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First Things First. Who Am I?

In my last post I argued that effective ministry must begin with a clear understanding of why we are doing what we are doing, and that an effective Christian life needs us to be clear about who we are.

Here, in this post, are some important things the Bible wants us to know about ourselves…


Who am I?

1. As an ordinary human being, I am created as an image of God.

This means that my fundamental relationship is with God, and that I am created to resemble God, to communicate his character, to be his presence, to remind people of God, and to serve him. We are not accidental specks of unintended cosmic, without meaning or significance. We are made with a glorious destiny, a high calling, great responsibility, and immense dignity: ‘crowned with glory and honour’ in the words of Psalm 8.

We are not accidental specks of unintended cosmic, without meaning or significance. We are made with a glorious destiny, a high calling, great responsibility, and immense dignity. Look in the mirror each morning and say ‘Good morning, image of God!’

I never preach on sin nowadays without spending 5 minutes on the glory of humanity—otherwise people who think they have no cosmic significance just hear me telling them that they are right! (Of course it’s because of our high calling that our sin matters.) Many people—believers and non-believers—have too low a view of themselves. They think too little of what God has made them; they undervalue what God is doing and will do with them. Another mistake is to focus on secondary aspects of our existence: ‘I am fit;’ I am successful;’ ‘I am male;’ ‘I am female;’ ‘I am lesbian;’ ‘I am gay;’ ‘I am Western and white;’ ‘I am healthy;’ ‘I am sensitive;’ ‘I am right;’ ‘I am not popular;’ ‘I am sexually attractive;’ ‘I am a loser;’ ‘I am a failure;’ ‘I am lonely;’ ‘I am unemployed;’ ‘I am sick’ etc.

In the Old Testament, God forbids representations of himself, graven images, because they are always inadequate, and because he created us for that purpose. Look in the mirror each morning and say ‘Good morning, image of God!’

2. As an ordinary human being, I am also made of dust, a created being, and part of this creation

As in Genesis 1 we learn that we are made in God’s image, so in Genesis 2 we learn that we are made of dust. We are fragile, frail, easily blown away. We are limited, and as we are made of dust, so to dust we will one day return (Genesis 3). We should not imagine that we are God: omnipotent, eternal, omniscient! Nor should we attempt to be omnipresent! As created beings we need food, water, sleep, company, love, and community. When we are tired, there is not cure but sleep. When we are thirsty, there is no cure but water.

When we are at risk of expecting too much of ourselves, or when others expect too much us we should remember the wonderful words about God in Psalm 103:14. ‘For he knows of what we are made, he remembers that we are but dust.’

When we are at risk of expecting too much of ourselves, or when others expect too much us we should remember the wonderful words about God in Psalm 103:14. ‘For he knows of what we are made, he remembers that we are but dust.’

Yet one day our dusty bodies will be raised and transformed when Christ returns. ‘He will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ (Phil 3:21).

3. As an ordinary human being, I am sinful and I am a sinner

As surely as the Bible tells us we are made in God’s image, it tells us that we are sinful and that we are sinners. It is not just that we do wrong, not just that we fail to do what is right, it is that we are sinful, that sin has invaded and corrupted us at every level, and that even our best thoughts and deeds are corrupted by sin. Sin deceives us, and blinds us to its presence. We all have habitual personal sins, and we all have habitual sins of relationship, and we all have habitual sins of ministry.

And we are all caught up in the cultural sins, the shared sins of our families, our friendship groups, our churches, our sub-culture, our society, our nation, and our world. We do not recognise these sins, because all the people we alike, admire, identify with commit the same sins, and we value those relationships so much that we dare not face those shared sins. Sin clings so closely, sin deceives, sin strangles us, and sin blinds us to its presence. We should be dying to sin every day and living to righteousness. ‘Kill sin, or it will kill you’.

4. As a believer in Christ, I am forgiven, justified, cleansed, accepted, embraced, being gradually transformed, and will be finally be glorified

I have recently been struck by these progressions in Romans:

‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ … ‘we rejoice in our hope of the glory of God’ … ‘those whom he justified he also glorified’ (3:23, 5:2, 8:30).

