Gospel Identity

April 19, 2020 ()

Bible Text: Philippians 1:1-2 |

Series:

Gospel Identity | Philippians 1:1-2
Brian Hedges | April 19, 2020

Well, good morning, Redeemer Church! Once again we gather online—I guess we’re not really gathered, are we? We’re scattered. A few of us are here this morning, but most of us are scattered in our homes and watching in our living rooms. And yet, we are united together in the Spirit, and we believe that as we worship Christ and as we look into the word of God that the Holy Spirit will work in our hearts and in our lives.

Some of the greatest and most powerful pieces of Christian literature have been written from prison cells. You might think, for example, of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letters from a Birmingham Jail, or a few decades before that, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. Or, if you back a few centuries, perhaps the most widely-read book in the English language (at least up until recent times) was John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. He wrote it as he was imprisoned there in the Bedford jail.

Of course, we have many documents that come to us in the New Testament that were written by Paul, the prisoner of the Lord. These are what we call the prison epistles. There are several of them, and this morning we’re going to be looking together at one of them; that is, the letter to the Philippians. I would encourage you to turn there in your Bibles if you’re following along in your homes and to open up to Philippians 1.

Philippians is unique among Paul’s epistles. It’s certainly one of the most beloved of all Paul’s epistles. I think believers across the world and throughout the centuries have loved this letter. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it was the most lyrical of all of Paul’s letters, and certainly when you read it it’s just brimming with joy and with affection, with warmth, and with love.

The Philippian church may well have been Paul’s favorite church. It was a church that he himself planted, they partnered with him in the spread of the gospel, they were often sending financial support to him as well as partnering with him in prayer, and he references that partnership many times throughout this letter. He loved this church; he called them his joy and his crown.

When you read through the letter to the Philippians, you’ll recognize many passages of Scripture that are dear to our hearts. In chapter 1 we read that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This is Paul’s own language, as he writes from this prison cell.

In chapter 2 we read of how we are to let this mind be in us, which is ours in Christ Jesus, and then what follows is that great Christ hymn of chapter 2:5-11. It has to be one of the four most important Christological passages in the New Testament; that is, passages that show us something about how Jesus Christ is and what he came to do.

In chapter 3:7 Paul has given us his religious and moral pedigree, and he says, “I count all these things as loss for the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Then in chapter 4:13, having written about his contentment even when he’s in need, even when he’s in prison, in chapter 4:13 he says, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”

It’s a beloved letter. It’s a letter that all of us, probably, know to some degree; we’ve read it. I’ve actually preached this letter one time before, in 2009, and I felt that it was the right time to come back to this letter again, a little more than a decade later.

This is a letter that’s all about the gospel. It’s about the power of the gospel in a community, and how the power of the gospel can transform lives, how it can unite the church, and it’s also about the advance of the gospel in the world and the importance of standing together for the gospel.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, again, said that “this letter, perhaps more explicitly than any other, displays to us the power of the gospel,” but he points out that there’s a different pattern in the letter to the Philippians. Unlike, for example, Romans or Ephesians, Paul does not start with doctrine and give us two or three or four chapters of theology, then followed by several chapters of application. That’s what you have in Romans, that’s what you have in Ephesians; that’s often the pattern that Paul follows. But not so in Philippians. Philippians is all practical, but all of the practical application is kind of interlaced, woven through, with his theology. So it is a very theological letter, but it’s given to us in the most practical form. It is a practical theology. It is a letter that shows us the practical outworking of the power of the gospel in our lives.

Now, I’ll confess to you that when I began studying for this sermon I thought, “I’m going to preach on chapter 1:1-11,” and then I decided, “No, I better shorten that, because I have too much material; I’m going to preach on chapter 1:1-8.” Well, today I shortened it again, and I’m going to preach on chapter 1:1-2, because there’s just so much here.

