There’s a profound connection between personal identity and transformed relationships. How we see ourselves affects the way we relate to others.
Take a close look at three verses that could change your understanding of yourself and the nature of your relationships.
What did the apostle mean when he wrote,
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:11-13)?
The word – “Here” likely refers to the Church, the gathering of God’s people.
Here — among Christians, the distinctions that fiercely divide social and religious life (Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free), have no place.
Among those who have been forgiven through Jesus Christ, a new identity has been formed that overcomes differences that separate people from each other. Our new identity also leads to a transformation of the ways we relate and respond to other people (“compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”).
The apostle is saying that our race, religious background or social status no longer define us. As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are distinguished by three powerful identity markers. You are:
1. God’s chosen people: we are the “elect of God”
God’s choosing of his people reminds us of His gracious initiative in drawing us to Himself and making us His very own people (cf. Matthew 11:26-31;John 6:44, 66). It is a precious and inspiring truth that traces from Old Testament through New Testament. God’s choice of us to be His people is based on love and grace (1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Scriptures on Election: Deuteronomy 7:6;John 15:16 “You have not chosen Me, but I chose you”; Romans 8:31-39; Ephesians 1:3-7.
2. Holy – set apart for God by God
We will misunderstand this word if we do not first hear it as a relationship before it becomes a way of life. Holy is a word that refers to people who are set apart for God by God. Living a holy life must be based on what it means to be chosen by God — “to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
We become God’s people only because we were “bought at a price” and this is the basis for being called to “honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:14-19).
3. Dearly loved – recipients of God’s sacrificial redeeming love in Jesus Christ.
Romans 5:8 – “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:9-10,19; cf. Romans 8:35-39).
We must mediate deeply and often on what it really means to be loved by God. Being loved by God is what empowers us to love others with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
The three identity markers above (chosen, holy and dearly loved) are all received as gifts of God’s grace to underserving sinners who call on the Lord for forgiveness and salvation. We cannot earn or deserve these identities. They can only be received by a God who graciously places them on us. Interestingly, although each identity distinctively belonged to God’s people in the Old Testament, they now belong to believers of all backgrounds (Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free).
What would our churches and relationships be like if they were described by the five qualities below? A taste of heaven on earth? Yes.
Because of our distinction as God’s dearly loved people — those who have had God’s love “poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5), five character qualities or responses should distinguish our ways of responding to others. Like clothing, these five qualities should be plainly evident among us. If a group of believers is characterized by these qualities, a powerful witness will be evident!
Imagine a friendship or marriage where these were the dominant qualities! Too idealistic? Verse 13 takes it to real life!
- compassion: actually “a heart of compassion” or “deep feelings of mercy” It’s a response of sympathy or empathy.
- Ephesians 4:4–“Because of His great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.”
- Luke 6:36—Be “merciful just as your Father is merciful.”
- 2 Corinthians 1:3—“The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.”
- Philippians 2:1 calls for tenderness and compassion to be part of their fellowship.
- Psalmist (Psalm 103:8) “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
- Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:17) “You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow in anger and abounding in love” (Jonah 4:2).
- Moses (Exodus 34:6) “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love.”
2. kindness: compassion in action, a response of grace and generosity. What do we mean when we say, ““He’s so kind”?
- Ephesians 4:32—“Be kind and tenderhearted (compassionate) to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
- 1 Corinthians 13:4—“Love is…kind.”
- Galatians 5:22—fruit of the Spirit is ….kindness…
- Ephesians 2:7— the incomparable riches of His grace expressed in His kindness to us in Christ.
- Titus 3:4—“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us…”
- Romans 2:4-5; 11:22
- humility: a lowliness of mind demonstrated in a refusal to demand one’s rights, a servant mindset.
- Ephesians 4:2—“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
- Titus 3:2 exhorts us to “show true humility to all people” because “…we too were disobedient, deceived and enslaved…”
- Philippians 2:3-8—Jesus is the supreme example.
- John 13; Romans 12:3; 1 Peter 5:5; 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
- gentleness: meekness, considerate of others, willing to waive one’s rights out of consideration toward another.
- Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
- Galatians 5:23; 6:1— meekness is the fruit of the Spirit
- James 3:13— meekness is part of the wisdom from above
- patience: (makrothumia) long-tempered, not short-fused; slow to anger; restraining retaliation in the face of provocation; capacity to absorb wrong without retaliation
- Used of God (Romans 2:4)
- Required of us (Romans 12:17-21)
- 1 Peter 3:8-9 “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
This final quality of patience fits well with the closing two participles that are presented with as commands (with imperatival force) in the present active tense: “Bear with each other and forgive one another…”
Our new identity as God’s chosen, holy and dearly loved people overcomes differences that separate people and set people against each other. Our new identity also leads to a powerful transformation in the ways we relate and respond to other people. This is the life!