Prosperity teachers, name-it-claim-it theology, and the word of faith movement have all combined to give the power of words a bad name. But words do carry power. We believe the written Word of God carries supernatural power. And we empower our believing community when we properly use the words of Scripture to describe ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I am a firm believer that kids and adults live into the expectation we set before them. And that expectation often takes its form in the words and labels we use. If we practice a ministry of condemnation (II Cor 3:9); labeling believers as sinners, telling them how poorly they are doing, and not holding out much hope for improvement, can we be surprised when our parishioners live into that expectation. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I believe a constant diet of chastising individuals and the church in general for not looking much different than the world will produce a church that is…not much different than the world.
But if we practice a ministry of life (II Cor 3:6), new life in the Spirit, we will be ever vigilant to remind our Christian brothers and sisters that they carry an incredible new identity – God Himself dwelling on the inside – and a new everything that comes with it; a new nature, a new heart, a new disposition, a new power over sin and so much more.
The apostle Peter writes that our lack of holy qualities is fostered by a bad case of spiritual amnesia. “For he who lacks these qualities – diligence, faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, love – is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (II Pet 1:9). Our number one problem, the sin that underlies all others, is forgetting the precious and magnificent promises of God regarding all that became new at our new birth, especially our new found freedom from the power of sin in our life.
Likewise, the apostle Paul begins nearly every letter with an explosive description of who we are in Christ. Take the letter to the Ephesians for example. In the first few verses of chapter one, we find that we are “blessed with every spiritual blessing…chosen…holy and blameless…adopted as sons…bestowed on by His grace…redeemed…forgiven…lavished upon…heirs…sealed with the Holy Spirit…God’s own possession” and so much more. This new identity in Christ becomes the foundation for Paul’s call to holy living in the second half of these letters. “Therefore [based on everything I have just written about who you are in Christ] I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1).
And finally, John draws a clear picture of the believer’s relationship with sin in his epistle. He goes so far as to suggest that since we have been literally “born of God” we have a moral resemblance to Christ Himself. “Since you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (I Jn 2:29). John compels us to live into our righteous identity.
The New Testament is awash in joyous encouragement to live into our new identity. As a confirmed affirm-aniac, I just don’t think we say it enough. In fact, I don’t think we teach it, preach it, say it, and live it enough. Next post, I will take a stab at explaining why this is so as well as some suggested remedies.