Who are we? What makes up our identity? How do we choose to define ourselves? Join Vincent Nel this Sunday at CornerstoneSF as he explores these questions and studies a passage in the Bible that reframes the question another way.
If you were going to introduce yourself, how would you do so? What would you use to define yourself. Your name I’m sure, but then when we meet someone one for the first time, usually one of the first follow-up questions is what do you do for a living? And I find it kind of interesting that in our Western society, one of our primary identifying markets is our vocation, what we do.
And that’s where we find value for who we are. How else would we define ourselves. By our race or ethnicity. By our relational and relationship status, our parental status. Our gender or sexuality. Our nationality, religion, political affiliation. We are all more than just one thing and I think that some of these defining traits bear more weight in our estimation of our identities than others might.
I think though, that there is one defining question we can ask ourselves to ground ourselves in that true identity
I’d like to share a passage today that explores this idea. Now this passage at first might not seem like it has something to do with exploring questions of identity, but hopefully by the end of our time together, you’ll see how. The passage I want to share from has been dubbed the rich young ruler, which is a bit of a tongue twister for me to say.
So if I fumble over that, let’s just pretend I’m saying it right. This encounter is found in three of the gospels. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke. I don’t know where John was and why he didn’t record it, but I will ask him, I guess, when I get to heaven. I’m going to share the passage today from Mark’s account because there’s one small detail that he records that I think is valuable and gives us some unique insights, but more on that later. Mark chapter 10 verses 17 to 22,
“As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. Good teacher. He asked what must I do to inherit eternal life? Why do you call me good? Jesus answered. No one is good, except God alone. You know the commandments, you shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony. You shall not defraud. Honor your father and mother. Teacher, he declared, all these I have kept since I was a boy. It’s a pretty high estimation of oneself, if we’re honest. Jesus looked at him and loved him. One thing you lack, He said, Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.
Then come follow Me. At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth.
Okay, before we dive in and make some reflections and practical applications to our own lives here in 2021. I think it’s important for us to understand this passage contextually from a historical and cultural perspective, as much as we can. This will then help us be able to infer what it means in our own lives.
So who was this guy? Where did he come from? The simple answer is that we don’t know, we don’t know his name. We don’t know his nationality. We don’t know where he was coming from or where he was going to. We only know that he was rich. He’s most often referred to as the rich young ruler, because we infer this from all three of the gospel accounts that it’s featured
All three tell us that he was rich. But only the Gospel of Matthew tells us that he was young and only the gospel of Luke tells us he was a ruler. The Greek word used to describe ruler, refers to a leader or an official of some sort. Someone with administrative authority. It’s unlikely that a Roman official would approach Jesus with such a religious question.
So it’s believe that this rich young ruler was probably a Jewish leader in a synagogue or even the Sanhedrin. In terms of his age, the Greek word, neaniskos , I don’t know how to pronounce that properly. It’s used in Matthew. And it’s typically referred to someone who’s in their early twenties until about age 40.
So that’s actually in my mind, quite a wide berth of age, but young nonetheless. And another Greek word is used in Luke, which is sphodra. Again, I don’t know how to pronounce that properly. And this means that he was not only rich, but he was stinking rich, my paraphrase. So essentially he was a wealthy young Jew in a position of authority.
So we have this wealthy young Jew coming up to Jesus. He’s heard of this great teacher and he asked Jesus how he can inherit eternal life. He clearly believes in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is proclaiming and he must feel that something is missing in his life. And he’s likely earnestly seeking an answer to what it is.
I don’t think he’s out to trick Jesus, like many of the Pharisees were. He also assumes that eternal life is something that he can earn. And how does Jesus respond? Well, He meets him where he’s at. At first, it seems as though Jesus’s response goes against the very nature of what He’s been preaching.
Keep the commandments, that’s it? Uh, I thought salvation and eternal life is a gift of the grace of God that we received by faith. Uh, as we see in Ephesians 2:8-9, and also that no one can ever uphold all the commandments, see Romans 3:20, but remember Jesus is always one step ahead of every question ever pose to Him, He’s digging into the heart of this young man. The rich young ruler thinks he can earn eternal life.
