Remember Who You Are

It seems to me that the Christian life consists largely of a struggle against our own forgetful nature.

After having embraced the truth that Christ has rescued us from death, all of life then becomes about trying to live out what we say we believe, to remember who we are in light of that rescue. Having been brought into relationship with our Creator, we have a vertical connection with God that should broaden our perspective and utterly change the way we look at everything in the day-to-day – the way we view our finances, spend our time, think about work, respond to slights, prioritize our relationships…all of it. The vertical should drastically change the way we think about the horizontal.

And yet, despite the fact that this incredibly amazing gift of rescue has been given us, we easily drift right back into thinking that what’s in front of us – the horizontal – is all there is, living as if God is not part of the equation.

It helps me to know that this is not only true in the busyness of our 21st-century lives, but it’s been true for all of history.

The Denial of Peter by Rembrandt (1660)

The Denial of Peter by Rembrandt (1660)

Lately I’ve been studying the New Testament epistle First Peter with a group of friends. This letter was written by the Apostle Peter, who spent three years as one of Jesus’ disciples before Christ was crucified. The first apostle called to follow Jesus in his itinerant ministry, Peter witnessed any number of miracles performed by Jesus; he himself walked on water when Jesus called him out of the boat to join Him on top of the waves (Matthew 14:22-33); he was one of the three men chosen to join Christ on the mountain where he saw Jesus transfigured (Matthew 17:1-8). He was the first disciple to announce to Jesus that he believed he was the Christ foretold by the prophets (Matthew 16:13-20); Peter was bold and forthcoming about who he believed Jesus to be, and he left behind his old way of life to follow Jesus and help spread the good news (Matthew 19:23-30).

Peter was also a witness to Jesus’ arrest in the garden one dark night and, as the events of that day unfolded, Peter was the disciple who, in deep fear for his own life, openly denied that he even knew or was in any way attached to this Jesus of Nazareth who was on trial (Luke 22:54-62).

Peter lived three years with daily reminders of Who Jesus really was, and yet in a moment of danger and deep fear, he responded to the horizontal events as if the vertical relationship – that relationship which changes everything – didn’t exist.

We don’t have to have our own lives threatened in order to do the very same thing. There was a day just last week when I started off my day strong; having spent time studying this very letter by Peter, I began my day with the confident reminder that Christ’s work for me was secured. It only took a few small changes to my agenda, a few small failures on the part of others, and by the end of the day, irritation ruled my emotions and colored how I responded to others. I had completely let go of my hold on the perspective that my relationship with God should have given me and was responding to the horizontal provocations as if that was all that mattered.

It seems as though Peter wrote the letter of First Peter to encourage believers in several churches spread throughout Asia during a time when they, too, might have been tempted to respond to the horizontal events as if that was all that mattered. This letter was likely delivered to these churches along with the news that the Apostle Paul had been martyred in Rome. These people would have all known Paul well, as he was the apostle who preached the gospel to them and helped found their congregations. He was a friend and a mentor, someone they would have loved and respected. At least some of the letters Paul wrote during his ministry were directed to these same churches.

Imagine, then, how grieved they would have been to hear of his death. Paul was killed during a time in Rome when persecution of Christians was on the rise, so news of his death may have well also come alongside other terrifying details of hardship occurring. Peter’s letter starts out by reminding them of a great truth:

According to his (God’s) great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7)

Peter is essentially saying to them, “Remember who you are! Remember that through His death and resurrection, Christ has guaranteed your salvation and is guarding it in heaven, for you. Death is not the final word! This changes everything! Live joyfully, in spite of this trial!”

It doesn’t take death threats to get me to live as though God doesn’t matter; when I find that my eyes are focused on what’s going on around me, the people who are “failing me” or the difficulties of my day, I am living at the horizontal level. I have forgotten that I am already a chosen daughter of the King, with an imperishable inheritance already awaiting me in eternity. These truths, when I hold on to them, change the way I live and soften the ways in which I respond to others.

It would be easy to beat myself up for the multiple times each day when I forget who I am and live out a practical denial of God’s work in my life. How encouraging, then, to read Peter’s letter and to hear him – this impetuous guy who failed to live out what he knew to be true at a truly crucial moment in Jesus’ last hours – exhorting others to remain faithful during a time of trial. How like our kind Father to use Peter’s magnificent failure to encourage all of us forgetful brothers and sisters to come after him.

Today, I simply encourage you to remember who you are; God chose you as His own child. Remember what you already have; immeasurable joy awaiting you in heaven that cannot be damaged or changed by your failures. Live today in light of this joyful reality.

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