No Confidence in Identity

LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! ~ Psalm 144:3

LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! ~ Psalm 144:3

Since expulsion from the Garden of Eden man has pondered the question: Who am I? Of course it is the result of being made a living soul, which distinguishes man from the rest of creation, that even enables him to think such a thing. So, who are we really?

Certain Objective Biological and Physical Realities

God created the first human being during the creation week (Genesis 1:26-28). He was a human male named Adam and he was distinct from all the rest of creation and its plant and animal life. God’s design and command to the man was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with other human beings. However, throughout the entire creation there was nothing compatible or complementary to the man with which he could fulfill his purpose so God made a woman, a female counterpart to the male, and brought her to the man that the two could be joined together and bring forth children (Genesis 2:7, 15-25).

The most basic aspect of our human identity is being made male or female after the image of God. More personally, God is at work in forming each one of us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). We are conceived either male or female according to the purpose of God and formed with other physical and genetic traits to be born into the world.

All these are objective realities and not something anyone can choose or change. We’ve all probably thought at one time or another that we would like to be taller, older, or younger but these things cannot be changed by thoughts or actions (Matthew 6:27). The prophet Jeremiah asked if the Ethiopian could change his skin (Jeremiah 13:23). The answer is no, he cannot. One might suggest that he could undergo medical procedures to perhaps lighten his skin over time, but he hasn’t really changed it, only deformed and disfigured it.

Other Aspects of Identity

Being made male or female is the most fundamental human identity but there are other aspects that contribute to our identity as well. We have a nationality or ethnicity, a birthplace, a native tongue (Acts 2:5-11). All these things contribute to our identity and are objective realities no one can choose or change.

Beyond this we can add some things to our identity by pursuing education or training or being accomplished in some skill. While those things can contribute to our identity, they cannot fundamentally alter it. Whether we ourselves or others view our identity as good or bad, it is not something we should put any hope in.

The discussion of identity today revolves mostly around someone unhappy with their identity and wanting to change it. Paul gives us a different perspective in Philippians 3:3-11. He was born with a stellar identity and rejoiced in it for part of his life. He was born a male of Israel into the tribe of Benjamin. He was circumcised on the eighth day and brought up in observation of the law. He later added to his identity through training to become a Pharisee. He considered himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews. If anyone should have reason to have confidence in their identity, Saul of Tarsus had reason.

Though Paul was very proud and happy with his human identity, he learned it was not enough. He considered his identity as rubbish that he might have a new identity in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:7-11). When it comes to eternal life in Christ, neither a good human identity nor a bad human identity can avail us anything. We must be made a new creation in Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:15). Nothing in our identity commends us or gives advantage with God (Galatians 3:28). In fact, all who come to Christ are given a new identity in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20).

What is Our Human Identity?

We are human beings made in the image of God, male or female according His eternal purpose and will. We are broken through sin that comes to us by nature through our forefather Adam and our mother Eve. That brokenness is manifested within us and without us in thousands of ways and often making us uncomfortable in our own skin. Whether we are discontent or unhappy with some fact of our identity, we cannot change it. We can only deform it. What we need is not surgical, chemical, or psychiatric modification, but rather to be made a new creation in Christ destined for full glorification and everlasting life in wholeness with our Creator and Savior. That identity, that life, is only had through repentance and faith in God’s Son.

Mint . . . Pepper that is

Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:3

Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed. ~ 2 Corinthians 6:3

A curiously strong tip for preachers.

You probably recognize those little white mints. You probably also think I am going to say something about fresh breath. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.

Here are three blessed benefits of those curiously strong peppermints.

  1. Fresh breath. The preacher will be engaged in many conversations before and after a service. Out of a desire to “give none offence” even in this small matter, a small peppermint will make the conversations more pleasant for everyone involved.
  2. Helps dry throat. Preaching tends to dry out the throat and mouth. This leads to the strong and near irresistible desire to cough. However, in a crowded foyer, a cough may be difficult or impolite to execute. Some would choose a cough drop to soothe the throat. An admirable choice, particularly if the flavor is honey lemon or black cherry. Cough drops tend to smell overwhelmingly medicinal, so a peppermint is an better choice in this situation.
  3. Soothes a nervous stomach. Ah, the little known power of the peppermint. It does have the ability to comfort an upset stomach. It is probably not going to help much if you are actually sick. But, if you have a little case of the jitters, peppermint can help. For this to work, you need strong peppermint and the less like candy, the better. Not that I know anything about nervous stomachs.

But, what are the drawbacks? I see primarily two.

  1. Noisy. When that little tin is about half full, it makes a lot of noise when you are walking. In the preacher’s pocket, it can beat out quite a cadence while you are walking to the pulpit. Add to this the fact that the crowd is generally quiet while waiting on you to ascend, and the noise can be amusing or embarrassing depending on your temperament.
  2. Numbing. Too many mints too close to fellowship mealtime and you are not going to be tasting your food well. I suppose this could be a blessing depending on where you are.

A little lighter post than usual, but a practical tip nonetheless.

Four Answers to Prayer

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ~ Matthew 6:30

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ~ Matthew 6:30

We generally consider a prayer unanswered if we do not receive the thing we asked for. Or, we might suppose there are only two answers to prayer—Yes or No. If yes, we have what we asked for. If no, we do not receive what we sought.

Those assumptions are overly simple. The Bible actually teaches much more than that about prayer and the answering of it. I do not propose here to go into a full theology of prayer, but to call your attention to four ways God answers prayer from the Scripture.

  1. God answers prayer by giving the thing sought for right away. Daniel received this answer when he set himself to pray and beseech the Lord to show him the meaning of the seventy weeks in prophecy. God gave the object sought even before Daniel was finished asking for it.

    At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to shew thee; for thou art greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision. ~ Daniel 9:23

  2. God answers prayer by withholding the object sought for a time, and then giving it later. Christ told an illustrative parable to His disciples to teach them to pray in light of this truth. He told them about a widow and an unjust judge who refused to relieve the widow. The widow finally received her relief because of her continual coming to the judge. Christ said that men ought always to pray likewise.

    And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? ~ Luke 18:7

  3. God answers prayer by refusing the blessing sought and giving a better one in its place according to His own will. Moses received this answer concerning his request to enter the promised land. It seemed a reasonable request after giving himself in service as he had to lead Israel there. God did not grant this request, but gave him a better blessing instead. He let Moses view the promise land and then took him home to the better country to be with the Lord.

    O Lord GOD, thou hast begun to shew thy servant thy greatness, and thy mighty hand: for what God is there in heaven or in earth, that can do according to thy works, and according to thy might? I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon. ~ Deuteronomy 3:24-25

    And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. ~ Deuteronomy 34:4-5

  4. God answers prayer by refusing the object sought and rather giving grace to bear the loss or want of it. Paul received this answer concerning the thorn in the flesh. He prayed three times for it to be removed. God refused to grant the request, but He supplied grace sufficient to bear it in this life. Paul rejoiced at this answer.

    And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

This is one reason why we pray, “If it be your will.” We don’t know the best answer to receive (Romans 8:26). Rather we trust God in faith to do what is right, good, and glorifying of His name.

(This list is adapted from A Token for Mourners by John Flavel)

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