One of my all-time favorite movies (at least the first half of it) is Fiddler on the Roof, a musical about a rural jewish village in Russia as it copes with religious persecution and the social upheaval brought on by a rapidly changing world. In the midst of this, Tevye, a poor farmer who daily wrestles with God, says to Him: “I know we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
Sometimes, as we live our lives as believers and followers of the Christ, it can feel very much like this. Christians can face ridicule in the news and the workplace. We face many challenges, and if we are honest, it is difficult to walk out our calling as believers and followers, and a daily struggle to purify ourselves. Combined with a lot of shallow theology these days that equates faith and obedience in the Christ with a smooth road and blessing in every area of your life, you can wonder what you are doing wrong, or grow discouraged or disillusioned in trying. “Lord, I’ve tried so hard and it seems like I can’t get ahead. Why me? Can’t you choose somebody else? I’m done here.”
This is Part 4 in a 5 part series called Your Born Identity. In Part 1 we discussed how through the all-sufficient work of the Christ on the cross, that God has declared you to have legal righteous standing before Him when you believe in the Messiah. In theological terms this is called justification. In Part 2, we discussed the nature of the unconditional new covenant relationship between you and God, and that you have the Holy Spirit implanted in you in all His fullness to work within you to put moral righteousness into every part of your life. In theological terms this is sanctification, and in Part 3 we learned that this sanctification process is not optional, but essential because we belong to Him now and we are to be fully engaged in God’s kingdom work. Sanctification is progressive, requires hard work and sacrifice, and your new identity needs to grow. Self-examination is required, and the growth will be evident in tangible ways and by the fruit of the Spirit in your life.
During this maturing process, the character of God will grow within you and manifest toward people and situations (also toward yourself!) One key characteristic of God is hesed, meaning “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and “covenant faithfulness and love in action”. This will begin to manifest in a maturing believer actively engaged in covenant sanctification.
Some of the questions we ask, as we face challenges, result from not really understanding our new covenant identity, why we are here, what blessings are for, who this is really all about, and what “already, in process, not yet” kingdom living looks like.
Would it shock you to learn that you are not the main reason or the end result of Christ on the cross? Or that His blessing is not about you, and may involve suffering and death?
This is what some might call an “inconvenient truth”. Uncomfortable even. But still truth. “I know we are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
The truth is, God loves you and me. He has set us free from the death-grip of sin and reconciled us to Himself. But now we are not our own and there is a much bigger picture. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, that is growing within us, that He desires to be extended to all people, this Kingdom already established, in process, yet waiting for its complete fulfillment upon His return. We are workers in His fields, over His creation, to make Him known. Your life belongs to Him. You serve the Most High.
What this does, of course, is shift our focus. It shifts our focus away from ourselves and on to Him and His purposes, and what HE would have each of US do. It shifts your focus on to what He would have you do, as a covenant member of His new royal priesthood over all creation. This is why you are here, not just to wait and hold on hopefully for his promised return, but to go out and extend His kingdom.
This shift in focus to Him and away from yourself leads to other changes.
First, If we realize who we really are, and what our role really is, it will accelerate the sanctification process and our active participation in it.
Second, it will change how we pray and what we pray for. If you are like most believers in this generation, most of your prayers focus around yourself and your own concerns. How would this change if your focus changed and you embraced your covenant identity?
Third, the shift in focus to God and His purposes changes our notion of blessing and of suffering. God still desires to bless you, but as a co-inheritor of an already established but in process and not yet consummated Kingdom of God, the focal point of the blessing is not your comfort or reward, but rather that you might bless others, that you might better accomplish His purposes and establish His Kingdom and make Him known to others. This also might change how and what you pray for blessing.
Fourth, changing your focus in this way to the correct focus on Him can change your perspective on the challenges you face. Understanding that the Kingdom of God is in process, and not yet fully consummated, will alter your perspective: like the battle of sanctification within you, there is a war going on in the fields you are working on assignment in His Kingdom, and the adversary is the enemy. The presence of challenge and hardship in your life (and understand that the challenge and hardship discussed here is not that which results from your own past decisions, but the challenge and hardship because of who you are as a member of God’s covenant family, involved in a war) is actually a good sign that His kingdom is advancing. It is still never pleasant to face hardship! But having the correct perspective on it helps… while these things are unpleasant, and may even demand your life, the presence of challenge and hardship does not mean that you have angered God, it means that you have aggravated an already defeated adversary and irritated those under his sway who have not yet heard the good news of the kingdom.
Fifth, having our focus upon Him and not upon yourself can actually make it easier to follow His commandments and display His character. For instance, with this change of perspective, it can be easier to forgive, because the real offense is against God, and not you, and eternal separation from God is not something you would wish on even your worst enemy. Enter the character of God, and the reason for sanctification, because that character trait of hesed – “persistent and unconditional tenderness, kindness, and mercy”, and “covenant faithfulness and love in action” – needs to be well and truly on display, to everyone, because you are God’s ambassador with the good news of His Kingdom. His Kingdom is not advanced through the fruits of the old nature, but the new.
Finally, as we will get into in greater depth in Part 5, the reason why you are here, why you face trials of many kinds, why you are blessed, why you need to sanctify yourself, is so much more than your personal salvation and right standing before God. There is a bigger picture than just you, and in this sanctification process within you, and in this Kingdom work you have been given to do, the fruit of the Spirit are the building blocks of the kingdom of God.