Monday, April 24, 2017

Who Do You Think You Are?

Have you seen TV’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” Unlike most reality shows, it’s not contrived, and it addresses a common curiosity. It’s a genealogy documentary series in which celebrities trace their family roots. Lisa Kudrow, best-known as Phoebe on the “Friends” sitcom, serves as executive producer.

Visiting Ellis Island, where my
grandparents entered the USA,
got me asking myself,
"Who do you think you are?"
I’ve enjoyed watching stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Emmitt Smith, Reba McEntire, Smokey Robinson, Valerie Bertinelli and Josh Groban consult with genealogy experts to inquire about their ancestral lineage, uncovering backgrounds and histories that go back multiple generations. Along the way, they invariably find surprises, even discovering that some of their in-laws were in fact “outlaws.”  

They learn of ancestors who exhibited skills and interests similar to their own, whether it be artistic abilities, political activism, or personal grit and determination. Hence the “Who Do You Think You Are?” title, suggesting that perhaps human genes pass along more than skin tones, hair and eye colors, and other physical traits.

I experienced a bit of this when my wife and I visited Ellis Island in New York City, through which more than 12 million immigrants entered the United States from 1892 to 1954. Both sets of my grandparents came to the USA from Hungary, and through the Ellis Island archives, I could trace my grandfathers’ arrivals in the early 1900s. I can hardly imagine how they felt.

Following one’s ancestral line can be fascinating, trying to envision who Aunt Beatrice and great-great grandfather Herschel were and what their life experiences were like. How – if at all – did their lives help to shape who we’ve become?

This question, “Who do you think you are?” has spiritual application as well. For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, the answer we provide greatly affects how we approach every new day.

For instance, how many times have you heard a professing Christian humbly declare, “Well, I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” This is true in one respect, of course. But if this is the way we continually view ourselves each morning, embarking on another day solely as a sinner forgiven by the grace of God, we’re setting ourselves up for failure: “Guess I’ll go sin some more.”

Look at it this way: If you grew up and your parents constantly told you, “You’re a loser!” eventually you might have started perceiving yourself that way, resigning yourself to failing at whatever you tried to do. However, if they told you, “Honey, sure, you’re not going to succeed every time, but you’re a winner!” and you acted accordingly, wouldn’t you expect the outcomes of your endeavors to align with that thinking?

Consider this: Nowhere in the Bible do we find the specific phrase, “sinner saved by grace.” However, we do read, To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours(1 Corinthians 1:2). Then in Philippians 4:21, the apostle Paul writes, Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.”

If we study the Scriptures to determine what they really say about us, it becomes clear God views us as “saints who sin” rather than merely “sinners saved by grace.”

Years ago, I spent a couple of days with a friend, Loren, who had developed a Bible study called “The Real You from God’s Perspective.” This weekend revolutionized my spiritual life. It helped me realize my answer to “who do you think you are (as a follower of Jesus)” was woefully wrong.

I could write a book about what I learned – and continue to learn – but the bottom line is that I was trying to live the Christian life in my own strength, hoping for occasional “help” from God, when I already had the life and power of Jesus Christ working in me. But I had to realize it – and appropriate it.

Loren was not presenting some radical biblical interpretation, but an understanding that has been embraced by notable Christian teachers and writers such as A. W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers, Major Ian Thomas, Hudson Taylor, Fanny Crosby, and many others.

Many contemporary speakers and authors have emphasized this as well, including Dr. Neil T. Anderson, whose books include Who I Am in Christ. He has compiled a lengthy list of declarations from the Bible that inform of us who we are in Christ, instead of who we feel or think we are. Here’s just a sampling of scriptural truths Anderson presents that contrast who we typically think we are. According to God’s Word, we are:
  • God’s children (John 1:12).
  • Justified before God (Romans 5:1).
  • Belonging to God; we have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
  • Adopted as God’s children (Ephesians 1:5).
  • Free forever from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2).
  • Inseparable from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39).
  • Citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
  • The salt and light of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • Chosen and appointed by Him to bear fruit (John 15:16).
  • God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
  • Seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6).
  • God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).
  • New creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20).

So, should anyone ask, “Who do you think you are?” or if you find yourself asking that question, don’t dare reply, “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” Because as you can see above – and we could cite many other passages – that’s not at all what the Bible says about us. And it’s God’s Word that counts!

1 comment:

Doug Dickson said...

as always, Bob, thoughtful and uplifting.