A cure for condemnation

When I first started developing CFS/ME, neither me or my family worked it out for a while. I kept falling asleep when working, forgetting things, and getting behind in all my work. My academic studies were sliding, my room was becoming a mess, and I frequently forgot things I was supposed to do. For some months, we all believed I was just lazy. I lived under this constant weight of believing I was selfish, lazy, and needed to pull myself together more. Others believed this too, and told me so. I did not feel I could talk to others or ask for prayer, as it was myself that was the problem. As things started getting rapidly worse, we recognised that I wasn’t well, and started seeking a diagnosis. There was an immediate probable diagnosis, but it took about a year to be properly diagnosed.

In realising that I was unwell, I had a legitimate reason for my behaviour, and knew that my fatigue and forgetfulness had not been laziness… I was not the horrible, ungodly, selfish person I had come to believe I was. But I still felt under a crushing weight of condemnation.

Knowing that my circumstances weren’t just a result of my own laziness, I felt able to ask for prayer. The church had just had training in prayer ministry, and were eager to put into practice what they’d learnt. One of the comments that came up during the training was that sometimes, when God is healing, someone can feel heat in a specific place. One of the two ladies praying for me had her hand resting on my back between my shoulders. As they were praying, her hand got unusually hot, and the place on my back it was resting on. She asked me if that meant anything to me. Slightly puzzled, I dismissed it saying, “no, the problem wasn’t in my back”.

After praying, I left church with my family and continued with the day, but that heat between my shoulders remained. Eventually I went to my room, and just asked God “Is there something you are saying here?” As I looked up from praying, I saw these verses (among many others) stuck on my wall:

That was what the heat was about! God wanted me to know that He was dwelling between my shoulders.

Suddenly the condemnation lifted. Despite all I couldn’t do, despite others’ opinions of me, despite my own weakness and sinfulness, God called me His Beloved. He was with me! Dwelling in me! Surrounding me! The peace of his presence, and amazing grace of his approval rested on me and calmed my soul.

God knows the healing that we need. This was only the beginning of a long road of severe chronic illness, but the healing of my heart was his priority. I needed to know that His love for me was no less for all my limitations and failings. I am his Beloved when I sin and repent. I am his Beloved when I am needy and require help from others rather than give it. I am his Beloved when I can’t string together a prayer that makes sense. I am his Beloved when I fall asleep trying to read his word. I am His Beloved when I don’t keep up with all the things I should do. I am his Beloved when my room is a mess and I’m failing at my work. None of these things can lessen his love for me, or take away my identity as His.

Neither will he give up on you. Your failings cannot take away the place you hold in his heart or the value he places on you. Your sin cannot remove you so far from God’s presence that he cannot find you and redeem you. If you are His, then nothing else defines who you are… not your memories, your experiences, your scars, your boasts, your pain or shame, failings or fears, not others’ words or opinions, not the lies of the enemy, or the worth the world places on you. You are His – the Beloved of the LORD. And you dwell in safety; for the High God surrounds you all day long and dwells between your shoulders. He is with you… always.

Your Sister In Christ,

Hephzibah

(Illustration by Valerie Martin)

Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

A cure for condemnation

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“For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” – Philippians 3:8-9

Our identity in Christ is such a wonderful and glorious thing. It is wonderful just to be made in His Image, but this goes further than that. When we are His, we receive the identity Jesus won for us.

What does this mean? The way I picture it is this: when Jesus was hanging on the cross, a divine exchange was made. In that moment every sin, shame or wrongdoing, was nailed on Him, and He received the punishment for them. All our names of “Failure”, “Unwanted”, “Unlovely”, “No belonging”, “Sinful”, “Unworthy”, “Useless”, “Ashamed”, “Worthless”… He took on himself, and as He died, these died with Him. Forever.

And then He rose – our glorious, beautiful, powerful, holy, and righteous King! And with Him, we rose. The new you.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

Jesus is Holy. In Him we are holy.

Jesus is righteous. In Him we are righteous.

Jesus is the Approved of God. In Him we are the Approved of God.

Jesus is God’s chosen one. In Him we are God’s chosen ones.

Jesus is the cornerstone. We are built on Him – living stones creating a temple, a dwelling place for God, a spiritual house.

Jesus is the head. We are His body, called to see, hear, serve, and speak, as he directs. And as He was broken and given out for many, we too are called to be broken and given, and through our wounds to minister the healing of His.

Jesus is the Beloved. In Him we too are God’s Beloved.

Jesus came as a servant. In Him our calling is as servants.

Jesus is the sacrifice that bought our salvation. In Him we are called to be living sacrifices, withholding nothing from God, and fully devoted to Him.

