See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.
1 John 3:1
If you could be called anything, what would it be? I’m not talking about all the things you’ve been called that you’d rather forget. If you could have your wish, what would you want to be called? Rich? Smart? Funny? Athletic? Beautiful? Talented? Successful? Husband? Wife? Mother? Father? We could make a long list of roles, achievements, and attributes that we’d love to have attached to our name. “What would you want to be called?” is a question that strikes at the heart of who we are. What is our primary identity?
In 1 John 3:1, John exclaims about the greatness of the Father’s love for us. How do we know how great that love is? Exhibit A is this reality: “that we should be called children of God.” Christians have a Father who loves them so much that He sent His Son to do everything necessary so that they would be called His children. That good news leaves John head-scratching and word-searching. God has poured out His love on His people in such a way that it completely redefines who they are. As much as we hear about being God’s children, sometimes it’s hard to make this identity stick. Have you ever wondered, “Why?”
Our identity can be slippery during transitions in life. Since being ordained in February, I’ve enjoyed new opportunities to preach and teach, to assist in corporate worship, and to officiate weddings. I love serving in these ways, but the new contexts have also revealed hidden pockets of fear and anxiety. We think our identity is secure in Christ, but then a transition reveals how easy it is to define ourselves by our performance. Do we just want to get comfortable in these contexts so that we’re not anxious, or do we want to be so secure in Christ that our identity doesn’t rise and fall with each “performance?”
Our identity can also be slippery because sin distorts how we see and what we want. What the Lord has to say about us in His Word doesn’t seem as valuable as the identity that we can construct for ourselves. And so our Christian identity often means less to us than some counterfeit identity. If we want our identity as God’s children to stick, part of the challenge is learning to see these replacement identities for what they are: incomplete, unsatisfying, and fragile. If we want to be called something other than “child of God,” that identity may work for us for a time. But sooner or later, the counterfeits fail us. They leave us feeling incomplete, unsatisfied, and fragile.
So we need to expose the counterfeits, but we also need to rehearse the significance of the real thing. What would it look like to embrace being called children of God? John Eagan writes:
The heart of it is this: make the Lord and His immense love for you constitutive of your personal worth. Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. God’s love for you and His choice of you constitute your worth. Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.
What’s not to love about that? On the surface, nothing. I want my identity to flow from the Lord and His immense love for me. I want to define myself radically as one beloved by God. But in order to enjoy that, I have to humble myself. I have to give up the charade of trying on counterfeit identities and making a name for myself. I have to embrace the reality: “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” Do we really realize how difficult that is?
I imagine myself with my hands full of little pieces of paper. On each piece of paper is a word or phrase that represents an aspect of my identity. If the Lord asked me, “What’s all that? What are all those pieces of paper?” I would say, “This is who I am. This is what people call me.” How do you think Jesus would respond? What if He asked me to drop all of the paper—to let it all go—so that he could write “Child of God” on my hands? Are my hands too full to receive the redefining love of Christ? Are yours?
By His lavish grace, the Father makes orphans His sons and daughters. Is that your story? Being a father is teaching me a lot about being a child of God. As a proud father, I could easily brag about all the things that my son can do, but I love how none of that seems to matters to him right now. He’s too busy enjoying being my son to get wrapped up in the silly identity games that we “grown ups” play. He calls me “Daddy,” and whenever I’m home, he just wants to be together. So whether we dig, mow, chase, draw, wrestle, or read, as long as we’re together, he’s happy. He is the child of a loving father, and that is more than enough for him. As you reflect on the love of the Father in calling us His children, is that enough for you?