My daughter’s puggle was born cute, and simply became cuter. He is half beagle and half pug. This little fellow has looks, intelligence, charm, and a very loving disposition. I could certainly use more puggle in my character. If I could attach a trait to Tucker it would be freedom. Freedom to love, and freedom from guilt and regrets. He lives in joy of the moment. His kisses are abandoned, total, and sloppy. People are naturally drawn to him. He stops beautiful young women cold in their tracks: “What a cute little dog. May I pet him?”
I looked at some puggle-like descriptions recently–one of those long scripture lists of who you and I are “in Christ”–our true identities. Many years ago I prayed a morning prayer in the quiet of the new day: “God, I read and understand mentally what these truths say, but God, if these are true, I need you to reveal them to me–to bring them to me as convictions of the heart, not just my head.” I experienced a physical, emotional, and spiritual shift–a wonderful inner sense of receiving a gift in answer to that prayer. I “felt” and “knew” at my core the truth of those scriptures. That was nearly 15 years ago. For 15 years I’ve lived in varying states of consciousness of my true identity. Every day obligations, work, bills, domestic tasks, crises of one kind or another, relationship difficulties, fears and anxieties, all test my awareness of who I am in Christ. Oh, just to be a puggle I sometimes think.
This month, I was assigned to select and facilitate a topic with a Christian lawyer’s group, and I chose the topic of “Our Identity in Christ.” I distributed a list of those identifications–some 45 or more, using such words as “free,” “reborn,” “righteous,” “new,” “empowered,” “peaceful,” “blessed,” “alive,” “safe,” “enlightened,” “chosen,” “forgiven,” “elected,” “called,” “healed,” “strengthened,” “holy,” “rooted,” “redeemed,” “delivered,” and “loved.” I wonder if God gave us puggles to make his point. Now Tucker has his flaws: he is uncontrolled in his energy and enthusiasm for life and people, and oh, how he likes to get into the garbage. But Tucker seems to operate on these assumptions that he is the greatest thing that ever happened, and the moment is made for love.
So Paul in Romans 6:4 says to us 2000 years later: Did you forget who you are? Are you walking around in ignorance again? Wake up! You have a new spiritual identity, a new life. You are to “walk” in this new life. I feel like getting a little snotty with Paul: Paul, if you only knew the crap I had to put up with today. I’m exhausted. Life came at me from all sides. I’m beaten up, and nearly beaten–so give me a break! Paul was beaten up too–literally, and almost killed, on several occasions, and the story goes, was finally executed by the Roman authorities in Rome. So, when he speaks of being physically imprisoned but “free in Christ” his words carry weight with me. At least I’m listening.
Paul says to us “Walk in newness of life.” Walking was the main transportation mode for ordinary folks in Paul’s day. Whatever came at you was most likely going to happen for good or ill while you were walking, especially if you were on a long journey. Basically, he’s saying live your identity in your real, everyday, knock-down, drag-out life of pain, set-backs and victories. In good, and in bad, be aware of you really are. Good advice, but it’s important to remember Paul couldn’t pull it off perfectly, and he admitted he would often do the very thing he knew he should not do. Romans 7:18. Paul admitted sin lived in him, even as Christ lived in him. I’m glad Paul, who could be so hard on his listeners, admitted to his failings.
So, now I read the list of my identifications “in Christ” and realize that those qualities are operating in me even as the persistence of sin operates in me, but that my Christ identity is more powerful than my shortcomings and wrong choices. “Will I ever “get it right?” It is like asking if Tucker will stop getting into the garbage and stealing food from the table. The answer is “not today.” But my destiny is to be “perfect in Christ.” Colossians 1:28.
So what difference does this insight make for me? First, I don’t get trapped by the idea that “it’s all or nothing.” I don’t buy into the lie that this wonderful life and new identity is not for me because I’m such a daily screw-up–so it must be something reserved for those nice Christian people who attend Church every Sunday–it couldn’t be for me. Most importantly, I have hope and a positive expectation. Yeah, here I am, broken and flawed, but I am a Child of God, holy and blameless in the sight of God, because of the power of Christ released in me through faith. Hebrews 4:16. My daughter sees her puggle that way. She is incredibly patient with him, correcting him yes, but totally in love with him. “He’s my baby” she says. Her patience and her love has led her to discipline and train him, and he is indeed becoming the well behaved dog she knows he is capable of being.
It’s true for me, and maybe true for you. I have to exert a mental effort of “waking up” each day to a right focus. If I do not, I slip into a trance of routine and thoughtless action. My true identity is not something that happens by default. I have to claim, own, and apply what God offers. Reminders are part of the learning process. I have to re-read the scriptures. I have to ask the question in the moment of decision or stress: what is my true identity, and what actions will reflect my true identity in this time and place?
The process is a God-process and it is a God-energized transformation that occurs degree by degree. We are simply to show up mentally and emotionally, and to cooperate. Living in the “process” is not easy. It can be frustrating and slow. We can be in a “desert” of waiting sometimes. We are a people of faith that what is not yet perfectly fulfilled will be fulfilled in the power of God. We walk with God, and God is on our side! Romans 8:31.
Romans 6:1-4. “1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein? 3 Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.”