What I want you to see in just the opening of this letter, these first two verses—they’re not throwaway verses at all; they are, rather, a powerful description for us of gospel identity, of Christian identity. These two verses show us what it means to be a Christian. So I want to read those first two verses and then show you several aspects of what we might call gospel identity or Christian identity. Here’s the opening to the letter.

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now, those two verses are certainly not throwaway verses. It’s the opening of the letter, it’s a greeting of the letter. Paul identifies himself as the author of the letter, sending it, of course, with Timothy right there at his side; and he sends it to this church that he identifies as “the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.”

But in that greeting, compressed into those two verses, you have an entire theology of Christian identity, of gospel identity. The very words in the phrases that Paul uses show us what it means to be a Christian. I want to just highlight three of these markers of Christian identity, or descriptors of Christian identity, that we have in this passage.

1. We Are Saints

First of all, notice that he calls them saints. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are Philippi.”

What does it mean when you find this word “saints” in Scripture? I think it’s important for us to remind ourselves of this sometimes, because there are so many misconceptions. How many of us have said, “Well, I’m not saint”? Maybe you would say you’re a “sinner saved by grace,” but you would not call yourself a saint.

Well, biblically, you actually are a saint, because a saint is not someone who has been canonized by the Roman Catholic church; it’s a misuse of the term to say that that someone can only be declared a saint after they have died and it’s only the elite super-Christians, the really virtuous ones, the best-behaved believers of the bunch, those are the ones that are the saints. That’s not at all the biblical idea.

In Scripture, every believer is a saint. In fact, in virtually all of Paul’s letters he addresses believers as saints, even when he is correcting some pretty ungodly behavior within the church. You have that especially in the church of Corinth and in the letter to the Corinthians. He addresses them as the saints, “those who are called to be saints in Christ Jesus,” and yet he goes on to correct many of their moral and ethical failures. Yet they were still saints.

What does it mean to be a saint? It means, very simply, to be set apart. That’s what the word means, to be set apart. It means to be set apart from something and to something, to be set apart from sin and set apart to righteousness, or to be set apart from enslavement to the world, the flesh, and the devil and to be set apart for God.

We might take as a description of a saint Paul’s words to the Romans in Romans 6:17-18, where he said, “But thanks be to God that you who once were slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin you have become slaves of righteousness.”

That’s what it means to be a saint. It means to be liberated; that is, to be set apart, to be liberated, freed from slavery to sin; and it means to have a new master. It means to be a servant or slave to God and to righteousness.

Over and over again in Scripture we see that sanctification, that which makes us saints, is the work of the Holy Spirit. When Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers, he says that they were “chosen by God for salvation through belief in the truth and sanctification of the Holy Spirit.” It is through the powerful ministry and work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that we become saints, that we are set apart.

This happens definitively when you become a Christian. When someone is born again, when they cross that threshold from darkness into light, from death into life, from sin into righteousness; when they believe, that first moment of genuine faith in Christ; at that moment, they definitively, positionally, become saints. At that moment, they are set apart and devoted to God.

This is illustrated for us, actually, in Acts 16, which gives us the record of the founding of the church in Philippi. It’s a wonderful chapter, where Luke narrates for us how Paul and his band of missionaries (we believe that this included Paul, Timothy, Silas, as well as Luke himself), how they first came to this little city of Philippi. It was an important city, but not particularly large, only about 10,000 people.

They came there to preach the gospel. The reason they came was because Paul had seen a vision that’s recorded for us in Acts 16:9. “A vision appeared to Paul in the night, and a man from Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” So Paul and his band went. They made the journey and they came into Philippi.

There was no synagogue there. It took ten Jewish men to make a synagogue, so there evidently were not enough Jewish people even in that city for there to be a synagogue; but there was a woman who was a worshipper of the God of Israel. Her name was Lydia, and she was at a riverside, and there was a little prayer meeting, and Paul and his band went to this prayer meeting and they began talking to her about Jesus.

Luke tells us in Acts 16 that the Lord “opened her heart to believe the things that Paul had said.” She is the very first convert in Europe, the very first convert to Jesus Christ. And a church begins in her house, the church of Philippi.

