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Working to the Consummation of Our Own Identity (128)

James R. Davis


Richard Seed, the physicist desiring to clone human beings, has been on the evening news a number of times this week. At one point he said, "Man is going to become God . . . man will be able to live forever." It is becoming more and more apparent that there is a great tendency for humanity to work toward the consummation of its own identity.

Working to the consummation of our own identity is not necessarily something unique to the secular world. It is also a prevalent desire among God's people. As we look back to Eden there is really nothing new about this desire. Satan told Eve "You will be like God . . ." Those building the tower of Babel said, "Let us make a name for ourselves."

Even in matters of salvation many are working toward the consummation of their own spiritual identity. What man actually believes is that given enough time and knowledge he will be able to bring about his own perfection, which is his ultimate end. When we do this we will no longer need God.

One of the most pressing problems in the Church in Corinth was that some were becoming proud of their knowledge about Jesus Christ. They felt that what they knew was the all important issue when Paul wrote to them, "We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God." (1 Corinthians 8:1-3) They were seeking to establish their spiritual identity by how much they know about God. Paul said what you know is not the basis of your relationship but rather that God knows you. Paul said, "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." (2 Corinthians 10:12)

There are many ways in which we work toward the consummation of our own spiritual identity.


Salvation becomes something we have earned and deserve as we work toward the consummation of our own spiritual identity. The Pharisee thought that his identifying with God rested upon his own accomplishments.

Luke 18:9-14
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: `God, I thank you that I am not like other men-- robbers, evildoers, adulterers-- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

We may think that the parable of Pharisee and publican is far removed from where we are today. But its modern day counterpart is evident. Once a man called a preacher indicating that he needed help and wanted to talk to a preacher. So the preacher took an elder of the church with him to visit the man. Neither knew the man. The man told them that he became a Christian when he was a young man but he had not continued faithful in service to the Lord. He was now a senior citizen and he admitted that he had wasted his resources and life to such a point that family and friends had deserted him over the years. Now in bad health he had no one to turn to for help. He was now living in a mobile home park in a little one-bedroom mobile home that someone gave him in his dire circumstances. He expressed his need for help. He only had a small Social Security check to support himself, he wasn't asking for money, but rather physical help. He needed someone to look after him. He just needed someone he could call to get his groceries and take him to the doctor occasionally. His biggest need was for a friend. He wanted their prayers, he knew that he was terminally ill.

The preacher took it upon himself to help him because the man was more comfortable with that arrangement. He really wasn't looking for a handout. He never asks the church for money although he was very poor. Initially helping him involved taking him to the grocery store so he could buy his weekly groceries and taking him to get his food stamps. Later it involved going and getting his groceries because he was physically unable to do so. When he did call, it was usually for something he really needed. Once he called when he was having great trouble breathing, he was afraid and wanted someone to be there with him. The preacher went over sat with him for a while and finally persuaded him to let him call 911. He was taken to the hospital. He lived for about a year and was able to come to church only a couple of times, but once when he came he rededicated his life to Christ and ask for the prayers of the church.

When he died there was no one that wanted to claim his body for burial. The hospital had a hard time getting anyone to claim the body. So they called the preacher. The preacher gave them the telephone number of his son who lived five miles away. After a few days the body was finally claimed.

The amazing thing about this story happened on the initial visit the elder and the preacher made. When they left after that first visit, the elder turned to the preacher and said, "Why should we help him he has wasted his life and has nothing to offer?" That continued to be his attitude toward the man until the day the man died, even though the man sought to rededicate his life to Christ. That elder never visited the man and resented the fact that the preacher did. He told the preacher that his time could be better spent.

If this story produces a sense of rage in you as you contemplate the REAL issues of Christianity. You can only image what Christ was thinking when he spoke the parable to those who thought they were righteous and despised others. This story leaves no doubt about whom will go home justified! The man who called for help had about as much to offer as the thief on the cross . . . do you think that was enough? (While many are delving into first principles to define and redefine who we are, issues such as this one are the ones that define who we are and what we are about. Issues such as these will determine our eternity.)

The story reminds us of a rather arrogant churchman who was trying to impress upon the young minds of a class of boys and girls the importance of leading a Christian life. "Why do people call me a Christian, children?" the worthy man asked, standing very erect and smiling down at them. After a pause a shrill little voice said, " Because they don't know you?"

