Monday, March 05, 2007

Jeremiah 1:11-19; Psalms 56, 57, 58; Romans 1:1-15; John 4:27-42

Today’s reading in Romans opens Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Paul had yet to visit Rome when he wrote this letter in the late 50s A.D. This introduction served the vital purpose of presenting himself to those believers, most of whom he did not know personally.

A strong theme running through this passage is identity. Paul first established his own identity: a servant and apostle of Christ Jesus (i.e., Jesus the messiah or savior). As a servant, Paul followed and obeyed Jesus. He modeled himself after Jesus’ life and teachings. As an apostle, Paul worked to make Jesus known wherever he could.

Next Paul affirmed Jesus’ identity: in his human nature, a descendant of David; in his divine nature, the Son of God. The significance of Jesus cannot be overstated. Jesus is both human and divine. He is savior and lord for us and the world.

Then Paul distilled his readers’ identity: loved by God and called to be God’s saints. In Biblical terms, “saint” signifies a person set apart for God’s holy purposes. All of God’s people, not just an elite few, are called to be saints. All are called to be dedicated to God’s purposes in the world.

Vital for us to understand is this last point, so let us play it out further. The primary, fundamental identity of the Christians in Rome lay not in being subjects of Caesar or citizens of the Roman empire. It lay in being people of God. God loved them and claimed them as his own in Jesus. God dedicated them for his good purposes in the world.

Many claims press upon us to stamp us with their identity as primary and fundamental in our lives. These include culture, society, nation, gang, gender, race, role, employment, political party, philosophical system, or the like. Such “powers,” like Rome of old, seek to claim and shape us so that we think and act as their servants and apostles.

God gives us in Lent a holy time and space to clarify and sanctify our identity. Through disciplines of worship, prayer, reflection, and sacrifice we scrutinize ourselves to locate where we find our true and compassing identity. May we, with Paul and the Christians in Rome, know deep down we are loved by God and called to be his saints – people dedicated to live Jesus into the world around us because Jesus, our savior and lord, lives deeply, truly within us.

Gregory Strong

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