After a cancelled flight, an overwhelmed airline agent did her best to rebook a long line of inconvenienced passengers. One angry traveler pushed his way to the counter shouting, “I have to be on the next flight, and it has to be first class!” The agent—recognizing her need to remain fair to everyone—explained that she would do her best to help him but needed to assist some of the other passengers first. Unimpressed, he asked, “Do you have any idea who I am?” The agent smiled, grabbed the intercom, and announced, “May I have your attention please? We have a man here who does not know who he is. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to the gate.”
Sadly, like the demanding traveler, many exasperated believers fail to understand their identity and it has taken its toll on their approach, attitude, and involvement in ministering to the lost. After all, every action we take in life is motivated by our understanding of who we are and how God created us.
Our identity in Christ directly impacts us, especially around unbelievers. Let’s look at six things the Bible says about us as God’s children and how that influences the way we interact with nonChristians and our approach to evangelism.
UNCONDITIONALLY LOVED We should learn to practice the slogan I saw on a T-shirt at a fairground one day that said, “I love everybody and you’re next!” Growing up in a rather legalistic community, I met many who communicated, “I love you if.” Based on my performance, their love proved conditional. God’s love, however, is unconditional. First John 4:10 tells us, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God never considers our past, broken relationships and our future promises to love us. He just says, “I love you,” and proved it with a cross. As believers, do we truly live like this? Do we love others, especially unbelievers, in the same manner? If God loves us with an unconditional love, then we can love the vilest sinner the same way. If others prove selfish in their actions and attitudes, we can love them regardless because after all, when we are selfish toward God, His love toward us never changes. If God doesn’t wait for people to clean up their act before He loves, why should we make others change their ways before we love them?
SAVED BY GRACE
We came to God through grace. Biblically defined, “grace” is favor given to those who deserve the opposite. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8). But that grace did not stop at our salvation—it continues to this day! God piles grace upon grace (John 1:16). Hebrews 4:16 even invites us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” In the same way, we need to approach nonChristians both before and after they come to Christ. We should extend the same grace God extends to us.
God makes miracles out of messes, but those messes are not cleaned up overnight. We have no right to deem others insincere or their salvation unreal because of habits they have not yet ceased or patterns they have not yet broken. If God extends grace to us when we dislike people within the church, fail to honor Him with our resources, and drive down the highway as if every inch of pavement belongs to us, should we not extend grace to those around us as well?
FORGIVEN OF ALL SIN
When we come to Christ, we are forgiven of all sins, and God will never bring up those sins to us again. Psalm 103:12 assures us of that when it says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” We need to wake up every morning thrilled by knowing that through our acceptance of what Christ did for us on a cross, we stand 100 percent righteous in the sight of the Almighty God. We are what the Bible calls “justified” (Rom 8:30). But that forgiveness covers present and future sins as well. That is why John exhorts believers, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”(1 John 1:9). Note the word “all.” No sins are excluded.
Oftentimes, when we “mess up” in our witness around unbelievers, we beat ourselves up about it. Why? If those moments are not on God’s mind, why should they occupy our time? God wants us drowning in His forgiveness not wallowing in our sins and mistakes. Besides, God uses these “mistakes” to teach us and to make us better instruments for His glory.
ACCEPTED IN THE BELOVED
Apart from Christ, we have no merits of our own to bring to God. Ephesians 1:6 calls that “accepted in the Beloved” (nkjv). The moment we placed our faith in Him to save us, we became what Peter calls, “God’s special possession.” Peter explains why. “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9–10).
God did not look at who we were; He looked at who we would become through Christ. God’s view of us should cause us to examine our hearts and minds whenever we look at unbelievers and declare, “They are never going to change.” But didn’t God change us? In the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul mentions the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who have sex with men, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, slanderers, and swindlers and then reminds them—and reminds all of us: “That is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (6:9–11). God focuses on what we would become through Christ, and He sets the example on how we should treat unbelievers.
A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD
Once we come to faith in Christ, 1 Peter 2:9 tells us we are now part of a “royal priesthood.” As Christ did for us, we now represent God to others. As priests, we can intercede with men before God. It is a divine privilege given to each of His children, serving Him in matters of eternal importance. Evangelism no longer includes something that a church does. It’s a divine calling, assigned by God for all believers. As representatives of Him, we can approach others on behalf of Christ, imploring them toward reconciliation with God (2 Cor 5:20). And then we can talk to God about those we have come in contact with, having their salvation first and foremost on our minds (1 Tim 2:1, 4). That lessens the pain of rejection—when others refuse to hear the Good News. We need to remember we represent Him, and it is His pleasure and approval we should seek, not other people’s.
CITIZENS OF GOD’S KINGDOM
As believers, we don’t belong here. We’re just “passing through,” because everything changed the moment we came to Christ. Philippians 3:20 explains, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We have all eternity to spend in the home of the King—a home that is now our future destination. Should that motivate us to form relationships with nonChristians? What is of most importance for us? Possessions, titles, and success shouldn’t matter. They are all going to go up in smoke. It’s people that matter. Haddon Robinson once said, “Everyone you meet is going to live forever. The only difference is where. What are you doing to make the difference?”
We can’t escape it. Understanding our identity in Christ impacts what we do. If there is one thing I have observed in traveling as an evangelist, it is that believers who overflow with who they are in Christ have an overwhelming desire to tell others. Let’s get a grip on our identity, and it will dig its grip into all of us. Once we do, we will never be the same—and neither will the lives of the lost we touch.
[Note: This article was previously published in DTS Magazine, a ministry of Dallas Theological Seminary. Translated and used with permission.]