Then there’s another story that follows right on the heels of that. There’s a slave girl who is demon-possessed, and she is oppressing Paul and Silas. She’s constantly talking, when they’re out in the streets and out in the market and so on, and over time, it really begins to disturb Paul. So he rebukes the demon and exorcises the demon and she’s freed from that demon possession. Luke doesn’t tell us if she was converted or not, but many commentators think that she probably was, and that perhaps she also became a part of this new, infant church.

What we do know is that when she was set free from the demons, she was no longer able to make money for her masters, those who held her in slavery, so they began persecuting Paul and Silas, perhaps singling them out because they were Jewish, and they are thrown into jail. You remember they are beaten mercilessly, thrown into jail, but they are singing at midnight because they count it a joy to suffer for Christ.

Then there’s an earthquake and the jail doors open and the jailer is afraid that all the prisoners are going to escape. He’s about ready to kill himself, to commit suicide, and Paul stops him and says, “No, we’re all here. No one has left the prison.”

He asked this question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they proclaimed to him Christ. They said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, and your household.” He believes, and his whole house is converted. Right there you have the nucleus of the Philippian church.

What I want you to just get is that every single one of these people that made up this infant church, though they were very different in their backgrounds, though they were coming from very different parts of society—you had Lydia the merchant, a religious, probably intellectual, and wealthy woman; and you have this hardened Philippian jailer; and perhaps, also, this slave who has been liberated by the power of Christ from the oppression of demons. They’re very, very different from one another, and yet they’re all saints, because they’ve all come to faith in Jesus Christ.

This is true of every Christian. To be a Christian is to be a saint; to be set apart, by God, from sin for righteousness. This, of course, ushers us into a progressive, ongoing lifestyle of sanctification, where we continue to grow in holiness, where we continue to become more like Christ. But to be a Christian is to be a saint. That’s part of our identity. If you believe in Jesus this morning, you also are one of the saints.

2. We Are in Christ

But notice a second thing that is said about them. This is also in verse 1. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus.” What a wonderful phrase. Those who are in Christ Jesus.

Did you know that the word “Christian” only appears three times in the New Testament? But the phrases “in Christ” or “in the Lord” or “in Him,” those phrases appear over 100 times in the New Testament! This is Paul’s characteristic way of describing a Christian. A Christian is someone who is in Christ.

In fact, even the very language that is used to describe how someone becomes a Christian is language that suggests coming into Christ. Paul talks about those who “believe into Christ Jesus.” The preposition that follows “believe” carries the idea of coming into a new domain; to believe into Christ Jesus. He talks about those who are baptized into Christ, about those who have put on Christ. In other words, Christians in New Testament language are people who once were outside of Christ, but now have believed into Christ, and now they are in him. Paul actually describes himself in 2 Corinthians 12:2, speaking in the third person, as a man in Christ.

Listen to what Paul says in this letter, Philippians 3. He has described all of his credentials as a Jew, as a Pharisee, as a law-keeper, as someone who had things to boast in, in and of himself. In verse 7, having given us all these credentials, he says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ—” and listen to this “—and be found in him…” He’s saying, “I say goodbye to everything else, I count it all loss, in order to be found in Christ.” “...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God that depends on faith…”

What does it mean to be in Christ? Well, there are lots of things we could say, but let me just highlight two. To be in Christ means legally that all that Christ has accomplished counts for you. It means that when God sees you, he sees you in Christ. He sees you through the lens of Christ’s finished work.

It means that when Christ died on the cross he took your sins, and that when Christ fully obeyed the law of God, when he fulfilled all righteousness, when the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” that all that Christ accomplished counts for you, so that you now are clothed in his obedience, you are covered in his righteousness, and you are accepted with this acceptance. To be in Christ means that God receives you in his Son.