That it’s about a balance sheet in which his good must outweigh his bad. And maybe in his case, it does, maybe he truly did keep all the commandments, although even Jesus himself said none, except God is good just a moment ago to this rich young ruler. But even so, Jesus is engaging with him in this way to help him see that even if he were upholding the law in a legal, literal sense,
for all his life, as he so claimed, in a spiritual sense, he is not. That is where he is lacking.
And the rest, as they say is history. Jesus tells a young man that if he really wants to be perfect, if he really wants to lack no thing and be complete to inherit or earn this eternal life that he’s seeking, that he must sell everything he has, give it to the poor, and then follow Him. The rich young ruler says, “Nah!”
He checks out, I’m kidding. He does walk away, but he’s saddened at this. He’s saddened at what Jesus tells them in the interaction. It’s not what he had hoped for. So what does this mean for us? Are we to give up all of our earthly possessions to enter the kingdom of God. No, but also, yes. You’ll see what I mean.
Here are the things that I’d like us to consider from this passage. The first thing that I find interesting is how the young man addresses Jesus. He calls Him teacher or good teacher, which makes sense. Given the limited knowledge we have of this man in his position of authority, so who’s obviously respectful of Christ. Clearly,
the young Jewish man knows that Jesus is worth seeking after and might have the answer to his soul searching. There’s an earnestness to him. But what’s important to note is that the young man doesn’t see Jesus, as more than a teacher, he doesn’t recognize Him as the Messiah, the son of God, just two chapters before in Mark chapter 8, Jesus asks His disciples
the million-dollar question. Who do you say I am? To which Peter declares you are the Messiah. This is a question we must all face. Who is Jesus? Is He just a good teacher? A great moral figure, a noble man in history whom we can learn from and be inspired or is He more. Is He the Messiah? Our savior, our Lord.
There is a difference. There is a difference between knowing who Jesus is and knowing Jesus. In the case of this rich young ruler, it was the former. The next thing to note about this passage is what Jesus asks all the rich young ruler. It’s quite a harsh request, if I’m being honest. I used to wrestle with this passage and wonder am I supposed to sell everything I have and live a life of poverty in order to follow Jesus.
Is that what he wants about of us?. Okay. Here we go. But not necessarily, I don’t think it’s entirely. Supposed to look like this. It might be true for some of us as it was for the rich young ruler, but I don’t think it always correlates to us in the same way. We might not have to give away every possession we have and sell it to the poor, but we do have to give up something.
All of us are required to surrender something at the feet of Jesus in order to truly follow Him. It just looks different as to what that is that He’s asking you to surrender. Every single follower of Christ in the history of the world and in the future to come has been and will be asked to sacrifice something.
It’s just how it works. There is no way around that. Once we’ve answered the question of who Jesus is, the next thing we have to decide is how we will respond to Him. The rich young ruler was disappointed with what Jesus required of him. And I think sometimes we’re disappointed too, with His responses to us.
When the call comes for us to surrender something, maybe we thought He’d give us a pass or say something different. I know I have felt that way. Sometimes what the Lord asks to give up seems unfair. I have definitely felt that way. A lot of times it doesn’t make sense. Yeah, pretty much all the time, I felt that way.
And it will even offend. Yep. I’ve definitely been offended. And it rarely feels good. Yeah. It pretty much never feels good, but that’s why it’s a sacrifice. It’s not easy. It costs us deeply, but He is God and He gets to decide what we have to surrender. Not us. We only get to decide if we will obey. I haven’t always done this well, as I’m sure you gathered.
Um, this past year I debated surrendering a part of my life that I felt impossible to part with. I had already given so much in that area to the Lord, and now He wanted more. I was at a place of terminal for months. I knew what the Lord was asking from me, but I didn’t want to give it to Him. Not this too, not this much.
Can I just hold on to this? Can’t I just have this one thing? Maybe I can give it to You some other time or never? Can I be a selfish child and hold onto it for a little while? Will You still love me. In surrender I must give my every part. Lord receive the sacrifice of a broken heart. Sometimes what the Lord asks us to surrender Him will break our hearts, but it’s worth the cost.
