In my daily Bible reading, I once again came across the account of Jesus and the young rich man in Mark 10. After the young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus listed off the commandments, the young man could say that he had kept all these commandments since the day he was a child. What jumped out at me is what happens next. Looking at him, Jesus “loved him.” What happens next might be a surprise to both disciples and outsiders. Jesus increases the requirements exponentially. “You lack one thing…” Just one thing more? What Jesus says next is neither easy nor a small thing for this man. “Go, and sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” Rather than responding like the person in Jesus’ parable about the man who sells all that he has with joy in order to buy the field with a hidden treasure, this man gives nothing and goes away disheartened and sorrowful.
Reading between the lines, I can imagine that this man’s identity is wrapped up in his financial success. In his mind, it may have represented the blessing of God for living a righteous life as per the book of Proverbs. He probably gained and maintained his wealth through righteous means. This means that, unlike the stereotypical tax collector, his wealth represented public respect and stature in his community. With his wealth and success came a name. If Jesus had told him to give alms generously for a particular purpose, he likely would have done so gladly. This would have only added to his stature and strengthened his identity. However, to give every single bit of it away would have been to give away his identity. Who is he without his wealth?
As I reflect on the issue of identity, I am reminded of all the various ways we typically identity and define ourselves. When we are young, we identify ourselves by the town we live in, the school we go to, the grade we are in, and especially the family we belong to. As we grow older, we go through various transition and our identity evolves. We become a High School Graduate. Some of us go on to college, and we call ourselves an English Major, or a Music Major, or something like that. This only lasts until we graduate. After graduation, we may identify ourselves as a teacher, accountant, writer, engineer, etc. Some join the military and identify themselves as an Airman, Seaman, or Solider. All of these transitions and changes are exciting and we often relish them. However, some changes in the way we identify ourselves can be extremely difficult. In fact, some are so difficult, that some people contemplate ending their lives. When someone is fired an no longer able to work in his career field, or is injured and unable to continue what he was doing before, or loses a loved one such as a spouse or child, one can go through an identity crisis. Retirement cane be just as difficult for some people. They may ask questions such as, “Who am I if I am no longer a teacher? Who am I now that my spouse is gone?”
Sometimes, difficult transitions can cause us to reassess our identity. Many will tell us that they have realized that their true identity is not bound up with their career, their body, or even their spouse. All of these things have a limited shelf life. If our identity is limited to things with a shelf life, then we have truly missed the mark on who we are meant to be in Christ. We had an identity before an education, before a career, and even before marriage. That identity continues even after those things conclude.
If I attach my identity to something that is not eternal, than I have missed it. Not even my name is eternal. There seems to be nothing more basic and fundamental than identifying myself by my name. It is mine from birth till death. However, I am reminded of something I once read in the book of Revelation. When we leave this life, we will receive a new name! I will not even bring my name from this life into eternity! The final scene of the Bible says that we will see the face of our Lord and his name will be on our foreheads!
Rather than saying, “I am a _________,” or even, “I am John,” I need to recognize that the Great I AM is the one who defines me from here to eternity. Not only is his son seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places, but we have been raised with him and are also are seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ, according to Ephesians 2:6. According to 1 Peter 2, we are living stones in God’s sanctuary. We are his special possession, holy and chosen to proclaim his excellencies both here and in eternity. We have been delivered from darkness and transferred into his eternal kingdom, according to Colossians 1:13.
These are the things from which we get our identity. These are what is persistent through each transition in life. When one thing ends and another begins, our identity remains the same into eternity. Our eternal identity helps us to move forward without being stuck in the past when the past has concluded. It helps us to be propelled by hope from one day to the next with a clear sense of purpose in every season of life. It helps us to be like the guy in Jesus’ parable that sold everything he owns to buy the field with the treasure, and to avoid being like the young rich ruler who wanted to hang on to his mud pies rather than sell them for an eternal treasure in heaven. It will help me to recognize the opportunity for a far greater treasure rather than feel threatened by losing something which is NOT tied to my identity.