I recently blogged on the fact that order matters in the church when we think about the way people experience the community of faith. Here's one way I don't think works that well:
Believe first. Become the right person. Then you can belong.
Or this one is equally as damaging (maybe more so):
Become the right person. Believe the right things. Then you can belong.
Honestly, the way I see Jesus doing it is like this:
You belong. You become. Somewhere along the way, you believe.
Now, don't get me wrong. Belief matters. In fact, it matters a ton. Jesus said that those who believe in him won't perish but have eternal life. The problem in the church too often is that we put barriers to belief by excluding people from hearing about the loving and life-changing love of their Father.
But let me go further. There is another way that order matters and I want to drive from the corporate church environment back into you and to me. As we think about how we change, grow, mature, and become spiritual adults, there is a subtle lie that creeps its way into our collective consciousness and becomes a soul killer. It goes like this:
- Your character matters.
- You live and act out of your character.
- Your identity - who you are - grows out of your living and acting.
In other words, you have to "be" the right person in order to "live" and behave the right way, and then you will have a strong identity as a such-and-such kind of person. Or, it can even go in this order:
- You live and act in certain ways.
- Those actions create and define your "character."
- Your identity is the sum total of your living, acting, and thus your true character.
This misordering, I think, is even harder to combat than the first one. Why? Because on the face of it, the order seems right. We teach our children to act a certain way. It builds their character, and others get to know who they really are by the ways they act.
But, when we're thinking about our actual spiritual formation - and I mean that quite literally - how we are spiritually formed by God, its backwards. This is how it's meant to go:
- God has given you an identity.
- We live either in line with our true identity or in rebellion to it.
- Our character is built on our alignment with our true identity.
How do I know this? Well, mostly from the love letters that have been written to us by our heavenly Father. He has sent countless messages about who I am, including his beloved, his child, his signet ring, the one over whom he sings, the one for whom he sacrifices, the bearer of his breath, his voice to a hurting world, the imprint of his image, the heir or his promises and gifts, and on and on.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in my own life and in the lives of so many others is a misordering. We seek to become someone new by acting differently and wishing for a new identity. The reality, though, is that this is merely another veiled way of seeking to earn our salvation, to earn our true identity, to earn our inheritance.
It cannot be earned.
It was given. As a gift.
Your identity is there for the claiming because your Father in heaven staked claim on you from before you were a thought in the mind of two young lovers. Like Michelangelo, who saw David before he put chisel to marble, this Master Artist fashioned his image of you in his mind before you were hewn from the elements of the earth. Your identity is already given - and you are a son or daughter of the King.
You see, when you or I believe that, I mean really believe it, then we change. We embark upon a life of discovery rather than a battle to prove something. We move into a relationship bound up on the love of becoming, in which we begin to become who we already are. We begin to act in ways we didn't know were imaginable. We begin to repent of actions we didn't know were unbecoming (literally again) of who we are. We begin to see new visions of ourselves we didn't think possible as we become who we are.
And this is key, and connects to my last blog post: when we belong to Him, we become who we are, and our belief is almost secondary.
I don't ask my kids to believe in me. They know I exist. But when they find themselves in deep belonging within a loving and safe family, they begin to become who they are as they discover their identities imagined before the foundations of time. So, we come full circle.
Maybe, just maybe, order is more important than we thought for us. Maybe its not just for the "outsider." Maybe I have to figure out if I belong to the Father so that I can become who I am and belief becomes almost second nature because a loving relationship is already secured.
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