Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Core Identity of a Jesus-Follower

Lake Michigan

I don't use the word "Christian" much anymore, especially in secular contexts. It is so misunderstood. In our culture it connotes nominalism and hypocrisy, layered over with judgmentalism and hatred. That is what a lot of people think about Christianity and "Christians." I like Jesus-follower" instead. I am a follower of Jesus. Imperfectly, I might add.

Anyone who does not follow after Jesus is not a "Christian." "Making a decision" means nothing if the result is not following. What we follow is the way of Jesus. This is the way of love. Love is the heart of the real thing.

Love is the rule of authentic Jesus-followers. Real Jesus-love has three aspects:

  1. The knowledge and experience of being-loved by God.
  2. Loving God in heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  3. Loving others with the love of God.
#1, writes Henri Nouwen, is the core moment and experience in the life of every Jesus-follower. As it was in the life of Jesus. At Jesus' baptism the Father told the world that, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17) Nouwen says:

"I think his whole life is continually claiming that identity in the midst of everything. There are times in which he is praised, times when he is despised or rejected, but he keeps saying, "Others will leave me alone, but my Father will not leave me alone. I am the beloved Sonof God. I am the hope found in that identity."

Prayer, says Nouwen, is listening to the voice of the One who calles you "my beloved." "I love you," says God, often. Prayer includes constantly going back to that truth of who we are (I am God's beloved son/daughter) and claiming this for ourselves. So Nouwen writes:

"I'm not what I do. I'm not what people say about me. I'm not what I have.... [In the end] my spiritual identity is not rooted in the world, the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in my spiritual identity. Whatever we do, we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity." (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 67)