Letting God Define You

How do you define yourself? We all finish our “I am __” statements in different ways. We can go with something fairly basic, such as “I am a writer/sister/Christian.” That’s often how we introduce ourselves to people. But there are also less flattering “I am” statements that we tell ourselves. “I am anxious; I am too fat/skinny/unhealthy; I am a sinner not good enough for God.” Or sometimes we go with more positive self-affirmations: “I am a good friend; I am confident in using my gifts; I am a redeemed and forgiven child of God.”

How does God define you? Scripture reminds us in several passages that our “I am” is not as reliable as God’s “you are” (see 1 Sam. 16:7, Is. 55:8-9 and Jer. 17:9-10). He knows us better than we know ourselves and He can give us insight into His perspective. If we ask, He’ll reveal things about ourselves to us directly as well as through His word.

Some of the “you are” statements God makes about people are critical, such as when He describes all humans as sinner under a death penalty or rebukes Israel for their rebellion (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Is. 1:18-25). But while part of God’s perspective on us involves seeing our faults, that’s not all He sees. For those in relationship with Him, His “you are” statements are overwhelmingly positive. There’s certainly a place for acknowledging our sins, abhorring ourselves, and repenting as Job did (Job 42:5-6). But we’re not to stay downcast. God wants us to have a realistic view of ourselves, and He values us far too highly for this view to not involve some incredibly positive things.Letting God Define You | marissabaker.wordpress.com

You Are Of Value

Aren’t five sparrows sold for two assaria coins? Not one of them is forgotten by God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7, WEB)

Our God cares even when a sparrow dies. But we’re not just another animal crawling around the earth that gets a moment of attention from Him. We’re valued highly — so highly that the Father and Son think you’re worth the price of Jesus’ life. And They thought that even before you were saved (Rom. 5:6-8). Continue reading

Our Christian Nationality

A number of years ago I was sitting in a church service listening to the minister introduce his sermon topic for the day. One of the first things he said was, “Close your Bibles and put them on the floor. I’ve got something to tell you this morning.” Smacks of Bibles hitting linoleum is a sound I hope never to hear again. While teenage me wasn’t brave enough to stand up and walk out, I did keep my Bible open in my lap so I could do my own study while he lectured on American history.

The United States of America, rather than something out of the Bible, should feel like a strange topic for a sermon. And yet I’ve heard other sermons, though much less extreme, preached about this topic on a fairly regular basis. Typically, it’s presented as something like “the Biblical history of our country” or “America’s Christian heritage.” The speakers usually do turn to scriptures, but they may spend more time quoting founding fathers and presidents than they do Jesus.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me. This isn’t a rant against my country or an article condemning people who love the U.S. of A (which I why I didn’t post this 4th of July weekend, though it would have probably gotten more views then). Nor am I saying Christians teachers shouldn’t quote writings outside the Bible. My concern is that patriotism for our physical nation has gotten muddled up with our Christian faith as if the two are, or should be, interconnected. But I don’t think they should be.Our Christian Nationality | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Not Of The World

When Jesus walked this earth, He said He was “not of this world” (John 8:23, KJV). At the Passover, He started describing His followers that way as well (John 15:19; 17:14-16). We still have to live in this world, as Paul points out in 1 Cor. 5:10, but we don’t belong to it.

“We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19, KJV). The present world is evil because it has fallen into sin and is under Satan’s sway (Gal. 1:4; John 14:30). I think most Christians would agree with that at least to a certain extent, otherwise we’d have no need for a Savior. But often, we think of this world’s evil as an abstraction. The world “out there” is wicked, “society” is evil, or there’s a spirit of wickedness at large “somewhere.” But maybe my neighborhood, this city, our country isn’t really all that bad.

Here in the U.S., we don’t yet face the sort of persecution that would serve as a constant reminder that this world isn’t a Christian’s home. I’m thankful for that, but I also wonder if it has made us lose sight of some important truths. The United States was founded with some Christian principles and a guarantee of a religious freedom, but it was never a “Christian nation” and it hadn’t even looked like one for a long time. And while you have the right as an American to get involved in pushing your country toward where you’d like it to go and a duty as a Christian to stand up for what’s right in God’s sight, this physical nation isn’t where we owe our primary allegiance. Continue reading

Is Your Church The Same As God’s Church?