I don’t mean for this to sound like Jesus is wanting us to be these big self deniers who are miserable and everything is so difficult all the time. That’s that’s not, that’s not really what it’s about. The trade is so great. In 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him, what we get in return for what we surrender is far greater than any discomfort or pain one might feel in giving it up.
Sometimes our hearts are so distracted that we need to let go of what we’re holding on to and what we’re focused on in order to receive this fullness that He has for us. And I think a lot of times this is where we find breakthrough too. First we have to obey then breakthrough comes. So if you’ve been wondering where your breakthrough is this year, which we’ve been sort of chasing after since January and it hasn’t maybe come for you, maybe you have to ask yourself, is there something that I haven’t let go of?
Is there something I haven’t surrendered, obey and then breakthrough. One of the hardest things to give up, especially in this day and age. And for me personally is our identity. I think the rich young ruler was so connected to his wealth and status that it became his primary source of identification. And that’s why he . Was so saddened by Jesus’s response.
Why would Jesus ask him to give up the very core of who he is? It’s a question that comes up a lot as I know it does for me often, but there are many ways that I would describe myself. There are many things that make up who I am. Father, widower, artists, immigrant, male, many other terms as well, but all of these must bow to the Imago Dei in a sense. At the very core of who I am, it starts with Christ.
This is my first boundary. Then the other’s fall into place around this, whether it’s our, our, uh, pursuit of success and the acknowledgement and approval and affirmation and perception of success of others or our culture or our ethnicity or our gender or our sexuality, or our jobs. All of these must bow at the foot of Jesus.
Now there’s an important nuance I want to address here. This doesn’t mean that we aren’t made unique or with specific traits for specific reasons. God made you with all of the specifics he made you – your skincolor, your DNA, your hair texture, your agenda, your body size, your temperament, your relational needs and insights.
You’re, you’re, you’re, you’re all of those. He made them as a unique masterpiece and He delights in what He made. He isn’t an asking you to hide who you are or to ignore these aspects of identity, but He is asking you to surrender it to Him, to put Him first, to see yourself first as God’s beloved child, God’s beloved creation, someone in whom the fingerprints of breadth of God resides, first.
And then to have all these other aspects of your unique makeup flow from that. There’s a difference between fitting God into our identity and fitting our identity into God. At the same time, you can hold the beauty of your uniqueness in your one hand, while holding your core Christ in the other. You can hold both without negating them.
It’s worth repeating here that sometimes what God asks us to submit to Him, especially in terms of identity, doesn’t make sense sometimes. And doesn’t seem fair. But again, we need to ask ourselves, is He really God? Is He the Lord of all? Doesn’t He get to decide? And do I trust Him? Is He good? The answer to those are all yes, by the way.
But these are tough questions to sit with. They’re tough to wrestle through. Don’t worry if you can’t answer them all now, or if you don’t even want to. That’s fine. The Lord loves you still. Jesus knew how the interaction with the rich young ruler would end, but He still chose to speak the truth in love to the young man.
He didn’t shy away from the truth to win him over and please or appease him. He knew the man would walk away after what He required, but still He chose to engage Him truthfully and still loved Him. I’d actually never noticed that phrase until recently. And it’s only mentioned in Mark. Which is why I chose that version today.
I guess I didn’t notice it because I tend to read Matthew’s gospel the most. Um, Jesus looked at Him and loved Him. I think too often, we don’t look on others with love. As Christians, sometimes we look down and others who don’t follow Christ and see them as less than us or lacking in some way. Usually that’s based in good intentions because we have such a hope and what Jesus has given us that we can’t imagine life without it, or how anyone could possibly be happy and fulfilled without it.
And there’s truth in that. Or we look at our Christian brothers and sisters who maybe have not yet given up all aspects of one area of their lives that we have. And we don’t look on them or treat them with the same kind of love that Jesus showed this young man. We don’t mean to, but sometimes we love or respect others a little less because they aren’t where we are in our own faith life.
Or at some level, even unintentionally, we require a standard of sacrifice or submission or alignment before we give all of our love away. But it would do well for us to remember that Christ’s love is not predicated upon someone’s obedience or willingness to give up something, even their identities and neither should ours.
He loves anyway, He loves first and He continues to love even if we walk away.