Jesus is the perfect high priest. In Him we are His holy priesthood.

You want to know who you are? You want to find your identity and calling? Look to Jesus.

Smash the mirror. Gaze at God.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” – 1 Corinthians 3:18

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:4-5

You Are. This is not an identity you work your way to. It is not for another point in your life when you are less sinful, more useful, have brought dozens of people to know Christ, cleaned up the mess in your life, sorted those habitual sins, have learned to control your temper, be more organised, and watch your tongue. It is not for the spiritual Christians, or the mature ones. This is for all those who are In Him.

Those names we mentioned at the beginning, and any others you have earned yourself, leave them in the grave where they belong. That is not who you are. That is not who He is creating you to be.

Look to Him and receive the names He speaks over you…

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:9-10

Hephzibah

Illustration by Valerie Martin

Bible, Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

In Christ

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Christian, Digging Deeper, identity

The disciple Jesus Loved

Identity – part 2

“That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!'” – John 21:7

I have always found that title confusing. It seems a bit arrogant, and too much like a claim to fame. I remember asking when I was a child about why the disciple John called himself this in his gospel, and I remember always being unsatisfied with the answer. I was told that John was the closest disciple to Jesus, and this was why he called himself “the disciple Jesus loved”. But this always seemed to go against the Christ-centred, kingdom-minded humility that is so valued in scripture.

On one of my many sleepless nights, at a stage when I was really struggling with losing my identity with the illness, these words “the disciple Jesus loved” kept going round in my head. As I meditated on this, I realised how little else John said about himself. The only things he seems to say are about his relationship with Jesus, and Jesus’ love for Him.

We do know that John was the disciple closest to Jesus. I am not taking away from that in any way. I’m just not convinced that that was why he called himself the disciple Jesus loved. Considering how little else John said about himself, it seems that in calling himself “the disciple Jesus loved” that he had said everything we need to know about him. But couldn’t the same be said of any follower of Christ?

Yes! If we are His, if we believe in Him and confess He is Lord, if we are following Him, abiding in Him, and obeying Him, then we are surely His disciples. And if we are His we already know that Jesus loves us!

What if this title is not a “claim to fame” but actually a humble declaration that He is no more or less than loved by God and a follower of Him. Nothing more needs to be said. He doesn’t need to tell us about the faith he had, any great acts he did, his piety, experience or role in building the church. It is enough to know that He is the disciple Jesus loved.

Is this enough for us? When you think of your worth, your identity, your qualifications to be used by God, is it enough for you to say simply “I am the disciple Jesus loves”? Before other believers, or the world, are we able to stand on these credentials, and not grasp for our own self-made boasts.

John recognised that there is no higher status than to be the disciple Jesus loved.

In my illness, uselessness, and struggle with what felt like everything I was being stripped away, God showed me that I, too, am the Disciple Jesus Loves. That this is all I need to be. This is all others need to know of me. This is at once, my status, my identity, my calling, my credentials, and my qualifications. I cannot become – through work, experience, service, accomplishments, or good deeds -any more than this… for there is no higher accolade! And as long as He holds me, leads me and loves me (which is forever as He is eternal) I cannot become any less. Nothing can strip me of this other than a decision not to follow Him.

So let us live out this identity which cannot be snatched or dimmed. What a glorious inheritance we have in Jesus!

Hephzibah

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Christian, identity

Who are you?

Who are you? You might answer this question by describing your job, family, abilities, or hobbies – I’m a piano teacher with 5 home-Ed siblings, I love music, dance, baking, bonfires and fairy lights, and I’m good at everything except passing driving tests… well perhaps not everything, and I have now passed my test… but you get the idea. We define ourselves by the things we do or like, the people in our lives, or a position we hold.

One of the things illness often robs from you is a sense of identity and worth. It takes away all those things we pin our identity on – our abilities, our character traits, our usefulness. Who am I when everything I am is stripped away?

As I became very unwell, losing all my abilities, and even basic things like the ability to communicate, think clearly, or feel normally, I felt I had lost myself. But God used this, this stripping away of all I was to show me more of who He is, who I am in Him, and what defines my worth and identity.

There is too much to discuss here to fit into one post of readable length, but I will start with looking at what it means to be made in God’s image.

Part 1 – Made in God’s image

What does it mean to be made in God’s image? How is this even relevant to identity or worth?

To be made in God’s image, is to possess, in your very being, a reflection and imprint of the eternal nature, character, and glory of God.

Take this in for a moment. Soak in it. Just in being, you are a reflecting the beauty of a Holy God… for no other reason than because He made you that way. If this is not relevant to identity or worth then what is?!

