Nowadays no one gets too far without personal identification (ID). Imagine if, rather than simply glancing at our driver’s licenses or passports, people in airports, border checkpoints and even the local grocery stores actually scanned our IDs. Now imagine waiting in line for airport security finally getting to the front of the line where you watch as your ID is swiped” only to hear the words: “Your ID is invalid. You aren’t in our system.”
We’ve all heard of identity theft, but what about identity rejection? In a way, it happens all the time. It doesn’t take a bar code or a scanner for people to judge whether or not others are in their “system.”
Most of us have enough of a sense of self that we know who we are without a piece of plastic or paperwork. We identify by our name, our gender, family background, marital status, network of friends, occupation, etc. We are also usually aware of our nationality, cultural heritage and, to some extent, our social standing. We each have markers to help us understand how we fit into the universe. At the same time, most people have a different set of markers to help them determine how others fit in (or don’t fit in) to their sphere of influence. And the very marks of identity that let some people know “you belong here,” tell others “you’re not one of us.”
For the child of God, there is a significant marker that should distinguish us from others in what some might find a rather perplexing way. That distinguishing mark is the love of our heavenly Father: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1).
“The world” is that system (and those identified with it) that rebels against God and rejects His rightful place as Creator and Lord. We are to be in the world but not of it. We are not to love the world nor seek to be loved by the world, especially at the expense of our identification with Him.
Our identity as children of God should be cherished—it has been issued by God Himself. But that can also be confounding because our identity is not part of the world’s system. If people don’t know or love Father, they won’t know or love His children. So, to be known as His is to be unknown by the world in certain significant ways. Our identity can be misunderstood or viewed with suspicion by those who don’t share it. We may be turned away, or treated as aliens. Sometimes we have to fight the temptation to present a different ID—one that will be understood and accepted by the world.
In Jews for Jesus we make it a point to “wear colors” whenever we do street evangelism. By that I mean we wear T-shirts, jackets, hats or buttons that say “Jews for Jesus” or “Jesus Made Me Kosher” or some other identifying statement. When people see our colors, it often helps them decide whether or not they want to take our literature or stop to talk with us.
Frankly, we probably could hand out more literature if we didn’t display our identity so prominently. Some have suggested we wear business suits instead of T-shirts, in order to appear more presentable and acceptable. But regardless of what we might be wearing, we wouldn’t fit in by virtue of the fact that we are handing out gospel tracts.
Jews for Jesus are like most people—we would prefer to blend in rather than stick out. But we’ve found that publically identifying with our Master and His mission does provide us with a better platform for witnessing about His love. While some don’t take our tracts when they see our T-shirts, others take the literature because of them—and some stop to talk. Many people are seeking God and have yet to know Him. It is for these people that we really do want to stand out from the crowd—for us, it’s part of being available to minister.
Of course, Jews for Jesus missionaries aren’t the only ones identifying ourselves in such a visible way. My friend Steve Kaplan always wears a T-shirt that says “Jesus Loves You.” And he doesn’t just wear it when doing street evangelism; he wears that T-shirt practically everywhere he goes. As a result Steve is always getting into conversations about the Lord. Being so overtly identified by “Jesus-wear” may not be for everyone, but I admire Steve’s boldness and tenacity, don’t you?
From time to time it’s good to ask ourselves, are we willing to be up front about our identity and accept the fact that “the world does not know us”? Being unknown by the world often means being rejected, even hated. But the Scripture tells us that this is a direct result of our being the recipients of the love of God.
How often have we considered the ignominy and rejection we may experience for identifying with Jesus as the direct outcome of God’s great love for us? God’s love is usually associated with forgiveness of sin, answered prayer and the hope of heaven. But the Bible tells us that trials and persecution can also come as a demonstration of God’s love, something He has granted to His children. (Philippians 1:29) It is not that we should especially seek after those “gifts,” but when they come, we need not wonder or despair. Instead, let’s “behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us” and give thanks and praise to Him. What grand irony it is that because He is not known by the world, neither should we seek to be known. After all, “Like Father, like son and daughter.”
So when we find ourselves “unknown” or unappreciated, together let’s make it an occasion to allow the extravagant love of our Father to wash over us and encourage us to carry on and exult in our identity as His children. As often as we can and in as many ways as we can, let’s show the world our true I.D. It might not take us very far with those who reject anything that’s not part of “the system.” But if we are willing to show that we are part of God’s system, we can help make Him known to those who are seeking, to those He is calling to become His beloved sons and daughters.