And so the question to ask ourselves, when it comes down to identity really is who do we say Jesus is? Do we believe that He is worthy of surrendering all to Him? Do we believe that He is good and has our best interests at heart? And knows us, even if it doesn’t make sense or feel good at the start. Or maybe we’re struggling with coming to Him in the first place and laying anything at His feet and don’t feel worthy of His life, He loves you still.
Or maybe we need to extend more grace to others who are at different places in their faith walk with surrendering their identities, or maybe not even walking in faith yet. He loves them still as He does you. And so how do we do this? How do we move forward? How do we surrender our identity? These things that make us who we are.
We come to the feet of Jesus. We ask Him, we say, Lord, who you are, show me who you are. Show me that you’re good. And show me who I am. Read the Bible, hear His words, ask Him to reveal Himself to you. And you’ll find that once we’re able to surrender and accept our true identity in Him above all else, no matter what comes our way, we won’t be shaken.
No matter what falls apart in our life, no matter what doesn’t make sense, we will have an anchor that never lets go.
So I’d love to pray for us before we end our service. Um, we’re going to hear a song from the band called image of God, which I think just touches on these themes of identity and how God made us beautifully in His image. Um, and how we can show love and remember that everyone is made beautifully in Him.
So they’ll share that song. Um, and then after that, Pastor Terry will come back and share a final closing word and benediction for us. But before we do that, I’d love to pray for us. Father, I thank You that we are Yours. I thank You that we can find our true identity in You, that we can find some kind of peace, some kind of anchor, mooring point in the chaos of this world that it brings
sometimes. I thank you that You made each of us unique and beautiful with just different, special gifts and ways, we look that no one is, is, is the same. And I thank You that You honor that and You show us how to live into that while being surrendered to You. I pray that while we root ourselves in this, You can continue to show us what it is
we need to surrender to You. That You can give us the, the faith to trust You in the surrender. Give us the strength to bring it to You and give us the grace to always keep coming back. I thank You, Lord. We are Your beautiful children who are loved dearly by You. In Jesus name. Amen. Here’s the band.
That’s right, we were made in the image of God. You know, His imprint is on us and we find our truest self when we come to the accept the embrace of the great Creator, His love that has been made available to us. The relationship that’s been made possible because of Jesus. And I just want to encourage all of us to keep that as the priority of our life.
And if you’ve never had a chance to receive Jesus into your heart, you know, and you’re listening here, maybe this is the moment when you say I want to find my identity in Jesus first as a beloved son, as a beloved daughter. I want that to be my truest point of security. You know, I just wanna remind everybody right now that this is, this is time that I get to do it our time of giving.
And, you know, you can give by sending it into our church offices, you can go online and give through our website as well, of course. And, and then we have the app, the Cornerstone App, which is also has a giving option. That’s actually what I do. So consider that. Let your love be known. And, uh, you know, I was thinking about something that Vinnie said, though, when he was sharing with us and he was talking about how there is a difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus.
And I think that the more we know Him, the more we realize that so much of our life with God is as he suggested about surrendering. Like there is no true life in Christ apart from elements of surrender. But, but in the letting go, we get far more than we could ever imagine. I mean, that’s the thing.
Sometimes we may think, oh, I’m losing when I surrender, but actually we’re gaining. The Bible, reminds us that if anyone will take up their cross and follow me, deny yourself, you know, that’s how you can be my disciple, My true followers, always Jesus said willing to take a pathway that costs something.
Because if you think about it, it cost God, everything. I mean, Jesus gave everything so that we might have relationship with Him. So, um, you know, I look at it and I go, it’s not just about even His promise for what is yet to be. But when I surrender my life to Him, it’s about His presence with me in the now. Between, you know, the time that I am now living and the day I breathe, my last breath I’ve been given this gift of relationship, been created to know God.
And to know His goodness in His life, at work in me, the life that is truly life. So remember, He’s so good. He’s so God and He wants us to what, sow good. And to sow God, and like I always say you are greatly loved, so loved. And my prayer for each one of you is that He may keep you, and I pray this for me to. Oh do I pray it, that He may keep us in our spirit, in our soul, in our body and in our mind, so much of the things that are weighing on us in our mind.
Lord help us with that right there. That’s my prayer in Jesus’ name.