The Wrong Identity It is impossible to miss the societal push to ‘tribalize’ or identify with a specific group. Companies like 23 and Me, Ancestry.com, CRI Genetics want to analyze DNA to give individuals an ethnic, racial category. Social forces push identification according to trending feelings of self-selection. Political parties want folks to choose an ideological affiliation. Church denominations sometimes ask members’ identities to evolve as their doctrines change. Families of origin often identify with each other with the ‘blood is thicker than water’ philosophy. Clubs, universities, professions, interests, social platforms and virtually every aspect of life attempts to divide, sort and categorize. Our world forces us to identify with someone and/or something. The clash of these identities fuels the media and news programs: Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, rich and poor, men and women, black and white, illegals and citizens, evangelicals and atheists, and on and on. It sucks people in, demanding a side be chosen and inducing deep, emotional involvement in each and every issue. This level of emotional involvement can become exhausting and mentally distracting. The natural desire to be part of a group or family, to support and defend the group’s interests against outside groups or opposing interests can begin to consume even the most rational person. This is nothing new. Group affiliation has been causing upheaval for centuries, so it is not surprising that Jesus dealt with this very issue. The society in which Jesus lived was very divided: at least four controlling religious-political groups (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes and zealots), governmental Romans, societal sects like the Herodians, geographical groups (Samaritans, Galileans), geo-political groups like the Decapolis, tribal affiliations (Levites, Judeans), and of course, status and professional affiliations like servant, tax-collector or beggar. Add the followers of various revolutionaries (Theudas, Judas the Galilean, Barabbas, John the Baptist) and Jesus’ biological family. Yes, Jesus was pushed and pulled in various directions—His lineage said He was a son of David, His profession called Him a carpenter, His childhood named Him a Nazarene, His teaching made Him a rabbi and a religious outcast, His actions labeled Him a heretic and law-breaker; His followers wanted a king and His family thought He was crazy. Jesus understood and consistently resisted the pressures of ‘group think’ and willingly died at the hands of mob mentality. Jesus knows the winning tactics to combat this old demonic play of divide and distract. The Right Identity1 The first lesson is “identify with the correct family”, and we find it in Luke 8, Mark 3 or Matthew 12. He was told, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see You.” But Jesus replied, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking at those seated in a circle around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.” Jesus denies the familial ties to His mother Mary and His brothers stating that His followers are His true family. This statement indicates that His mother and brothers did not believe in Him at that time and the scripture tells us they thought Jesus was mentally unsound. Likewise, our first obligation is to Jesus, as the Head, and fellow believers, as the body of Christ. We cannot identify with our unbelieving family-of-origin, cultural/ethnic traditions or friends from the old neighborhood over our identity in Christ. Our identity must be rooted in the family of God in Jesus. Indivisible2 The second lesson is “don’t be divided.” Once you are in the right family, don’t let anyone or anything divide you up. If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Matthew and Mark put this lesson in the same chapter with the “identify with the right family” lesson. John tells us that unity of the believers was a prevailing theme in Jesus’ final prayer before His death: “so that they may be one “, “that all of them may be one”, “so that they may be one”, “that they may be perfectly united”. Unity of the believers is obviously very, very, important if Jesus mentioned it four times in prayer right before He was crucified3. He knew that Satan would continually try to divide and distract the alliance of believers because Satan also knows the power of unity. Both Jesus and Satan recognize the human nature of allegiance; Jesus asks for a solitary allegiance to Him in the body of believers while Satan persuades believers that a plurality of affiliations is not only acceptable, but desirable.
“I will give them singleness of heart and action, to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants.”
• • • Jeremiah 32:39 • • •
No Distractions4 If we don’t focus on the right identity, we can get distracted by affiliations and activities that appear to be opportunities. This happened to Jesus when His very own unbelieving brothers encouraged Him to go to Jerusalem during a feast where bigger (more influential) crowds could witness His activities and He could gain notoriety. It happened again when Peter--who was just as misguided even though his motives were more sincere--chastised Jesus for teaching that He, the Messiah, would be tortured and killed. From the age of twelve, Jesus knew His true identity in the Father, operated in unity with the Father and refused to be distracted by other well-meaning affiliations or good activities. Non-exclusive5 Most groups restrict or limit who can affiliate with them in some way—members must qualify by means of a physical characteristic, skill, belief system, financial contribution or some other meaningful way. Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t creating an exclusive family, but an inclusive family group only requiring sincere whole-hearted commitment to the Father and belief in Jesus as the One and Only Messiah. Jesus intended His family identity and Name to be shared far and wide with ‘whosoever will’ regardless of status, gender or race. Paul tells us that God shows no favoritism, what He does for one He will do for another. When Jesus’ disciples wanted to keep the group exclusive, Jesus said “no”, if someone was doing kingdom work, the family identity was theirs, too. Identity Theft6 But Jesus also made it clear that many people would claim to identify with His family, but the Father would not recognize them as family. The family isn’t exclusive by construct but becomes exclusive by nature. Commitment requires discipline and focus, two virtues that our society does not innately instill in its participants. Belonging to the “right” church, political party, race or profession is meaningless. Jesus had no identity other than that found in doing the Father’s bidding, “doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” It’s easy to pick sides on social media posts or join a group promoting some ‘cause’. Many causes seem to align with issues we deem as righteous. However, in reality, very few are kingdom causes or fueled by the Holy Spirit. The body should not be divided. Paul confronted this: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought....Is Christ divided?” When we allow our identity to get hijacked, we have given our identity to a thief. It is a form of identity theft. We must remain diligent against the divide and distract tactics and strive for the unity Jesus prayed we would experience. This may require putting a guard on your mouth or even complete silence. Undoubtedly it will require each of us to search our hearts and spend additional time in prayer, allowing the Holy Spirit to flood our own spirits and fill our hearts with His love. To be in unity, we each must be diligent to be filled daily, even hourly, in order to walk in the Spirit that unifies us, to have our identity in Christ. This has long been God’s desire, it was Jesus’ prayerful request, so shouldn’t it be of utmost importance to us? Don’t let the devil divide, distract and steal your identity.
1. Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21 2. Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:24, Luke 11:17 3. John 17:11, 21, 22, 23 4. John 7:3-5, Matthew 16:23, Mark 8:33 5. Matthew 12:30, Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50, Luke 11:23; 1 Corinthians 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, Joel 2:29, Romans 3:22; Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25 6. Acts 10:38