We Are Who God Says We Are
JANUARY 3, 2024
This time thing always feels weird and surreal to me.
As I write this, it’s the day before Thanksgiving, and Anna is preparing Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen. But, as I write this, you have already enjoyed your Thanksgiving dinner with family/friends long ago. Not only that, you’ve already celebrated Christmas and welcomed in the new year (if you’re young, by staying up late on New Year’s Eve). None of that has yet to take place for me right now.
Years ago, Geerhardus Vos, a theologian at Princeton, proposed a view of the kingdom of God that it was “already here” but still “not yet.” There is a good deal of controversy about the “already” but “not yet” view of the kingdom. I’m not sure I understand the issues, and I certainly don’t understand why so many theologians are so passionate and uptight about it. But I do know that Thanksgiving is not here for me, but it has already happened for you.
That reminds me of a text (well, two texts). (I’ve been at this so long that everything reminds me of a text.) John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). Paul wrote that God has revealed to Christians the “hidden wisdom of God.” Then he adds a “not yet” quote from Isaiah, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:7-9).
I miss conversations with my late friend and mentor, John DeBrine. (I often told my seminary students that John was the best Bible teacher in the country when he was “on” and the second-best Bible teacher when he was “off.”) There are a lot of things I remember him saying and preaching, but there was one thing I heard John say a thousand times in his invitations for people to run to Jesus: “You can be as sure of heaven as you would be if you were already there.”
The Bible is full of promises, many of which have already been fulfilled and define who we are—the “already” side of God’s promises. My friend who has a prison ministry once asked a gathering of prison inmates, “How many of you had a mother or father who said, ‘Someday you will end up in jail’?” To his surprise, almost every one of the prisoners raised their hands. Once others (parents, teachers, authority figures, etc.) define us, we often become the personification of that definition. Throughout our lives, we bounce who we are off those who define us, and how they define us then becomes the reality of how we define ourselves. Been there, done that.
Don’t let them do that to you.
For some reason, I irritate a good many people. I struggled with Dyslexia as a child, and, in those days, it caused some teachers to define me as “stupid.” I’m an Adult Child of an Alcoholic with all the dysfunction that brings into my life. I’m also technically a “first-generation bastard,” given that my father’s mother was single and unmarried. And, of course, I’m a sinner, and some told me that God was through with me. Some have even suggested that I was a heretic and should be disciplined. As you know, I receive a lot of criticism in the ministry God gave me. While lecturing on how to handle criticism, one of my students, after checking the Internet, raised his hand and said, “Dr. Brown, they don’t like you at all!”
Do you know how I feel about all that? I don’t give a rip because of the fulfilled promises in my life (the “already here”) and how God has defined me. If I sometimes seem arrogant and prideful, it’s because I am sometimes that, but mostly, that seeming pride and arrogance come from the reality of fulfilled promises, the “already here” part of my life. I don’t care how others define me because they don’t have that right. Nobody but a creator gets to define what they have created. So, in our case, only God has that right, and we are who he says we are.
I’m forgiven right now . . . and loved, accepted, welcomed, and valued. That’s all a fact. It has nothing to do with how I feel about it. I don’t know a single Christian who doesn’t want to be better, more joyful, and less doubting than they are. Like you, I sometimes struggle with who I am, but the only one with the right to define me already has. I won’t be forgiven, loved, accepted, welcomed, and valued someday. That’s true right now. So, there.
A psychologist friend who grew up in a very dysfunctional and abusive family has an amazing healing ministry to others who have also been there. My friend says that the key to the struggle is to write a new script for yourself that is different from what others have written for you.
“For example,” he says, “if the overriding script is ‘Nobody wants me,’ the challenge to such an entrenched script might be to say out loud, ‘I feel completely and totally unwanted but, nevertheless, I am valuable and acceptable.’”
The reaction to that often is, “But, doctor, I just don’t believe it!”
And he responds, “Exactly, and that’s why I’m telling you to say it often to yourself. The Bible says, ‘For as a person thinketh in his heart, so is he!’ You are changing your thoughts via what you now know to be true.”
That works, but frankly, I want more than that. You do, too. That desire is from God. Paul said in Philippians 1:23 that his “desire” was to be with Christ, which was “far better” than remaining with them. Then, in Ephesians, Paul talked about the “here now” reality of who we are, writing that, in Christ, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7). That has been sealed by the Holy Spirit and “is the guarantee [deposit or pledge] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14). In other words, you haven’t seen anything yet. Looking up at the blue sky, the little girl spoke words far truer than she knew, “If it’s so pretty on this side, think what it’s like on the other side.”
It’s not a bad deal, is it? We’re free to dance and sing because we’re loved with no exceptions and with all that means. We’ve been promised by the only one who can make and fulfill that promise that the time is coming when we won’t even struggle. Christians, however, have to be careful about our devil-may-care attitude. At Pentecost, people thought the Christians were plastered (Acts 2:15). Dancing and singing can sometimes seem inappropriate to those who don’t know how to do either and don’t even know the tune. It can seem sort of weird. (The Babylon Bee, a comedy website, this morning showed a man thinking with the caption, “‘Our family doesn’t even have a weird uncle,’ thinks the man moments before realizing he’s the weird uncle.”)
You’ve already had your Thanksgiving.
I can smell mine, but I have to wait until tomorrow to eat it.
That’s not dissimilar to another celebratory meal, the marriage supper of the Lamb.
He asked me to remind you.