Jesus often referenced a healthy identity in the Gospels, but in one particular passage the concept of identity is hidden for the wise to discover. I am referring to a ten-verse portion of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 39-48:
“38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. 43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
The Law or the Spirit?
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) Jesus was teaching the heart of the law and the heart of God—taking people beyond the letter of the law. I have heard many preachers mistakenly teach the above passage from a standpoint of law, as in, Jesus COMMANDED us to turn the other cheek, and bless those who curse us, so we have better do it! Yes, these statements were commands, but it wasn’t till later on in my ministry that I saw something much deeper in this well-quoted passage that I had never understood before. Jesus was teaching, not raw obedience to a series of commands, but the spirit of obedience that emanated from those who had experienced freedom in their heart. Our Lord isn’t looking for those who will grit their teeth and turn the other cheek—He wants children who know who they are, and who HE is. It is then that you discover that “perfect love” makes “love your enemies” a fruit of having our identity in Him.
Never Give Your Identity Away
More lately, as I have learned more about a wholesome identity, I tell my children: Never give one ounce of your identity away! Let no one take it from you!
At the top of my list of “Books Everyone Must Read” is Victor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning. Mr. Frankl wrote this book largely from what he learned in a German concentration camp during WW II. Did I mention that the book was incredible? One of the most famous quotes from this classic is: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” This is healthy identity, and this is what is behind our Lord’s discourse in Matthew—that freedom to overcome evil with good is a characteristic of those who are free from within. For those who know this inner freedom, going the extra mile does not mean giving their identity away, but rather proves what a healthy identity can actually do.
This same lesson is true about forgiveness. The heart of forgiveness is more than a command, but it is the response of freedom from those who know that “… [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39).
No matter what you do to me, I am free to love. You will NEVER steal my identity unless I let you!