We have probably all experienced those moments where we have been in some kind of group or on some kind of training exercise and the group leader or trainer asks you to introduce yourself. For some reason, I still feel a bit self-conscious sharing the details about my life that are about as revealing as reading about me in a telephone directory or on the electoral roll! I hope that doesn’t mean that in some sort of strange Freudian way I am battling deep identity issues!
John the Baptist was asked that very question. He’d already told the priests and Levites who he wasn’t. He was quite certain about that. I think most people are. We know who we’re not – or at least we know who or what we don’t want to be.
But who do we think we are we? What do we say about ourselves?
John the Baptist’s answer was expressed in biblical and prophetic terms:
John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1.23)
John understood himself and what he was doing in terms of his place in God’s unfolding revelation. This understanding was rooted both in his own personal experience, and, more importantly in the scriptures.
We don’t really begin to grasp who we are and what we are meant to be about until we see ourselves in the light of God’s revelation set out in the scriptures. That’s just as important for the church as it is for individual Christians. Peter says we’re a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God (1 Peter 2.9)
Admittedly, John had the advantage of having a godly family who had inside information about the calling on their son’s life. John’s insight and confidence didn’t just come about through a flash of revelation or a surge of spiritual confidence. Underlying these few words from Isaiah spoken in self-explanation lies a whole spiritual matrix of instruction, encouragement, affirmation and godly example.
One wonders what would have happened had John’s parents never told him about his dad’s encounter with the angel Gabriel. You might think that is just speculation, but we have at least one possible instance of this very thing happening in the Bible. Rebekah was told that the elder of her twins would serve the younger, but it seems that Jacob and Esau never really understood or perhaps even heard about that revelation. Ignorance can sometimes be bliss, but in their case it tore the family apart (Genesis 25.23-26).
We might not have had the godly input into our lives from our earliest years in the way that John the Baptist did. We do need to be affirmed and encouraged frequently in our identity in Christ and our purpose as His followers. That’s why we need church. And that’s why we as the church – God’s people – need to encourage one another in our identity and calling as followers of Jesus.
What do you say about yourself?