“Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee?” (John 21:20)
The Apostle John introduces himself in a curious way quite a few times in his gospel, as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. This might sound, at first blush, as almost a prideful statement by John, declaring himself as the object of Jesus’ love. However, John was not declaring any preeminence over anyone else, that he was the sole or primary source of God’s love. Instead, he simply viewed his primary identity as being loved by Jesus Christ. In like manner, we need to place our primary identity as being loved by Christ.
Five times the Apostle John in the penning of his gospel account refers to himself in the third person as some variation of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20). It might seem somewhat peculiar for John to refer to himself in this way instead of just normally addressing himself either in the first person or by his own name. I don’t believe John was saying he was the favorite apostle or that Jesus loved him any more than the rest of the apostles. If that was the case, with all the pride and testosterone in that group, there would have been quite a quarrel about that since they were already perpetually arguing over who would be Jesus’ chief lieutenant in his upcoming kingdom. Instead, I believe John correctly saw his identity primarily as being a child of God loved by Jesus Christ, and our primary identity should be defined by the love of God commended towards us as well.
I worked for a public accounting firm for five years. Oftentimes, when people asked my co-workers, especially the partners in the firm, what they did, they would proudly answer, “I am a CPA.” They placed their primary identity in their profession, and many others place their identity in their job and career as well. While according to the Mississippi Board of Public Accountancy, I am a Certified Public Accountant as well, I certainly do not place my primary identity on a certificate on my wall, a title at work, or three letters after my name. I’m extremely grateful to have been blessed to attain that license that, Lord-willing, will bless me with gainful employment for the rest of my career, but that’s not by any means who I am.
When you go to ball games, especially the traveling baseball circuit, there’s a lot of parents with shirts or jerseys that declare themselves as “Johnny’s Mom” or “Jimmy’s Dad”. There’s certainly nothing wrong with making a shirt to support your child, but there are also many people who do place their primary identity as being the parent of their child, the husband/wife of their spouse, etc. If that happens, when the child moves off or your spouse passes away, you have lost your identity, and many people are severely lost and bewildered after those events occur. There are a multitude of other things as well that we might consider to be what defines our identity that will end up vain and empty when or if those things fade away.
Instead, our identity needs to be placed in two primary things, just like John: 1) we are a disciple of Christ, 2) we are loved by the Lord. Placing your identity in anything other than those things will ultimately result in disappointment. Our lives should be characterized and identified by our “discipleship” in following Christ. The central theme of our lives is how we can serve and bless others in honor to Christ. There is no expiration date on that calling; we are commanded to serve and follow Christ as long as we live. That is an identity that will never fade away as we serve Christ until we die or the Lord comes back. I have a unique calling to the ministry and to preach that not everyone has, but at the end of the day, I’m simply a disciple of Christ who is trying to fully utilize the spiritual gifts I have been given. It just so happens that some of my spiritual gifts and calling for my discipleship is manifested in a more public way that some spiritual gifts might be. But at the end of the day, in whatever I do, I am simply a disciple of Christ.
Also, we need to place our primary identity in our status as being an object of the immense and immaculate love of God. If we place our identity in the love that another person extends towards us, circumstances could cause that love to fade away or for that person to be removed from our lives. However, God’s love will never fail or lose its power towards us. The love of God is the one thing that will carry on throughout all eternity, even after faith and hope have faded away (1 Cor. 13:13). God’s love is everlasting; it will never end (Jer. 31:3). It’s also a sad reality that some might fall away from faithful discipleship, but they can never fall out of the love of God. We need to pursue faithful discipleship, but even if that fails, we can still place our identity in the unending love of God towards us unworthy sinners.
It’s a common question that we are all prone to ask ourselves from time to time, “Who am I?” What are the identifying characteristics of who I really am? For the child of God, those answers should be clear and succinct. Our identity is defined that we are disciples of Christ and we are loved with an everlasting love by the Lord. The reminder of just how fervently God loves us (so much so that he sent his only begotten Son to die for our sins), that love alone should be enough to compel us to fervent and faithful discipleship here in this world.