Christian circles, especially once you move into women’s ministry, sometimes take a lot of flack for talking so much about identity. Identity can be very poorly explained; it can disintegrate into conversations about beauty and being enough. I’m all for throwing that out because that has nothing to do with our identity anyway.
But identity itself is crucial. When Jesus was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4, the first two times the devil started with, “If you are the Son of God.” Are you sure, Jesus? Are you who you think? Are you what the Father says? Is He true and faithful? We stand on our identity; what we perceive to be true about ourselves and what others tell us is true about ourselves shapes what we believe. Identity matters. I think women and men should have regular conversations about where they should find their identity.
We need regular conversations because we are a forgetful people. Everything we know about this new life in Christ goes against our nature. It’s fought by the world. It’s not what we hear in the scattered conversations at our workplaces and schools. We need constant reminders of who God is and who we are. Paul starts chapter 3 of Philippians pointing this out. “In addition, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a safeguard for you.”
I have four small children and I spend much more time than I would like reminding them of things I’ve already said. I write mostly because I know I will need the reminder in a few hours or days or weeks. Truth hasn’t settled into who I am yet. Needing and giving reminders is frustrating but I want to cultivate an attitude of reminding being no trouble. We are going against our nature and we need reminders. Reminders are a safeguard.
This reminder is to rejoice in the Lord. What do we rejoice in? That’s a question that will quickly show us where we are finding our identity. Are we rejoicing in our spouses? Our children? Our job title or performance? Are we ranking ourselves as skinnier, taller, more educated, more knowledgeable than those around us? Do we rejoice in ease and comfort, status and influence?
Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord. Our position as believers is “in Christ.” It’s the prime marker of our identity. (Go read through Ephesians for a closer look.) If things are falling apart, we can rejoice in Christ. If we don’t have a spouse and we’d like one, we can rejoice in Christ. If no one thinks we amount to anything, we can rejoice in Christ. This is where identity starts: who is God and who does He say I am?
Paul then tells them to be on the lookout: “Watch our for the dogs, watch out for the evil worker, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2). These are the troublemaking legalists, the ones who find their righteousness by works, the ones who insists that knowing Jesus means undergoing circumcision. These are the people who find their identity in what they do. Their Christianity is the rules that they follow, the routines that make up their lives, the goodness of their own that they think earns them a hearing before God.
They follow the rules. And they follow the rules to be someone.
Paul also tells them to cast off confidence in the flesh. And it’s not because He couldn’t have confidence in the flesh; He outlines his pedigree. He was respected; he was the best of the best of the best. Verse 5 says, “circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of the Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.” He was the most in every category. You couldn’t surpass him.
We spend a lot of time reviewing our pedigrees. I have an education from this school and recommendations from these people. I look just like a good Christian is supposed to look. I have all this service to commend me and have you seen my bank account.
Paul says it’s a loss. He considers it dung, refuse, junk people would wipe off their feet. I’m afraid that a lot of times we make our list of personal commendations and never count it as loss. We wave it in people’s faces waiting on their respect and applause.
No matter what list you can make, what rules you can follow, what applause you can generate, it’s all nothing. We have to let it fall from our hands because it’s not our aim. Instead, we want to know Christ. That is the aim of our life; it’s our total focus.
The CSB actually says “I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Are we actually willing to consider everything that ranks us in the world a loss? Will we lay it all down? Of course, in this little book, Paul is basing everything he tells the believers at Philippi on the example that Jesus left. And at the same time, he’s pointing out his own example as one they can imitate. We saw in chapter 2 (v6-7) that Jesus gave up everything. He laid aside His position as God to become humanity that He might redeem us. Paul just shared his list that he laid aside. This is part of the life of the believer.
Paul’s aim was to know Christ. Philippians 3:10-11 says, “My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.”
To know Him is to be resurrected to life in Him, united with a God who loves and pursues us. Then, as He joined us in our brokenness, we fellowship with Him in our sufferings; the sufferings conform us to His death. The suffering- of whatever kind- gives us the place to lay aside all to serve, to go where we would rather not, to empty ourselves in order to be full. And our hope is that one day, somehow, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we will be as well.
His resurrection life in us is seen when we are conformed to his death. Suffering is when He draws the nearest, where we learn Him best. But our literal physical resurrection will come. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”
Knowing Christ, both in death and resurrection, is the road to glory.