Different to animals, God has given us an eternal soul. Our bodies will die, but our soul is for eternity. This, in itself, is an imprint of God’s nature. But what defines whether we are made in His image?

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:27,31

It is in our creation that our worth is defined. When he created Adam and Eve, before they had done anything good or bad, he called them “very good”. They were made in his image, because that is how he created them. This means that there is nothing that can exempt someone from this.

“Spoiled” pots

“So I went down to the potters house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potters hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do…

‘Can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD.'”

– Jeremiah 18:3-4,6

There are passages in the Bible that describe God as being like a potter, creating each of us for unique purposes which He has chosen, some for wrath, some for mercy, some for honour, some for humble tasks, yet all are made by His hand, live by His breath, come into being by His word and at His command. Whether you believe in God or not, you are a reflection of his image, and bear the fingerprints of your creator. The God of the Bible is a hands-on God. Every person He has made carries the imprint of His fingerprints.

But what about people with disabilities – mental or physical, those who cannot understand, think, or interact with others normally? What about those living with broken bodies and physical abnormalities, or people who need care and are not as ‘useful’ as others? Is God’s image less in them?

Can a potter create something without touching the clay? No more can God give life to a person without leaving the imprint of His image on them. Yes, it is a broken image. But every one of us is a broken image! We all reflect the image of God, and in all of us it is broken and marred. I don’t believe it is any more so in those who are unwell or disabled.

Sometimes with disabilities we can feel spoiled, unfit for purpose. But God works us into other vessels, fit for different purposes, no less reflecting Him or valued by Him. Rather than wishing we were made differently, or had the same purpose as others, maybe we should ask more how to embrace the way He has made us, and discover the uniquely special purposes that He has for us.

Sin – smashed or remoulded

I believe a much bigger threat to God’s image in us is sin. Can an evil and wicked person destroy the image of God in them? Again in that passage in Jeremiah it describes God’s response to sin in our lives.

“If at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or kingdom that I will build or plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do it.” Jeremiah 18:7-10

Sin always mars and destroys, but when there is repentance, God remoulds us to be more like Him. There is hope! It gives the picture that we are vessels continuously on God’s wheel, and that He is constantly forming us. If we submit to His work, He will continue to work on us, increasing in beauty, preparing us for eternity. But in the next chapter he uses the analogy of a smashed flask to show what will happen when we refuse to repent.

“So will I break this people and this city as one breaks a potters vessel, so that it can never be mended.” Jeremiah 19:11

When people are in rebellion against God, His image is increasingly diminished in them until the final day when it is shattered. At this point there is no going back.

Honouring the image of God

A final important impact of being made in God’s image is the way we look at, and love others. When I am struggling with someone, I find it helpful to take time to see aspects of God’s image reflected in them and give thanks for these, and then reach out to them with the love I have for Jesus because they are, in some way, reflecting Him. When we are called to love and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are being called to love image-bearers of Christ. When we are called to love and welcome those who do not know God, we are being called to love image-bearers of God. When we are called to love and pray for our enemies and those who abuse us, we are still being called to love image-bearers of God. When we are called to forgive, we are being called to forgive image-bearers of God. This makes every act of service, every act of love or kindness to another, an act of worship to God. For in all these things we are loving Him, seeing Him, and showing honour to Him.

Called to reflect

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

And so, as we are made in God’s image, we are called to reflect Him. There are three important aspects to this:

1. “Beholding the glory of the LORD.” We may not see God fully, but we can seek Him, come to know Him through His Word and Spirit, and behold – gaze at – the glory of the Lord that is revealed to us. In the same way a mirror can reflect brilliant light when it is shone on it, so as we turn our faces to gaze at God, we reflect the brightness of his glory more and more.

2. “This comes from the Lord who is Spirit”. Ultimately this is a work of God’s Spirit in you. You cannot increasingly reflect the image and glory of God apart from His power at work in you. When you are genuinely seeking Him and His ways, you can be sure that He is transforming you more and more to His image, even at those times when we cannot see it.

3. Obedience. When we choose sin, we are choosing to fall away from God, and so reflect Him less. When we choose obedience to God, we are turning towards Him, and so reflect Him more. God’s image is either buried under sin, or washed clean by Jesus’ blood to reflect Him more. But the fingerprints of our Creator remain indelibly on us.

Not until glory does this change, when, in those who have chosen Him, the brokenness is healed, the mess is washed away, and His image is perfected in us into unmarred beauty. But for those who do not know Him, what remains of God’s image is removed, and they become what they have longed to be, and yet not realised the horror of it – free from the imprint of their Creator. All goodness removed.

So seek Him while you still can. Grow in the image and glory of your Creator. Hope in that day when you will be transformed to be like Him.

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who this hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

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