How do you define “church”? A building where Christians worship, the clergy of a religious body, all the believers in a religion, a specific denomination, a public worship gathering — those are all definitions we use in the English language. If we say we “go to church,” we either mean the building or the service. If we say of a group, “this is my church,” we’re generally telling people which denomination we’re part of. If we say someone chose the church as a career path, we mean they went into the clergy.

But those definitions don’t really get at what “church” means in the Bible. In fact, the only part of our English definition that overlaps with the Greek word’s definition is “the whole body of Christians” (Merriam-Webster 3a). And because there’s such a difference, I think it’s important to look at what the New Testament writers were talking about when they discussed the church. We want to learn about how God sees His church, not just how human beings define it today.

Called Out Ones

In the New Testament, “church” is translated from ekklesia (G1577). It’s a compound word that literally means a “calling out” (Strong’s Dictionary). In general, it’s used of a “gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.” In the church-specific sense, it’s “an assembly of Christians” that gathers in a specific place or “the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth” (Thayer’s Dictionary). Continue reading

I’m A Christian … Now What?

What do you do after becoming a Christian? You’ve acknowledged your need for a savior, repented of your past sins, confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and received the gift of God’s grace. The foundations are in place. Now what?

There are some Christians, even Christian teachers, who don’t really know how to answer this question. Those who teach we have no role to play in our salvations and that nothing’s expected of us after conversion are left in a tough pickle. One could, according to this theory, have someone convert to Christianity then go out lying, sleeping around, and stealing but still be considered saved as a part of God’s family. And even the good people who wouldn’t dream of doing something like that are still left with the question, “What do I do now?”

God answers this question for us in the pages of His Bible. You can’t do anything to make God owe you salvation; it is a gift that He chooses to give freely to those who respond to His call. But once you’ve been given this gift your life is supposed to change. Salvation transforms the way you live and gives us a purpose.

Choose A Way

In Acts, Christians are described as people who follow “the way” of the Lord (Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). It’s a metaphorical use of the Greek word hodos (G3598), meaning “a course of conduct.” When used literally, hodos refers to the roadway you travel on a journey. In both cases, use of this word implies motion, travel, and activity.

Christians aren’t meant to stagnate. They’re meant to walk through life in a certain way. We get to choose whether we’ll walk in the ways of men or the way of God. And God’s instructions in the New Testament for how to walk look a  lot like His laws about how to behave from the Old Testament. The law can’t bring salvation and it was never intended to. But it was a revelation of God’s character and He hasn’t changed. Our conduct still matters to Him.

Ephesians is a fantastic place to start diving deeper into this topic.  Here, Paul reminds his readers that they “once walked according to the course of this world.” They were “children of disobedience” influenced by God’s adversary and acting in ways contrary to God’s teachings (Eph. 2:2-3, WEB).

But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)(Eph. 2:4-5, WEB)

Trespasses — sin — kills people. That’s why the choice of whether or not to follow God has always been presented as a choice between life and death (Deut. 30:15-18). Grace lets us choose life even after we’ve done things worthy of death. But it doesn’t give us license to sin or permission to sit around twiddling our thumbs. Continue reading

Which Criminal Are You?

When Jesus died, He hung on the cross between two criminals. In Greek, the word is kakourgos, a compound of evil+doer. This refers to someone who’s employment is practicing wrong things. While we might not have personally broken laws that would make us criminals in our societies, we have more in common with at least one of these two men than you might think.

Every human being has “sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, KJV). Because “sin is the transgression of the law,” this also makes us all law breakers (1 John 3:4, KJV). Like these criminals, we have practiced things that were not right. And when we recognize that fact, we also realize that “the compensation due sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23, LEB). Like the criminals, we’re facing death and Jesus is there. But how do we respond to Him?

Pride v. Humility

One of the criminals who was hanged insulted him, saying, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39, WEB)

One criminal resented what was going on and attacked his fellow sufferer. Matthew Henry describes him as “hardened to the last.” Even his own agony “did not humble his proud spirit nor teach to give good language.”

In contrast, the other criminal was “softened at the last.” He acknowledges the justice of their punishment as “the due reward for our deeds” (Luke 32:41, WEB). He’s much more humble, willing to accept the consequences of his actions and admit their wrongness. This basic attitude difference sets the stage for other differences between these two men. Continue reading

As You Love Yourself

Last weekend at a Young Adult retreat, I gave my first seminar. And it went so well! Praise the Lord — I know anything good I write comes from Him and the fact that I delivered a spoken message in front of people without looking nervous or having a panic attack is a clear “God thing.” Since people liked it in-person, I’ve adapted my notes for a blog post to share with you today.

