It’s one thing to say that my identity is in the Lord. It’s another to actually walk in that. It’s yet another thing to begin fully grasping at what that exactly means. Jesus has been clear in these past few weeks that there are two pieces to who I am in Him. What’s more, I so easily confuse the two; it’s humbling and convicting to realize how much of what I perceive as my identity is actually deeply rooted and a little backwards
On one hand, I am (or strive to be) the good and faithful servant. It’s the Matthew 25 or Luke 19 principle, the master’s praise to the hard-working, mindful, selfless servant. There are countless verses and stories that detail our call to obedience: to love the hurting, feed the hungry, share the Gospel, shelter the homeless, fight against injustice. To do for the least of these and imitate Christ. After all Luke 12:48 makes it clear that if we’ve been given much, much will be expected. We are called to obedience, to follow the Lord into hard things, to love our neighbors and lay down our lives. My prayer becomes “Lord, let me be faithful in all that you’ve given me” – whether big or small (which, in and of itself is really just my hierarchical perception of what “big” and “small” even mean). I want to be found faithful in my commitment to the Lord and to loving His people, regardless of the cost. And that’s a good, biblical, God-glorifying thing.
However, when I start or end with my identity as a good and faithful servant, while partially true, I err in terms of living into who God actually and fully says that I am.
Because first and last, I am the beloved. I am only able to love because He first loved me, irrespective of anything I’ve done or deserved. I’m called beautiful and whole by the one who’s very body was broken for my redemption. It’s the childhood truth of Jesus’ love for us that comes not by anything we preempted or for anything other than the fact that He simply loves us. Except it’s not simple, because this love is deeper and stronger than we will ever comprehend; no human love even comes close to measuring the love through which God sees us. The only reason I can even think about leaning into my identity as a faithful servant is because I’m doing it out of a place of being unequivocally loved by Faithfulness Himself.
I don’t know that the church has always done a good job at explaining the relationship between justification and sanctification, or our place as both faithful servant (sanctification) and child of God (justification). Believing that I’m simply the beloved seems to negate the command for obedience, for love of neighbor, and for service. It trivializes or minimizes everything I’ve ever done, sacrificed, or stepped into on account of the Lord. And if it doesn’t mean anything, I’m not super compelled to continue walking into costly obedience.
That’s the tension we are asked to navigate everyday – because being good and faithful servant does matter. It matters a whole lot. We please the heart of God when we walk in tandem with His Spirit. We are called to follow Him, to die to self, and care for others. However, the tension comes when we realize that we can never start with that. That can never be the whole foundation of our identity. Because if base who we are in being a good and faithful servant, we inevitably come back to a view of God’s love that makes sense, something that we control. “I know God loves me . . . after all, how could He not when I’m so clearly following Him?” It no longer becomes the whole, pervasive, inexplicable love of the Father but the kind of love we can earn, maintain, and understand. The kind of love that feels comfortable and makes us feel worthy.
I feel like the mental shift should be easy: I am beloved first, faithful servant second. Both necessitate one another. However, I think that this tension will likely take a lifetime to master. Because being beloved, for as beautiful and amazing as it is, carries with it some fearful connotations.
We know that perfect love casts out fear, but the fact of the matter is that my only concept for love is human love. For as much amazing human love as I’ve experienced, it has not been without failures, heartbreaks, and conditions. If I lean fully into the eternal, incomprehensible love of God for me, I inherently strip myself of any control. It becomes this wholehearted trust in the heart of God for me, that it will never fail or diminish. That none of how He sees me is contingent on what I do or don’t do. And even though my theology tells me that nothing can separate me from His love, the questions still seem to arise in my heart from my flawed, fleshly concept of love. Because what if I’m too messy? What if I lean into being beloved and then He gets disappointed in me? What if I’m not good enough for the Lord or He decides He doesn’t want me anymore? What does it mean if my obedience isn’t changing His view of me, isn’t earning me more favor in His sight?
He’s pleased with me as His faithful servant, but He loves me as simply His daughter.
I think that’s a dichotomy worth wresting with, since it has everything to do with who we are, how we approach life, ministry, and the posture with which we go before God. I’ll probably be wrestling with it for the rest of my life.