Who are you? Seems like a simple question. You may answer with what you do: I’m a…Marine, lieutenant or infantryman (or fill in your service, rank or specialty). Or you may answer with your citizenship, denomination, ethnicity, educational background, socioeconomic status or political party.
Why does it matter how we answer this question? Because our answer provides important insight into how we view ourselves at our core and what we believe to be our true identity. While the above categories may describe us to some degree, they do not define us.
In 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul says, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (emphasis added). In addition to being servants, Galatians 3:26-28 says, “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added). Our identity must always be rooted in Christ alone!
While serving on active duty, it was clear to me that I was not a fighter pilot who happened to be a Christian but rather a Christian the Lord placed in the fighter pilot community for His purposes, His glory, and His timing, not my own.
Candidly, I had more of a struggle after retiring last year in remembering my identity was not in the uniform I had worn for three decades. The day after I retired, the Air Force moved on. It is one of the strengths of our military, and it will do the same to you the day after you hang up your uniform. I, on the other hand, had a more difficult time moving on.
Was I somehow less than my fellow service members who were promoted and continued to serve in uniform? Theologically, I knew the answer was no, but internally I struggled with comparison. Like Peter, I asked, “Lord, what about this man?” and heard Jesus reply, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:21).
Like pilots battling the sensation of spatial disorientation and fighting to reorient their feelings to their instruments, I had to take my feelings and thoughts captive to the Word of God. It was neither easy nor a single action, but God graciously continued to remind me that my identity had not changed. Man’s appraisal of me was immaterial, even my appraisal of myself. I was, and am, still a servant of Christ and son of the King of Kings. Nothing more and nothing less.
The earlier passage from Galatians speaks not only to our identity in Christ, but also to our unity in Christ. Paul declared that the walls the world uses to separate “us” from “them” crumble in Christ. One look at the media shows us the world is still seeking to divide us today.
So here is another question: If you are honest, when you think of us and them, who do you see as “them”? Think of two or three groups, even name them. It could be based upon someone speaking, thinking or dressing differently than you, what they wear on their shoulder or sleeve, who they vote for, what kind of music they listen to or what they look like. Are they from another service, another battalion, another church, another nation, another part of town?
If we neglect history, we may think intense divisions are a modern phenomenon, but the Scriptures clearly prove otherwise. They also teach us these divisions are not ultimately about flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), and they reveal the only solution to breaking down these divisions: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-16).
What unites us is far greater than what divides us: We are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), we have all sinned (Romans 3:23), and yet Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:15). We are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28) and Christ calls us all to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20) and to be His witnesses to all peoples near and far (Acts 1:8).
We are one in Christ and Christ is above all (Ephesians 1:22). God is so much bigger than you and I. God has reconciled us to Himself and to one another through His death on the cross, and He entrusts us with His message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). We should remember the words of Colonel Dick Toliver, USAF (Ret.), a second-generation Tuskegee Airman protégé and F-4 pilot in Vietnam: “Until we get in a right relationship with the Lord, we will never be able to be in a right relationship with one another.”
Revelation 7 powerfully proclaims one day we will gather with a great multitude from all tribes, peoples, and tongues and together bow down before the Lord.
Therefore, my final question to you is this: In addition to praying His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, are you willing by His grace to engage in His mission of reconciliation and demonstrate His unconditional love not just to us, but to “them”? Start where you are and start today.