It means that you are in Christ, the second Adam, rather than being in the first Adam. That is, rather than being now represented by Adam, the father of the human race, who sinned, and through whose sin the entire human race was plunged into death and sin—rather than being represented by him, you are now represented by Christ, the second Adam, who didn’t disobey God, but obeyed God, and through his act of obedience, through his righteousness, now gives life to all who receive him.

So, it has to do with our justification, doesn’t it? It has to do with how we are accepted with God, how we are righteous with God, how we come to peace with God. It all comes by being in Christ.

But being in Christ has a second connotation. It also carries an experiential idea. It means that you are changed through a vital, life-giving union with Christ. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the words of Jesus himself in John 15. You remember he uses this picture of the vine and the branches. He says, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”

To be in Christ is to be a branch abiding in the vine. It’s to be connected to Christ, it’s to be joined to Christ, it’s to have this life-giving union with Christ, so that the very life and power and virtue of Christ flows to you. It means that you live, yet not you, but Christ who lives in you.

Perhaps no one put it better poetically than Charles Wesley when he said,

“No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in him is mine;
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine.
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown
Through Christ my own.”

To be in Christ is to be alive in Christ, and it’s to be clothed in Christ. It’s to be covered in his righteousness, and it’s to be alive in his Spirit.

There’s actually one more aspect of union with Christ that we should notice before we move on, and that’s this, that there is a corporate dimension to this; because to be united to Christ is to be united with all who are in Christ. It’s to be a member of the body of Christ, with Christ himself as our head. It’s to be joined to his people.

We must be reminded when we read this greeting to the church of Philippi that Paul is, indeed, writing to a church. Again, notice the language he uses. “To all the saints [plural] in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” It’s the only place in any of Paul’s letters that he begins a letter by noting the leadership of the church. The overseers were the elders of the church, those who watched over the church. The deacons were the servants of the church. Even today, we continue to have elders or overseers and deacons in our churches.

It’s interesting that Paul addresses them in this letter even as he addresses all the saints. Perhaps one of the reasons he addresses them is because he’s writing to the whole church to encourage unity in the church. He wants them to live out the unity that is implicitly theirs because they are in Christ Jesus.

I think it’s also interesting the way Paul introduces himself. I haven’t said anything about this yet, but notice it. In verse 1 he says, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” Servants of Christ Jesus. Why does he call himself a servant of Christ, a slave of Christ? He doesn’t call himself an apostle here. He is an apostle. Perhaps one reason is because he doesn’t need to assert his apostolic credentials; those weren’t being threatened. But perhaps there’s another reason. Perhaps he is, rather than reminding them of his authority, he’s reminding them of his basic identity as a servant of the Lord, a servant to the church, because it is through servanthood that the church embodies unity.

In fact, that becomes very much the focus in chapter 2, where Paul exhorts this church to pursue unity. In chapter 2:1 he says, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind.”

How are they to do that? They are to do that by having “this mind...which is yours in Christ Jesus,” and he goes on to describe Christ the servant. So, in calling himself and Timothy the servants of the Lord, he is modeling for them the very servanthood that they should embody in their lives with one another. Why are they to do that? They’re to do that because there is indeed encouragement in Christ, because there’s comfort from love, because there is participation in the Spirit, because there’s affection and sympathy; in other words, because there is this implicit unity, being bound together by the Spirit in Christ Jesus.

How important this must have been for this church. I’ve already mentioned the diversity of the backgrounds, but can you imagine how hard it was for this church to get off the round and for these people who are from very different strata of society, very different socio-economic backgrounds, different racial backgrounds—Lydia was probably Asian, the slave girl was probably Greek, whereas the jailer was probably a veteran Roman soldier—very different backgrounds, very different experiences, very different presuppositions; and yet they all become Christians and they’re all saints and they’re all in Christ, and now they have to learn as a church to live in unity together. So Paul reminds the church again and again of who they are in Christ, and he encourages them to live that out.

What does it mean to be a Christian? It means to be a saint, to be set apart from sin for righteousness, for God; and it means to be in Christ Jesus legally and experientially and also corporately as part of the body of Christ.

