There is a great danger in fiercely clinging to any sense of identity that creates barriers between you and anyone who is different in some way, whether its your nationality or ethnicity or sexuality or religious beliefs or even which football team you support. The Pharisees were known as “the separated ones” and they were the people who called for Jesus to be crucified for not keeping the laws and traditions their particular sect required. They hated Jesus because, instead of supporting their traditions and political desires, Jesus’ teaching and actions revealed his vision for a kingdom without borders, a holy nation made up of people from every tribe and language.
For Christians, our identity is found as citizens of God’s kingdom first and foremost, and our primary allegiance is to Jesus, not our country or our denomination or any particular group of people who we share things in common with. We are more than your citizenship, more than the tribes or groups we have something in common with. We don’t always have to agree in order to get along because there is more that unites us than divides us.
However, Christians have always struggled to embrace their true identity together. The apostle Paul, one of Jesus earliest disciples, wrote a letter to address this problem, showing how Jesus came to unify the Jews and Gentiles (anyone who isn’t Jewish), breaking down barriers of hostility so that Christians understood that they all shared a common humanity.
Paul reminds his readers that before the coming of Jesus, they had divided themselves into two separate groups. The Jews were circumcised, the Gentiles weren’t. The Jews were awaiting their Messiah, the Christ or anointed one sent by God to bring renewal, whilst the Gentiles were considered as separate from Christ. The Jews were citizens of Israel while everyone else was excluded from citizenship. The Jews were considered as authentically Jewish whilst everyone else was labelled as a foreigner. The Jews had the hope that God had given to Israel and they considered Gentiles to be without hope. The Jews worshipped the God of Abraham and considered the Gentiles to be godless. The only way for these two groups to have become one according to the Jewish practices of the day would have been for the Gentiles to have become fully-fledged, circumcised proselytes (converts to Judaism).
However, when Jesus came, Paul reminds his readers that Jesus made the two groups into one new humanity whose identity was no longer found in their national identity or citizenship but rather in being followers of Jesus Christ. Those in Christ became known not as Jews or Gentiles but as Christians. Christians didn’t need to be circumcised because they were no longer identified by their physical appearance but by the change that had taken place in their hearts through faith in Jesus. They were citizens of God’s kingdom, people whose hope was not in Israel but in Jesus, the hope of the world. Their God was no longer just revealed as the God of Abraham but as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul says that Jesus’ purpose in all of this was to create in himself one new humanity out of two very different groups of people, making peace between them and reconciling both of them to God through the cross, where he put to death their hostility.
So becoming a Christian should unite people across every human barrier. There is no room among God’s people for racism, tribalism, nationalism, unhealthy denominationalism or divisiveness of any kind. The United Kingdom does not feel very united at the moment and the church has a calling to be a unifying voice, preaching peace to those far and near and bringing people closer together across every divide, just like Jesus did.
Questions for personal reflection or small group discussion
What can each of us do to foster unity and resist divisive behaviour at Andover Baptist Church?
How might we be peacemakers and encourage unity on our frontlines (in the places we find ourselves on a daily basis outside of church)?
What could we do to bring people together and foster friendships that transcend racial or ethnic differences?
As we think about the future of our nation, how much responsibility do you think Christians have to shape the political and social culture of the United Kingdom through active involvement in our democratic process for the sake of the Kingdom of God? What might this look like for you personally?
What are you doing to build a kingdom culture at ABC where everyone is welcome because nobody is perfect and with God, anything is possible?
- What NextSteps might God be leading you to take to find your identity as a citizen of God’s kingdom?
EXPLORE: Read “Who is this man” by John Ortberg.
CONNECT: join one of our support groups for our cross cultural missionaries or reach out in friendship to connect with someone different to you.
PARTNER: join us on mission by voting according to God’s leading rather than because of your own preferences (in votes in church and in local and national elections as a voice for God’s kingdom).
LEAD: join the welcome team, attend our Shaping ABC course and play your part in trying to bring about unity in diversity, acceptance rather than suspicion, love rather than rejection, here and beyond these walls.
For more, check out the NextSteps web page here