become a pat answer, a feel good line that we may not be able to completely identify with or even grasp the reality of, knowing who we really are – who Christ says we are – sets our record straight and puts our lives in the proper perspective. It is amazing to discover just how free one is in Christ – set free and separated from the false identities we carry.
Simply, sin branded us with a new identity, that of a condemned person with no eternal hope. How often do we wallow in the mud of our self-pity and doubt and misery because we just can’t seem to get past some event, some sin, some ill-uttered word in our lives. Someone referred to us as a failure, or worthless, or unable, or inferior. Someone won’t let us let go of our pasts, our sins, our regretful words and deeds.
Maybe that someone close to you, someone you love and respect.
Maybe that someone is you.
We buy the lie hook, line and sinker that who we were defines who we truly are. Once we become Christians – believing, professing, seeking His kingdom first, walking in the light of Christ, abiding in His Word – all of that old junk is buried.
Once we believe – truly believe in God through Jesus Christ – the old is cast away, the new comes in. Our identity is now that of God’s beloved, forgiven, justified child, on the road to sanctification.
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)
The use of the word “slavery” in Scripture is a point that may require some clarity. Because of the United States’ 19th century history, we tend to place certain race-based connotations on the notion of slavery. While that sad, barbaric practice is truly slavery, the term “slave” in the Bible refers more to an indentured servant – one who had a debt they couldn’t pay, so they worked it off.
“Indentured servant” is a more accurate description of the human condition. Sin is a debt we can never repay. We can’t even work it off. The debt of sin makes paying off a maxed-out credit card look like a cakewalk. The only way to get out from under the heavy burden of our trespass is to accept the once-and-for-all payment made on the cross by Jesus Christ – perfect, sinless, God-incarnate, dying a gruesome and undeserved execution for our salvation.
It’s like Bob Dylan used to sing, you’re gonna have to serve somebody: the devil or the Lord. In John 8, Jesus makes it clear. Follow His Word (as opposed to the Law) – in other words, accept the free gift of salvation through the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ – and therein find freedom from sin and the identity thereof. While we may profess one thing, our actions will ultimately betray us. We will be exposed as either children of God or children of the devil. God doesn’t work in shades of gray. He is black and white. Take Him or leave Him entirely.
If you are following Jesus and seeking His Will in your life, wonderful! Your identity is found in the freedom He has given you. Your chains have been broken, your sin removed, your identity forever changed through adoption. Like every adopted child, the day comes when you realize your identity hasn’t always been what you thought it was. But, take heart. Accept it. Understand that you are now a child of the Living God, Creator and Sustainer of All Creation. Including you.
This means you have nothing to fear.
This means you have nothing to dread.
This means you have the opportunity to turn around and follow Christ.
This means you are a child of God, no longer owing the non-repayable debt of sin. Your account has been cleared.
And, by the way, in case you were curious… Tarzan found his true identity again as well. Twenty years after he was abandoned in Africa, Jane arrived – under amazingly similar circumstances (even landing at the same spot as the Claytons.) Through Jane, the “Christ-figure” of the story, Tarzan discovers he has believed a lie almost all of his life: that he is an ape. He discovers he is human. And, not only that, a human of royal descent.
As are you.
And now you know the rest of the story. (Wow… that was a real Paul Harvey moment!)