3. We Are Partakers of Grace

Here’s a third thing to say about gospel identity or Christian identity: that it’s all based on grace. Look at verse 2. He says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Again, these are not just words of greeting. They are that, but every commentary points out that Paul Christianizes the typical forms of greetings from ancient letter-writing and the ancient world; he Christianizes them. When he says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” he’s giving us the scope and the source of all Christian blessing.

F.F. Bruce says, “Peace is the sum total of all blessings, temporal and spiritual; and grace is the source from which they come.”

Notice that this grace comes to us from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Right there you see the equality of the Father and the Son, and how grace comes to us equally from Father and Son. You might ask, “Where’s the Holy Spirit?” Well, I think what Paul understood is that the Spirit is the very agent who brings this grace and peace into our lives. Perhaps that’s why he uses that phrase, “participation in the Spirit,” in chapter 2:1.

In chapter 1:7 he mentions grace again when he says, “I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” They are fellow partakers of grace.

What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to have a gospel identity? It means to be set apart to be a saint, it means to be in Christ, and it means to be a partaker of grace. It’s all based on grace; it all comes from grace. Its grace from start to finish.

What is grace? I like the acronym; someone defined grace in this way. Grace is "God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense." That’s a good definition. Grace is God’s unmerited favor that is freely given to the undeserving. Grace is what God has for sinners, for those who are in Christ. It’s actually what brings us to be in Christ in the first place; it’s all of grace.

You know, every person who ever becomes a Christian only becomes a Christian through grace, whatever their pathway into the faith may be. Again, when you just think about Acts 16 and you think about these different individuals who probably—at least for two we know, and probably with the slave—they were the nucleus of this church—think about how different they were and how different their needs were to bring them to Christ.

For Lydia, she was already religious, but what did she need? She needed the Lord to open her heart to understand Paul’s teaching. It was an intellectual path into the faith.

The slave girl, if she actually became a Christian, and I like to think that she did, it wasn’t because she was argued into the faith, it was because she experienced a power that was greater than the power that had held her captive. She was demonized, she was demon-possessed, and Paul cast out the demons. It’s hard to imagine, for me, that she would have been set free from those demons and not want to know and understand and begin to love the power of Christ, who had set her free. It was a power encounter, it was an experience of powerful grace liberating her from oppression.

The jailer was different still. He was a brutal man. This is the man that probably beat them or oversaw the beating of Paul and Silas in prison. He’s a cynical man. He’s ready to slit his throat, he’s ready to kill himself, when he thinks that his job is in jeopardy, if all these prisoners escape. This is a man who has experienced a hard life, probably an ex-Roman centurion and now a civil servant for this Roman colony of Philippi. What does he need? Well, he needed a very practical demonstration of the transforming power of the gospel, and he saw that in Paul and Silas. He saw that when they sang even in their suffering, and he understood that power when they proclaimed Christ to him.

A number of years ago now, on a mission trip to Africa, I met a woman who had experienced a radical conversion in her life. She had been widowed two times. Her first husband had died a decade before I met her. She had remarried, and then her second husband had died just a couple of years before I met her (this was probably ten years ago now or more).

When he died, she was devastated, and she tried to commit suicide three times, but was unsuccessful. For three months, then, she tried to escape the pain of her life through excessive drinking. Her life was absolutely falling apart, but she happened to know a Christian man. In fact, it was her employer, a Christian man that employed her; and he and his wife felt great compassion for her, and they invited her to come live with them for a period of time as she was trying to pull things together.

What she was struck by was the peace and the calm in their home; their lifestyle. She wanted that, and it led her eventually to Christ. She started working for the Red Cross, and when I met her, she was working for a Bible college, joyfully serving in mundane ways.

This is what she said to me. She said, “My husband and I had worshipped the world; now I want to worship God as much as I worshipped the world before.” She came to Christ. How did she come to Christ? She came through seeing very practically the power of the gospel at work in a Christian home. Something like that is probably what had to happen for this Philippian jailer.