When someone asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the law, He gave a two part answer. 1) “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And 2) “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29-31, WEB). The theme for the retreat I spoke at was connecting with God and others, and that’s what these two great commandments are all about. The first tells us how to love God, which is the foundation for building a relationship with Him. And the second tells us how to love our neighbors. Jesus says to love them the same way we love ourselves.

But loving yourself isn’t something we talk about very much in Christianity. We focus on the “love your neighbor” side of this command. If we talk about the “as yourself” part, it’s often assumed that you already know how to love yourself. That’s part of our culture, right? We have a self-acceptance movement and a focus on looking out for “number one.” If anything, I think most Christians would say we love ourselves too much. So we don’t talk about it, just assuming we know how to show love towards ourselves and that we can use this as a guide for how to love others. But do we really know how to love ourselves the way God wants us to?As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

The word “love” in the verse we just looked at is translated from a agape. This is a benevolent love that always seeks good things for the person who you’re loving. While it does involve feelings, it’s not what you would call an emotion driven kind of love. For example, if you’re giving a friend advice and one option is going to make them happy and your life easier, but the other option is clearly better for their long-term good, agape is always going to pick the better one even though it’s harder.

Agape is an incredibly important concept in the Bible. Of the 356 times the words “love” or “charity” appear in the King James Version of the New Testament, 320 are translated from a form of agape (that’s just shy of 90%). It’s so important that the Bible gives us a full definition in 1 Corinthians 13.

“Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8, WEB)

Let’s ask some questions based on this verse:

  • Are you patient and kind with yourself?
  • Do you let yourself get eaten up with envy, bragging, or pride?
  • Are you treating yourself in a way you’d consider inappropriate if you were doing it to others?
  • Do you get unreasonably angry with yourself?
  • Do you keep an account of the bad things you’ve done so you can use it to beat yourself up?
  • Are you dwelling on the unrighteous things you’ve done or rejoicing in the ways you follow God’s truth?
  • Do you stick by yourself, believe in your ability to do better, and hope good things for your future?

When I asked how many people could honestly say they’re loving and kind toward themselves in this way, only one person raised their hand. But when I asked, “How many of you feel guilty about the idea of showing love toward yourself?” about half the group raised their hands. That included me, which is why I actually felt kinda weird talking about the subject of love like this. It sounds a little selfish, doesn’t it? And we know selfishness is bad. So let’s take a moment to clarify a few things.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Real love never stops with yourself. If you’re the only object of your love and you always put yourself first, then you have a problem. That’s what it means to be selfish and self-centered. But avoiding selfishness doesn’t mean you refuse to take care of yourself. We’re to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, not abuse ourselves. If you never meet your own needs or do those loving things mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13 for yourself, then you’re going to burn-out. And God loves you way too much to want that.

To see ourselves and care for ourselves and others properly, we need to understand how God sees and cares for us. Most of the time when I hear people talk about asking God to let you see yourself the way He sees you, they’re talking about discovering hidden faults. And that is important, because we all know the verses that talk about our inability to know our own hearts. We need God’s perspective to show us where we should change and grow as we keep moving toward perfection. But if we want a more complete picture of how He sees us, then we also need to understand how much He values us.

The reason the two most important commands are about loving God and loving others is because God Himself is love. Agape is the key element of His essential character. But sometimes, even if it’s not something we’d say out loud, we think that God loves us more when we’re being good. We treat ourselves as if God’s love is conditional on our having already achieved perfection. But it’s not. Remember Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (LEB). The Father and Jesus Christ thought you were worth the price of Jesus’ life even before you were saved. So don’t you dare say you’re not worth loving now.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

One of the most interesting studies I’ve ever done was about how God uses the word “perfect” in the Bible. He describes Job as “a perfect and an upright man” twice at the beginning of the story (Job 1:8 and 2:3). We know Job learned and grew as a result of the trials he went through, and yet God could describe him as “perfect” with complete honesty before that growth happened. We tend to think of perfect as the best that you can get, but from this example we see that’s not really how God uses the word.

The Hebrew word translated “perfect” is tam (H8535). The word refers to completeness and entirety, but doesn’t necessarily mean finished. Rather, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says the root of tam (H8552; tamam) refers to someone moving “naturally toward that which is ethically sound.” Thus, followers of God can be described as “perfect” while still on the path toward perfection. God will take care of perfecting you – He just needs you to keep moving forward. God loves us even with all our flaws and weaknesses and ways we fall short. He also wants us to grow toward being the best people we can be in Him because that’s what leads to the best outcome we can get – having a relationship with Him that lasts into eternity.

