“Paul, an apostle – not from men, nor through man, but though Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead...” Galatians 1:1.
I love this bloke’s story which I have followed on and off for a little while now. But it was a recent article in Church Leaders that caught my eye. American footballer, Nick Foles was recruited to the Philadelphia Eagles as a back-up Quarterback. After regular QB, Carson Wentz, went down with a season ending knee injury, Foles got his chance in the back end of that year. And didn’t he take it? Philadelphia made it to the 2018 NFL Super Bowl, and Foles put in an MVP performance to get them over the line! In the hype and excitement of that winning day, he publicly praised his Saviour, Jesus Christ.
But the reality is, he was only ever the team’s back up. Carl Wentz returned from injury, and so the next season Foles was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars. He kinda faded away. So much so, that who knew 12 months later that he was traded again; this time to the Chicago Bears? But even then, he was only sent there as a back-up QB. In fact, he was a back-up to the back-up!
You’d think Foles might be pretty dejected; wondering what he was doing, and who he was in the grand scheme of the NFL Circus. He went from the heights of success to the shadows of obscurity in the blink of an eye. But no, he knows exactly who he is! He got called up to take the field for Chicago just recently; his first game in a whole year since Chicago signed him up. With the other 2 QBs injured, Foles, the 3rd string, was called upon to play against Seattle. And he grabbed the opportunity with both hands; leading Chicago to a nail-biting, come from behind win.
Upon being interviewed post match, he again gave honour to Jesus Christ. But it was this statement by Foles that caught my attention. “It doesn’t matter if you’re the first-string, second-string, third-string, you’ve got to know who you are as a human being and what your identity is. It (your identity) can’t be in this game. It’s got to be in something greater, and I’ve always said mine’s in Jesus Christ. I was a third-string quarterback tonight. I was just a third-string — that’s my label. But at the end of the day, that’s not who I am...” In fact, it was the same attitude that he had upon steering Philadelphia to the championship in 2018. Highs or lows, Foles’ identity is first of all in Christ.
I have just begun reading thru Galatians and I was immediately struck by the very opening lines. You see, Paul was writing to these Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians, and his purpose for writing was because while he had preached to them a gospel of complete faith in Christ alone and how He accomplished everything for us, some mixed up Jewish “believers” followed behind him telling these Gentile Christians that “Jesus is good, but not good enough.” They insisted that to truly have your identity as a child of God, you still needed to trust in other things, such as fulfilling a bunch of Jewish Law requirements. And so the Galatians were now confused. Trusting in all this other stuff actually meant that their faith was no longer in Christ at all now, but rather in the things they had to do (on top of what Jesus has done). Do we trust in Jesus, or in observing a religious law? This in turn confused their sense of true identity. Spiritually speaking, they didn’t know if they were Arthur or Martha.
I love how Paul, himself having been a strict Jewish law observer in his early life, sets the tone right from the outset. Having now been captivated by Christ, his identity was no longer in his Jewish nationality, nor his religious pedigree, or his law-abiding accomplishments. He was who he was because of no other reason than Jesus Christ being Lord in his life. His identity was found in Jesus. He was an apostle of Christ, not because man sent him, appointed him, or told him so. He is who he is completely because Christ called him.
We often struggle with our identity. We like to base our identity in so many things; credentials passions, accomplishments, family history, talents, occupation, race, gender, wealth, politics, music tastes... They, in themselves are not bad things necessarily, just the wrong things to hang our whole (and eternal) identity on. Your toys break over time. Your wardrobe fades or no longer fits. Your money comes and goes. Your sporting form fluctuates, or is interrupted by injury. Your looks sag with age. Your marriage breaks down. Your girlfriend breaks up with you. Your political alliance collapses. Your business folds up, or your boss has to “let you go,” or your dreams evaporate. And so what do we do then? We might begin to question who we are. But none of those things really sum up who you truly are. Can I ask that before you are a tailor (or a Taylor for that matter), are you a child of God? Before you are a Super Bowl MVP or a 3rd string QB, are you a child of God? You see, being a child of God never lets us down. What, or who, sums up your identity?
I love the simplicity in Paul’s words. Writing to an audience who weren’t sure of who they were anymore, his identity is found and formed in Jesus Christ; no more and no less. Christ would shape Paul into the person Christ wanted him to be. That meant Paul knew exactly who he was and he knew exactly what he was about. And if at any time for whatever reason things didn’t seem so clear to him, it didn’t really matter; it wasn’t the end of the world. He just kept following Christ, where his true identity was always to be found.
We may want to hold on to the name tags and titles (and let’s be honest, our online profiles tend to portray us as who we want to be, not who we really are most of the time), but in all honesty, I reckon we will find it simpler and more empowering if we were first of all _______, follower of Jesus, child of God.