In the youth group of Fellowship Baptist Church there is a girl who is an avid Carolina Panthers fan (thats pro football, just in case you were wondering). She has Panthers mugs, t-shirts, hat, and even a Panthers blanket! She knows when they win and when they lose. They are her team! She has never been to an actual Panthers game, but a pre-season practice was sufficient to convince her of her loyalty. Interestingly, she doesnt save the team spirit for game-day only. She is proud to wear her hat or t-shirts or carry her mug around just about any day, and is very quick to defend her team against other teams fans. The truth is though, just having those pieces of memorabilia and excitement about her team does not actually make her a Panthers fan. In fact, the very opposite is truebecause she is interested in following her Panthers, she chooses to actively identify with the team.
While the last statement seems so obvious that no one would really argue the point, we often do the exact opposite when it comes to Christianity and our relationship with Jesus Christ. We often take one of two approaches in the Christian life (both of which are wrong). First, we often end live as if we must be a good Christian in good standing with both Jesus Christ and other believers because we do all the right things, say all the right things, listen to all the right things, wear all the right things, etc. The Bible describes this as legalism or flesh dependence. The Pharisees in Jesus time were convinced that they were true disciples of God because of their strict adherence to rules, but Jesus saw through the faade and called them whited sepulchers full of bones! Identification in discipleship begins in the heart.
Second, many believers will shift to the opposite side of the pendulum and defend sinful actions and habits with the argument that discipleship, or following Jesus, is strictly a matter of the heart, or that other good Christians can look like or act like the world and still receive blessing. The Bible describes this as flesh-indulgence, and Romans 6:1-2 strongly condemns this type of thinking and life-style with very strong language. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Identification in discipleship will always flow from the heart outward through appearance to others.
So what does identification in discipleship look like? It begins with a heart attitude. John the Baptist described the correct perspective in learning of and following Jesus Christ when he said in John 3:30, He must increase, but I must decrease. Humble surrender to the priority of Jesus Christ must be the basis of our discipleship. Paul describes this attitude as dying daily and crucified with Christ.
But identification will not stop with an inward attitude. True discipleship will always manifest itself on the outside. Galatians 2:20 tells us that the life lived in the flesh (or the outside life that we see) must be lived by faith in surrender. 1 Peter 2:21 describes the outward life of Jesus Christ and then tells us that His life was given to us that we might follow in His steps. If we are honest, what we look like on the outside is truly a representation of our attitude of identifying with Jesus Christ on the inside. Both our inward life and our outward actions and appearances must identify with Jesus Christ.
Most of us would probably say that we are disciples of Jesus Christ, but many of us are not willing to actively identify with Jesus Christ. The world sees right through a Christian who claims to be a disciple of Christ but identifies with the world on the outside. And God sees right through the Christian who looks good on the outside but is legalistic on the inside. It seems as if the only one we actually fool is ourselves. Let us ask God to open our eyes to true identification in discipleship, surrender our heart attitude, and be willing to openly and humbly identify with Jesus Christ so that the world around us may come face to face with a true disciple of Jesus Christ. That is what will change the world, because true identification will change us!