A famous cartoonist has pictured a demented prisoner sitting in the straw, chained like a beast to a dungeon wall. Yet he smiles happily, for to him the straw is his throne and his jailers are his courtiers. He considers himself the envy of kings! You say, what a poor fool! Yes, but his delusion is no greater than that of the self- righteous sinner who considers himself worthy to appear in the judgment without being "justified by faith" (Rom. 5:1).

The Pharisee's justification and spiritual identity came from his own good works. The rich man actually personified the Jews, as he trusted in his ability to keep the law of Moses for his salvation. But Paul said that if he really knew the law he would see himself differently.

Romans 3:19-20
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (NIV)

In an unforgettable sermon, Evangelist Fred Brown used three images to describe the purpose of the law. First he likened it to a dentist's little mirror, which he sticks into the patient's mouth. With the mirror he can detect any cavities. But he doesn't drill with it or use it to pull teeth. It can show him the decayed area or other abnormality, but it can't provide the solution.

Brown then drew another analogy. He said that the law is also like a flashlight. If suddenly at night the lights go out, you use it to guide you down the darkened basement stairs to the electrical box. When you point it toward the fuses, it helps you see the one that is burned out. But after you've removed the bad fuse, you don't try to insert the flashlight in its place. You put a new fuse to restore the electricity.

In his third image, Brown likened the law to a plumb line. When a builder wants to check his work, he uses a weighted string to see if it's true to the vertical. But if he finds that he has made a mistake, he doesn't use the plumb line to correct it. He gets out his hammer and saw.

Paul says that the law is given to put us in touch with the sin in our lives. It is given so that we will be reminded of who we are. When the sin is seen we begin to understand that our identity with God is by his choice and not our own accomplishment.

There are other ways we work toward the consummation of self. Some who seek God run in the opposite direction than that of the Pharisee thinking that faith has nothing to do with how we live. This leaves us free do our own thing, which is to work toward the consummation of our own identity as we become consumed with self.

Still others work toward the consummation of their own identity by believing that in this life we must balance the scales. We believe we will get to heaven by offsetting the bad in our lives with goodness. At some point we hope to tip the scales in our favor. This leaves salvation dependent upon what we do. Again we fall into the same trap of the Pharisee.

There is a game called "Aggravation." To win, you have to be the first to get your four marbles from start to finish, but if an opponent's marble lands on a space occupied by one of yours, you have to go back to the beginning and start all over.

That's how some Christians view their relationship with God. They believe that they advance in their Christian life until they sin, then they have to start all over. Yet if that were true, we could never be secure in our relationship to Christ, for we all sin every day. This "starting over" idea reveals a faulty concept of the biblical doctrine of justification and it is something that is impossible to accomplish until we consummate our own identity and that in itself is also impossible.


The Publican came to Jesus saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner." We must see ourselves as needing mercy. We do not like to look into ourselves because we do not like what we see. I'm not O.K., and you're not O.K., but that's O.K.

Jesus' life gives us many examples of goodness. It is something we do; kind acts, forgiveness, friendliness, sharing, encouraging, and pointing others to Christ.

Mt 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Judgment scene in Matthew 25.

Good is certainly something we are; we do well for good motives because we have good within us. Paul said, "I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14)

Good is also something we aren't; we have false motives, we are sinners. There is only One who is good. Jesus told the rich young ruler, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17)

Romans 3:19-20
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and the entire world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Prov 20:6 Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?

Isa 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

A dirty, poorly clothed boy walked into a London orphanage. The superintendent saw him and asked, " What are you doing here, young man?" "Why I'd like to live here," he answered. The man replied, "But I don't know you. What do you have as a recommendation?"

The youngster held up his torn coat--nothing more than rags--and said, "If you please, sir, I thought this would be all I would need." Immediately the superintendent swept him into his arms and into the orphanage, where he was fed and clothed and warmly accepted. For his old rags the boy received new garments.

What a picture of a sinner coming to Christ! What can you offer God to be accepted into heaven? Give Him your sins and trust Jesus to save you. Our "rags" become our claim to the robe of His righteousness.

Luke 17:5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, `Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, `Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"

Jesus warns us when we seek to identify ourselves because we have done what we have been told to do. The Pharisee enumerated all that he had done for God he said, "I thank thee that I am not like other men . . . " We must give up our efforts to justify ourselves. We expend enormous amounts of energy in attempts to win esteem; mercy tells us it is all wasted.

