Your Identity in Christ: A Dearly Loved Child
4:30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of every kind of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling, and slander, along with every kind of malice. 32 Instead, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us.
5:1 Therefore, be imitators of God as his dearly loved children. 2 And walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (EHV)
I’d say a common human struggle is to keep things in perspective. And as Christians we’re not immune. Sometimes that struggle to keep things in perspective can bleed over into our spiritual lives. There’s a concept I want to speak about that is at times the culprit for our loss of perspective.
When it comes to the world of Art… there is a phenomenon that artists will occasionally talk about. The term for it is visual lethargy. Here’s the simple definition for it: the more you see something, the less you actually see it. I’ll explain what it means a little more… Now, if I were to tell you to picture a beautiful scene, what would it be? It’s different for all of us. For some of us it’s a beach where it’s warm and sunny year round. For others of us we might picture a breathtaking view of a metropolis…like if you’ve ever taken a water taxi ride in New York and can see the whole city before you… beautiful. For others of us maybe its a mountain range or something like the grand canyon. And still for others, maybe it’s being in the middle of the deep deep woods—the northernmost parts the United States, or maybe up into Canada or in Alaska… wherever it may be. But I want you to imagine for a moment, that the beautiful place that just popped into your mind was where you live. I know, it would be great, wouldn’t it? But if you lived there… and saw that beautiful sight day in and day out, eventually you would start to see it less.
It happened to me just last year. I was in my last year of schooling. The seminary that pastors in our circles attend is in Mequon (north of Milwaukee). We lived in St. Francis (south of downtown by the airport). So every morning, on my drive to school, I would drive over the 794 bridge (for those of you who know the roads). For those of you who don’t… It’s a huge bridge and when you’re going north and you get to the top of this bridge, there before you lies a beautiful picture of downtown...you can see it all. It’s magnificent. (my wife will tell you I’m a sucker for any good view—whether it’s nature or man made—i love it all). Anyways, I got to drive over that bridge every school day. But the longer I spent driving over that bridge, the less I actually saw and appreciated what was before me… and it’s not because it changed in any way. But it’s because as we grow familiar with something we tend to let it kind of fade into the background. In my case I would just drive past that view without remembering to appreciate it because I’d be consumed in my thoughts or, I don’t know, thinking about what needed to be done that day…
That’s visual lethargy. It’s a concept that is almost just begging us to draw out some spiritual parallels. Do you ever find yourself falling prey to a kind of spiritual lethargy? Maybe you have known the truths of God’s Word for a long time… but have we heard them so many times that we begin to just kind of drive by without appreciating them? We might all be able to point to times where this has been the case. Maybe some of us here today are wrestling with that.
I bring this up because when we fall into that spiritual lethargy, that’s when we begin to lose perspective. The truths that Paul has placed in front of us today are beautiful. They have profound implications. They are powerful. And their beauty and power never changes. But my guess is, that for some of us, they are truths that we have driven past many many times. But today, by the grace of God and with his help, may we remember to appreciate them as if we were coming to understand them for the first time. And, of course, if they’re truths that are indeed new to you, let’s enjoy them for all their worth. In the verses before us today, Paul helps us to regain our perspective.
When we read the list of things that Paul tells us to get rid of, did it get to you? “Get rid of every kind of bitterness, rage, anger, quarreling, and slander, along with every kind of malice. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another…” We can all point to times where we have lost perspective and found ourselves acting in anger. We can all point to times where we have lost our perspective and NOT treated one another with kindness, compassion and forgiveness. And Paul understands this well. Paul is the one who wrote the famous section in Romans 7, the good that I want to do I don’t do. But the evil I don’t want to do, this I keep on doing. What a wretched man I am. Paul’s speaking about life after becoming a Christian. Until we get to heaven, we’ll still have to wrestle and battle that old sinful person that lives in us. And that old sinful person is going to try and cause us problems, every day. Even as Christians who know full well who we are in Christ and what he has done for us, we’re going to have to fight to rid our hearts of the bitterness, of anger, and of the divisive spirit that our old sinful person loves so much. Our old sinful person loves it when it can cause the anger and bitterness that comes from our hearts to spill over into our relationships...whether work relationships or family or friends or even our relationships here, with your brothers and sisters in Christ. That old sinful person loves it when, rather than talk through things with one another, we get angry and bitter towards one another over silly things like worship preferences, or differences in opinion, or things that ultimately are minute details and have nothing to do with our ultimate goal and purpose of carrying the message of Christ into our communities.
But Paul goes on… and he’s going to give us the beautiful and powerful truths that shape our perspective as Christians. And even if we’ve heard them before, it doesn’t make them any less beautiful, or any less true, or any less powerful. They’re the lens through which we view life. “God in Christ has forgiven us...be imitators of God as his dearly loved children. 2 And walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us...”
We’re going to talk about 3 beautiful and powerful truths in that section…. Number 1. “God in Christ has forgiven us.” God, in Christ has forgiven you….me. The most unforgivable of characters. How easy it is to forget the depth of our depravity and sin. How easy it is to read over what God says about what we deserved as sinners and just kind of mentally skip over it. We were on death row. And the temporary death we were to experience in this life wasn’t even the scary part… it was the eternal death and separation from God that was the scariest part... We deserved eternal death. The evidence of our sin was stacked against us. There was NOTHING we could do about it. But God in his kindness, compassion, and love did something about it on our behalf. God did the impossible—saved us from the eternal death row on which we sat by sending his Son to die in our place. May that reality, of God’s incredible love for us always remain as beautiful and powerful to us as it truly is.
Beautiful and powerful truth number 2… You are God’s dearly loved child. And I think this one is kind of central… it’s why I went with it as the theme: your identity in Christ: a dearly loved child. It’s central because that phrase “dearly loved” is just so loaded, and it draws from the verses around it. The verses around it show the extent of God’s love for us as his children. We just talked about the phrases before it… God, in Christ, has forgiven us. That’s God’s love for you. Never has a more perfect and pure of a love been experienced than God sending his Son for us while we deservingly sat on eternal death row as sinners. God made sure the adoption price was paid so that you might be his dearly loved, blood-bought child. You are God’s dearly loved child.
Then the verse that comes after it once again shows just how loaded that “dearly loved” phrase is and it’s our third beautiful and powerful truth... Walk in the way of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us. Jesus, in an equally amazing show of pure and perfect love, gave himself up for us on the cross. He took our sin upon his own shoulders. In love, he was willing to suffer death and punishment for our sin. He suffered in our place. In the span of a couple sentences we see both God’s love for us, and Jesus love for us. We are indeed, his dearly loved children.
With the help of God, may we keep these potentially well-known, yet profound truths in mind...because by taking time to step back and marvel at them anew, God strengthens us to do the impossible. He strengthens us to keep the outlook and perspective on life that Paul is speaking about in these passages. When God’s love for us and Christ’s love for us remain the lens through which we view life, being imitators of God happens naturally. Walking in the way of love happens naturally. Treating each other with the same kindness, compassion, and forgiveness with which we ourselves have been treated by God, happens naturally. May God strengthen us to do the impossible… to live in the perspective change that his love brings to us… to live as who we truly are in Christ: his dearly loved children. Amen