We can identify ourselves in many ways. One way is by our role as mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, grandmother, grandfather, wife, husband, or even friend. In other words, we identify ourselves by our relationships.
We can also identify ourselves by our family, political party, ethnicity, genetics, career, or religion. We do not choose our ethnicity or genetics, but we do choose what we do and what we believe. The plethora of religions in the world reveal that human beings either have a longing to know God or a longing to be god.
Today some have focused on identifying by gender: male, female or other. Recent laws are recognizing differences by gender in new ways and troubling to many. Laws affect people and their behavior. Behavior affects the way we see the world: our worldview.
Mothers say they can tell their baby’s personality by their movements in the womb but can anyone really know another human being fully?
God said to Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” (Jeremiah 1:5). This was attested by Isaiah, “This is what the LORD says, ‘Your Redeemer who formed you in the womb'” (Isaiah 44:24). David wrote “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13) and “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desire faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place” (Psalm 51:5-6). Even though he followed Christ late in life, the Apostle Paul said, “But when God who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace…” (Galatians 1:15). There is a sense God made us the way we are.
Some say, “I was born this way,” but are we?
Educators, psychologists, sociologists, investigators, doctors and others have tried to determine if human beings are affected more by nature (our birth and our genetics) or by nurture (the way we are brought up, order of birth, experiences, training, education).
How do you decide who you are? What is your true identity?
Simon left a fishing business that provided much needed food for his community to follow a man who was an enigma. This man said things this businessman did not understand like, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Whoever heard of dead people burying other dead people? Yet he followed him.
Simon was an enigma too. He was considered by many to be a loose cannon, erratic, unpredictable, and abrasive. His aggressiveness was probably an asset in his business. However, Simon was also impulsive. He spoke without thinking. Know anyone like that?
But Jesus saw Simon differently. He approached Simon and said, “Follow me.” Simon did just that. Then Jesus did something he did not do with anyone else. He changed Simon’s name: ” ‘You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas’ which, when translated, is Peter” (John 1:42). Simon did not object.
Then Jesus changed Peter’s occupation. Jesus looked at Peter and said he would no longer fish for fish but for men. Peter had to wonder what this meant. When Jesus said to Simon, “Follow me,” he was asking him to leave his home, his family, and his business and take nothing with him. Jesus took away his identity.
In Simon Peter’s account (as dictated to Mark), he did not say much about himself which was surprising given what we know of his personality. In addition, Peter did not boast about his accomplishments which we also would have expected. Instead he told about his failures. He neither blamed others or gave excuses.
First, after Peter identifies Jesus as the Christ, he has the audacity to rebuke the Son of God (Mark 8:27-31). Are you guilty of rebuking God? Do you tell God what to do?
Second, when Peter sees Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, he decides on his own to build three worship centers basically equating Moses and Elijah to Jesus (Mark 9:2-9). Are you guilty of equating Jesus with Buddha or Mohammed?
Third, Peter insists emphatically that even if he has to die with Jesus, he will never disown him. Yet soon after, he denies Jesus not once but three times (Mark 14:31). Are you guilty of NOT letting others know you are committed to Jesus Christ or his church?
Fourth, when the deeply distressed and troubled Jesus goes to pray, he asks his disciples to keep watch. But Peter falls asleep after just one hour (Mark 14:37-38). Are you guilty of NOT praying for God’s work to be accomplished no matter the cost?
Fifth, when a crowd appears with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus, Peter fled with the others (Mark 14:50). Are you guilty of backing out when your church needs you to fulfill God’s vision?
Does the way you view yourself influence what you do?
Throughout his life, Peter is misunderstood, misrepresented, slandered and persecuted. For the next thirty years, the religious and political leaders of the day spread fake news about Peter and about his Lord, Jesus Christ.
Yet regardless of being misconstrued and maligned, Peter continues to preach. And over thirty years later, Peter writes his first letter to the new Gentile churches that are spread over 300,000 square miles of Asian Minor. In this letter, Peter calls himself Peter, the name Jesus gave him. He writes that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, the occupation Jesus gave him. In his second letter, he called himself a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ. This was how he identified himself. Not by his race. Not by his family name, Not by his career. Not by his sexual activity. Not by his political party. Not even by his denomination. He did not call himself the head Apostle, the Reverend Doctor, the Bishop, or even the Pope. No. Peter called himself a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, period.
“To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asian and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood, grace and peace be yours in abundance” (I Peter 1:1-2).
Peter identified with all three persons of God who are One in essence. The One with whom he ate. The One to whom he listened. The One from whom he learned. The One he identified as the Christ. And the One to whom he wept bitterly when he felt the weight of his denial. But Peter explains why he is committed to this One and to his new identity.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of the Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Peter 1:3-5).
Peter further explains why he is committed even after intense persecution. “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trial. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith__ of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire__ may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (I Peter 1:6-7).
“Though you have not seen him you love him, and though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:8-9).
Jesus changed Peter. Has Jesus changed you?
Peter penned his final advice in his last letter. He knew he was about to die, but these were his last words to the church. “But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). Good advice for all who identity with Christ alone.