The Pharisee's prayer was directed toward the consummation of his own identity. James says, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." (James 4:3)

The great "prince of preachers" Charles Haddon Spurgeon used to tell this story: "A certain duke once boarded a galley ship. As he passed the crew of slaves, he asked several of them what their offenses were. Almost every man claimed he was innocent. They laid the blame on someone else or accused the judge of yielding to bribery. One young fellow, however, spoke out, 'Sir, I deserve to be here. I stole some money. No one is at fault but myself. I'm guilty.' Upon hearing this, the duke seized him by the shoulder and shouted, 'You scoundrel, you! What are you doing here with all these honest men? Get out of their company at once!' He was then set at liberty while the rest were left to tug at the oars."

The key to this prisoner's freedom was the admission of his guilt. It is the goodness of God upon which our salvation rests. Not our ability to justify ourselves.

Romans 2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

It is God's grace upon which we rely.

Ephesians 2:8-9
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Titus 3:4-5
But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; (KJV)

Psalms 103:17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children; (KJV)

Psalms 108:4 For thy mercy is great above the heavens: and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds.

Lamentations 3:22 It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.


Many do not really understand justification. John H. Gerstner in his book A Primer in Justification, wrote, "To illustrate how far our 20th century is from what the 16th century considered the heart of the gospel, let me relate a true, though almost unbelievable, incident. I was once speaking to a group of business people on justification, and there was a journalist in attendance representing a local newspaper. I preached justification emphatically, clearly, earnestly, and I hoped, persuasively. It was, therefore, rather discouraging to learn from the newspaper account that I had spoken the night before on the theme of 'Just a vacation by faith'!"

Over and over again mankind ruins God's good plan, but God is always ready to begin again. God uses disobedient, unholy people for His purposes. Adam and Eve disobeyed, Abraham was impatient, Joseph was self-centered and egotistical, but God used all of them for new beginnings. Genesis should turn our pessimism to optimism. On these pages is the word of hope. And we are reminded that hope rests not on any merit of any of the characters there, or us, only on the faithfulness of God. He is indeed the God of salvation, the God of new beginnings, and the God of the Remnant.

The beloved Bible teacher W. R. Newell told of an experience he had while speaking at a series of meetings in St. Louis. At the conclusion of one of the services, a troubled businessman approached Newell and said, "You're looking at the worst sinner in this city. I have been coming to these meetings for 4 weeks. I did not sleep last night. I have had little sleep for 3 weeks. I have prayed. I have read the Bible. Tell me what I need to do."

Newell answered, "Let's see what the Bible says." Turning to Romans, chapter 4, he began reading verse 5. "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly..." The man interrupted, "That's what I am--ungodly. But please tell me what to do."

Newell responded, "This verse tells you that you are to do nothing, save one thing." He then read those blessed words, "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness."

When the man heard that, his face brightened. "Being a businessman, I know a good proposition when I hear one," he said. "I'll take it!" And placing his trust in Christ, he received forgiveness. His faith was "accounted for righteousness." He found peace with God.

You've probably heard it said, "It doesn't matter what you believe; it's how you live That counts." A. J. Gordon encountered this philosophy one time as he talked with a Fellow passenger on a train. The man believed he could get to Heaven by his good works. Pointing to the conductor who was making his way through the coach, Gordon asked his friend, "Did you ever notice how carefully he always examines the ticket but takes no pains whatever to inspect the passenger?" The man immediately caught the significance of the question. He had just been saying that God was interested only in what we do and not in a "little bit of theological scrip called faith." "You see," continued Gordon, "the passenger and the ticket are accepted together. If he doesn't have one, or has the wrong one, he will be asked to get off the train--no matter how honest he might appear to be. Just as the ticket stands for the man, faith stands for you." God accepts us and declares us righteous only if we have the right ticket--faith in the One who dies for us on the cross.

2 Cor 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NIV)


Acceptance of mercy is much more than the starting point -- it is the central role of the Christian life. Accepting God's mercy requires a willingness to give up the activities and attitudes that need forgiving.

Romans 6:1-5
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection.

Dying to the old sinner is seldom quick or easy. Our desires are like old friends. We feel comfortable with them, and when we have to part with them we feel uneasy.

1 John 1:6-7
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. (KJV)

As a matter of course believing involves following the teaching of Christ which enables Christ to salvage our lives on earth for his service and to God's eternal glory. Jesus said if you love me you will keep my commandments, in other words you will allow me to salvage your earthly lives and save you eternally through your obedience to my directions.


John 8:24
Luke 13:3
Matthew 10:30-32
Mark 16:15-16
Acts 2:38

If you endeavor to take these steps while thinking, that after you do, you deserve salvation, then you are not ready to step forward into God's grace.


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