Becoming part of God’s family is made possible because He is love. Having God’s agape directed toward you is amazing. The strength of that love has literally shaped the way the entire universe functions. It’s what motivated the Father to send His Son to this earth to live in a human body and become our sympathetic High Priest as well as the sacrifice that makes salvation possible. If that was the only kind of love God had toward us it would be more than enough and more than we ever had a right to hope for. But it’s actually not the only way God the Father and Jesus Christ love us.

One of my favorite Bible verses reads, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came from God” (John 16:27. WEB). Seems simple enough, but this word is not agape. It’s translated from phileo (G5368). According to Spiros Zodhiates’ Greek dictionary, the word phileo means “to have affection for someone.” HELPs word studies adds that it is “characterized by tender, heartfelt consideration and kinship.” Phileo implies having common interests or friendship with the object of one’s love. This type of love is one we can readily identify with because it’s what we feel for our closest friends.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Have you ever thought about God loving you like that? In the context of John 16, Jesus is assuring His disciples that the Father personally listens to our prayers because of His friendly, affectionate love for us and because of our belief on His Son Jesus. If you can honestly say you love Jesus and believe that He’s the son of God, then God Himself wants to be your friend. God is agape and He has that love for every person in the world. God’s phileo, on the other hand, is reserved for those He’s in relationship with – the ones who share His interests, believe in His word, and enter a covenant with Him.

All this love that God has poured into our lives shows us how we’re to relate to ourselves and to others. As John says, “We love, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, LEB). The love God has poured into our lives shows us how to love ourselves as well as how to love others because we learn to see ourselves and others the way He sees us. C.S. Lewis touches on this in The Screwtape Letters. This book is composed of a series of fictional letters written from one demon to another teaching them how to seduce human beings away from God, whom they refer to as “The Enemy.” (I know that sounds a bit strange, but it’s a fantastic book that puts a different perspective on talking about what God wants for us.)

The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognize all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. He wants to kill their animal self-love as soon as possible; but it is His long- term policy, I fear, to restore to them a new kind of self-love—a charity and gratitude for all selves, including their own; when they have really learned to love their neighbors as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbors. For we must never forget what is the most repellent and inexplicable trait in our Enemy; He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with His left.

The thing Screwtape finds disgusting is a facet of Christianity that gives us great cause for rejoicing. God does not want you to hate yourself. He wants you to love Him, and your neighbors, and yourself all in a right and proper way. So, now that we’ve talked about what love is and how God shows love toward us, let’s go back and fill in some answers to our first question.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Here’s the list I came up with when prepping for the seminar.

  • accept the love God is giving you
  • take time for yourself to read the Bible, meditate, and pray
  • understand and find ways Godly to meet your needs
  • work through your stressful emotions instead of burying them
  • be kind to your shortcomings
  • turn the things that cause you anxiety over to God
  • push yourself to improve and develop your strengths
  • remember God made you human and gave you limits
  • Accept God’s gifts of rest, good food, and exercise
  • build good boundaries

Now here’s your homework. Make sure you’re doing these things for the people around you as well as yourself. For example, you could help your roommate with the housework so they aren’t worried about finding time to study and pray. You can be patient with the shortcomings of the people you go to church with and encourage them keep trying. While you’re taking care of yourself as a person who is incredibly valuable to God, remember the people around you hold the same value in his eyes.

In closing, I want to quote C.S. Lewis again. This is from an article titled “The Weight of Glory” (click to read the full text). Here, Lewis talks about the potential for each human being to enter the family of God.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. … It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

In 2 Peter 3:9, it says the Lord is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (KJV). God sees the potential of every human being He has created to become something wonderful. And He wants us to see that, too. That’s what Lewis is getting at in these passages. As part of our expression of agape, we need to start seeing our neighbors as candidates for eternal life and valuing their potential as highly as we know God values ours.

A couple years ago, I was a funeral and the speaker said the man we were there to remember “lived his life as though it had eternal consequences.” That’s what God intends us to do as well. How we view and treat ourselves and others will have consequences that stretch far beyond this life. We need to keep our eternal potential in mind when we make decisions about how we treat ourselves and by extension how we interact with others. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I hope we now have a better idea of exactly how to do that.As You Love Yourself | marissabaker.wordpress.com

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