What does it mean to you, personally, when you read 2 Corinthians 5:17 about being given a new identity in Christ?
I dressed up as J.J. Watt (defensive end for the Houston Texans) for some costume fun at work on Friday. The boys were exchanging costume ideas for themselves, and one of them joked about padding his sleeves to look like muscles. Then, one of them piped in and said, “Mom’s arms are so buff, she doesn’t need to pad her sleeves. She’s so strong, she could lift a truck!” My first instinct – and I’m glad I bit my tongue – was to correct him and say that although I am pretty strong, my arms are pudgy, not muscular like J.J.’s. In that moment, though, it dawned on me that he saw me through a completely different lens from how I see myself: he really believed that I was so strong I could pick up a vehicle, if need be.
My son doesn’t see the tired, overweight, falling-apart body that I walk around in every day. He sees a strong and powerful woman. Wow, if I could just channel some of that confidence to myself! I’ve struggled with my appearance for a very long time. Even back in the day when I swam competitively and performed with the Colorguard, I was limber and muscular but never curvy or skinny like the popular girls, so I assumed I was too fat. Three babies, a couple of decades, and a bum knee later, and I only wish that I was as “fat” as I thought I was back then!
Psalm 45:11 is a verse that I have held onto for many years; it talks about how God sees beauty in us, and we are to honor him above all else. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own view of ourselves and forget that we have a loving heavenly Father who sees us through his own unique lens of grace. Do you ever dwell on your inabilities or rehash sins that have long since been forgiven? God has so much for us to see, if we’d redirect our attention to him and let him show us.
Remember that God has equipped us with so much more than what can be seen externally. In 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT), we learn that God has given us a spirit of “power, love, and self-discipline,” as opposed to timidity or fear. It doesn’t matter how the world sees you – or even how you see yourself. Through Christ, we have a brand-new identity (2 Corinthians 5:17). And if that isn’t enough convincing, Philippians 1:6 says that God will not leave the good work that he began in you unfinished! You are enough, and you are loved eternally.
I was talking with a friend recently who confided in me some struggles that she’s had with her adult son. She mentioned that he had hit rock bottom – again – and had started going to church “to find God.” I heard in her voice a mama’s heart that was aching for her wayward son, and her words stuck with me.
Have you ever been working on a repair project and dropped a tiny screw onto the carpet or in the grass? They can be pert near impossible to locate. Worse yet, if you wear contacts, then you have probably experienced the frustration of crawling around on your hands and knees, half-blind, trying to find the thin, shimmery sliver on the floor. I wore contacts for 20+ years, so I’ve been in that lowly position more times than I care to recollect … kind of like my friend’s son.
Three of the gospel accounts (Matthew 9, Mark 2, and Luke 5) record the scene when Jesus called Matthew (also named Levi) to be his disciple, and Matthew held a banquet in his home in Jesus’ honor. Some religious leaders were in attendance, and they were offended that low-lives like tax collectors were invited to dine with them. Jesus’ response is the same in all three recordings: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (NLT). Matthew, however, included an additional comment that Jesus made, and it is recorded in v. 13: “Then he added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’’”
I think it’s beautiful that the disciple who happened to be the center of the story was also the one who recorded a statement about mercy and what Jesus expects of us as his followers. Matthew had not hit rock bottom in a material sense; in fact, he probably made a very good living as a tax collector and had a comfortable life. However, Luke’s account says that Matthew left everything behind when he got up from his tax collector booth and followed Jesus. Once he found what he was looking for, he didn’t turn back.
Whether you’ve hit rock bottom in a physical/emotional sense or whether you have finally put on your spiritual contact lenses and seen Jesus for who he truly is, I encourage you to be like Matthew and not look back. Leave your past, your sin, your old life behind and follow Jesus.
Praise God today, for in his great mercy, he has given us new birth and a living hope through the resurrection of Christ (1 Peter 1:3).
Whether or not you have a dramatic conversion story, your experience of declaring faith in Jesus is worth sharing with someone else.
Pick one word to characterize your life before you accepted Christ. How can you use that depiction of the old you to share your faith-story?
What are some of your habits? Brushing your teeth twice a day? Checking your smartphone at stop lights? Sitting in the same spot at the dinner table or church? Going to the gym after work? Kicking off your shoes when you get home? Watching certain TV shows? I reckon that most of our daily habits are simply routines that we’ve developed over time.
Other habits, though, can be detrimental to our health – not only physically, but also spiritually. We don’t care to admit such habits to ourselves, much less talk about them openly. These are the ones we go to when we’re upset, when we want to escape, when we feel down … the things we expose to our bodies, our eyes, our minds, under the guise of making us feel better, if only temporarily … or the things we say, do, and think when we feel threatened, hurt, or entitled.
God calls us to a better life than this, dear friends. As we grow closer to Christ, we need to break the habits that used to ensnare us. Check out what Paul wrote in his letter to the Colossians (3:8-10, ERV): “But now put these things out of your life: anger, losing your temper, doing or saying things to hurt others, and saying shameful things. Don’t lie to each other. You have taken off those old clothes—the person you once were and the bad things you did then. Now you are wearing a new life, a life that is new every day. You are growing in your understanding of the one who made you. You are becoming more and more like him.”
I would be lying through my teeth if I claimed to have mastered all of this. I have too many habits that I still struggle with, and I’ve been a believer for nearly 30 years. If eliminating poor choices was easy, then we’d all be fit, no one would struggle with addiction, gossip would be unheard of, husbands and wives would model Christ in their marriages, kids would obey their parents, and we’d all manage our tempers and finances.
If it sounds too good to be true, remember that the objective isn’t necessarily perfection. Reread the verse from Colossians above. We are growing; we are becoming more like Christ. Change doesn’t always happen overnight, but as the poet wrote in Psalm 119:55, we choose every day whether to follow God or revert back to our old ways: “Lord, in the night I remembered your name, and I obeyed your teachings.”
The story of my “old life” and your “old life” before we knew Christ are unique. Someone needs to hear your story, so they can start theirs.
Read 2 Corinthians 5:17 and meditate on what it means to you, personally, that you are a new creation in Christ.