One of the benefits of being an itinerant preacher is that you get to visit many church communities and meet many church leaders; and learn from them. Last weekend we were ministering at the Chapel of the Resurrection and I heard the vicar, Revd David Lee, ask the church who they are. And the answers were child, friend, and neighbour. These are the three identities that define the church and he wanted to be sure they remembered who they are.
1. Child of God
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:14–16 NIV)
In their relationship with God, they are to remember that God is their Father and they are all His children. Child of God — this is the primary identity of followers of Jesus. The implications of this relationship is seen in the Lord’s model prayer (Matthew 6:9–13 ). We are to trust the Lord for our deepest needs and glorify Abba with our lives. In a chaotic and fast-changing world, we find security and purpose in knowing that God is our Father. Therefore we need to be constantly reminded so that we can constantly re-embrace our identity as children of the living God.
2. Friends in Christ
I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name. (3 John 13–14 NIV)
Because God is our Father, followers of Jesus Christ—and that includes members of a church—are brothers and sisters. We are called to love each other as friends. The word for friend refers to people who love each other with friendship love. But in John 15, Jesus, who calls us friends, wants us to love each other as He loved us and that means loving each other with agape love, not just friendship love. The end of 3 John reminds us that Christian friendship is personal (by name) and face to face. Most churches will need some small-group ministry to help make this happen.
3. Good neighbours
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
(Luke 10:36–37 NIV)
In Luke 10:25–37 Jesus affirms the expert in the law when he said that the path to eternal life is to love God and neighbour. But the account also makes it clear that love of neighbour must extend beyond loving only those in your community (friends in Christ). It includes sacrificial loving of those in need outside the community, including those difficult to love. (The Samaritan would have grown up being looked down upon by Jews.) Revd Lee repeatedly asked his church how they could be good neighbours to the communities surrounding their church building — how they could meet genuine human need, including sharing the gospel?
So, these then were the questions that were constantly before the church:
Are you faithful children of God?
Are you loving friends of each other?
Are you good neighbours?
I really liked this focus on primary identities. I teach a similar concept, that we are called to:
Communion — Relationship with God
Community — Relationship with each other
Co-labour — Relationship with God’s mission
But I now feel that these three characteristics sound more impersonal when compared to Child, Friend, and Neighbour.
In the world we have to negotiate many identities but here are three primary ones to guide our lives as His people.