‘their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive…their feet are swift to shed blood’ … ‘let not sin reign in your mortal bodies’ … ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’  (3:13-15, 6:12, 12:1).

I recently wrote a chapter for a book on Whitefield and Wesley. I made the following contrast. If you ask Whitefield who he is, the answer would be ‘a sinner’. If you asked Wesley the same question, the answer would be ‘a saint’. Both answers are true, but we must not give one without the other. And actually the New Testament most characteristically calls us ‘saints’! We must not identify too much with being a sinner, and neglect the fact that God has made us saints, and also calls us to be saints (1 Cor 1:2).

5. As a created individual, fearfully and wonderfully formed by God in my mother’s womb, my personal characteristics are also important

Here are some useful questions as you think through your individual characteristics, and especially as they affect your work of ministry.

As a Creature:

  • What kind of person am I as a created being, and a uniquely created being? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What strengths do I have, and what temptations or dangers cling closely to those strengths?
  • What are the weaknesses of my own personal dustiness? What are the signs that I am under too much pressure?
  • What kind of work have I done in the past, and how does that effect the way I work now? Could I work well as a self-motivated person working alone? Do I need to be in a team? Do I need to be supervised? How do I relate to fellow-workers? Do I need to be the leader? Am I a leader or a follower?
  • Can I set my own deadlines and meet them? How resilient am I? Do I have lots of energy? How self-motivated am I? Do I need lots of affirmation? How do I cope with opposition?
  • In what work context do I feel most comfortable? Do I need structures or freedom? How do I manage life-work balance, and how should that influence what work I do? What support do I need to function well in life and ministry?
  • To whom am I likely to look for approval, when I forget to live and work for God’s approval? Heroes, mentors, friends, people I admire, family, powerful people, sympathetic people?
  • Can I achieve long-term goals? Am I likely to jump from one idea to another and one plan to another with alarming rapidity? Am I likely to stick with a plan even when it is not working?
  • Am I able to work in a culture or sub-culture which is not my own? Can I work cross-culturally without losing my temper or engaging in cultural arrogance?
  • Am I easily swayed, difficult to work with, opinionated, stubborn, or pliable? Am I gregarious, or a loner? What kind of people do I need around me to work most effectively? Am I able to work alone and make my own decisions? How do I cope with others making decisions about what work I do and how I do it?
  • What costs are there in this ministry for myself [and for my family]? Am I, are we, willing to bear that pain? How will I find adequate support to do this ministry? Am I happy with the method of financial support involved in this ministry… raising my own support, being supported by the people to whom I minister, being employed by others, etc?
  • Do I have enough emotional and spiritual human support to do this ministry? To whom can I make myself accountable? Who will pray for me, and how can I help them do this?
  • What kind of self-care and self-disciplines do I need, in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, time off, relaxation, stimulation?

(These questions are worth taking into account. However it may be that God wants to take you outside your natural environment and comfort zone for his good purposes, for your good, and for the good of others!)

As a Sinner:

  • What are my habitual temptations and sins in my personal life?
  • What are my habitual temptations and sins in my ministry?
  • How should this influence where I work?
  • Are there some situations I should avoid?
  • What rigorous self-discipline to I need to continue as a believer and continue in ministry?
  • What potential personal sins or ministry sins could end my ministry?
  • Can I manage to combine truth and love?
  • Do I love my neighbour?
  • Do I love God?

As a Gifted Christian:

  • What gifts of ministry do I have, and would they be well used in this ministry?
  • What gifts would I need from God to do this ministry?
  • Are there other people involved in this ministry who have the gifts I do not have?
  • If not, I am willing to get on with the ministry while God raises up those people?
  • How can I use my gifts to contribute, not compete?
  • How can I encourage and train others to use their gifts for the common good?

(These are the issues we need to think about when inviting others to do ministry as well.)


Photo: Tiago Bandeira, unsplash.com

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