What I want you to see here is that grace, the grace that we must participate in, that we must be partakers of in order to come to Christ, that that grace works in all kinds of people and in all kinds of ways. As Tim Keller puts it, we have gospel for the religious (that’s Lydia), gospel for the oppressed (the slave girl), and gospel for the secular (the jailer). But every one of them needed the gospel. Every one of them needed grace, and God in his grace met them where they were and brought them to faith in Jesus Christ.

A gospel identity means that we are set apart for Christ, we are saints; it means that we are in Christ Jesus, legally and vitally, experientially, as well as corporately part of the body of Christ; and it means that we are participants and partakers of the grace of God. Its grace from start to finish. You even have a hint of Paul’s theology of grace just in the fact that he begins his letter by saying, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” and then he ends the letter (Philippians 4:23), “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

As we draw to a close, let me ask you this question: What shapes your identity? If I were to ask you, “Who are you?” how would you answer? Many of us, perhaps, would look to our family. We’d say something about who we are and our family relationships: “I’m married,” or, “I’m a mom,” or, “I’m a dad,” or, “I belong to this family,” or, “I came from this part of the country,” or something like that.

Many of us might look to our vocation, our job. “I’m a teacher,” “I’m a physician,” “I’m an attorney,” “I’m a carpenter,” “I’m a pastor.”

You might look to other things about yourself that you look to define your identity. But when the gospel really takes hold of our hearts, our answer to that question, if we understand the gospel, should be something like this, “I’m a saint. I’ve been set apart. I’ve been set free, I’ve been rescued from darkness, I’ve come into the marvelous light of the kingdom of God’s Son. I once was enslaved to sin, and even though I’m not perfect yet, there’s been a change in my life. God has set me free by his power. I’m set apart for God, I belong to him, and I’m in Christ. I’m covered in his righteousness, I’m filled by his Spirit, I’m joined to him, I belong to him, I live by faith in him, and I’m a partaker of grace, a participant in the grace of God.”

Maybe the best illustration of God’s saving grace, outside of Scripture, comes from a man who lived in the 18th century. He was a wicked man, he was a blasphemous man, he was a violent man. He lived the worst possible kind of life—he was a slave-trader—and yet God saved him by his grace. We know this man, John Newton, and he wrote for us that wonderful hymn,

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

I want to just end with a paragraph from John Newton that I think describes what every Christian should be able to say. If you have a Christian identity, if you have a gospel identity, you should be able to say these words as well. This is what Newton said.

He said, “I am not what I ought to be; ah, how imperfect and deficient! Not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities; not what I wish to be. God, who knows my heart, knows I wish to be like him. I am not what I hope to be, ere long to drop this clay tabernacle, to be like him and see him as he is; not what I once was, a child of sin and a slave of the devil. Though not all these—not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, not what I once was—I think I can truly say with the apostle, by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Let’s pray together.

Merciful and gracious God, we thank you for grace. We thank you for grace that chose us, grace that sent your Son to redeem us, grace that sent your Spirit to give us new life, to rescue us from darkness and from sin; grace that changed us and grace that continues to transform us. We thank you for grace that renews us even when we backslide, even when we begin to fall away; your grace comes running and lays hold of us and brings us back to the Savior. We thank you for the grace that has set us apart for you, so that we now belong to you. We thank you for the grace that has united us to Jesus Christ.

Father, my prayer is that as we think about who we are, that we would define our identity not in terms of our natural families, as precious as they are for many of us; not in terms of our job, our work, our vocation; not in terms of our skills and gifts and hobbies and accomplishments; but that we would define ourselves in terms of our relationship to you through Jesus Christ. I pray that as we think about what it means to be in Christ that it would begin to affect everything else in our lives, especially our relationships with one another, that we would be united as the church of Jesus Christ, and that we would stand together in one spirit for advancing the gospel of Christ. Would you do this in our hearts, would you do it by the power of the Spirit? We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.