Safeguarding Our Christian Identity
“‘You are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.”—ISAIAH 43:10.
1. What kind of people does Jehovah draw to himself?
WHEN you are at a Kingdom Hall, take a good look around you. Whom do you see at this place of worship? You might see earnest young people attentively absorbing Scriptural wisdom. (Psalm 148:12, 13) Likely, you will also observe family heads striving to please God while living in a world that degrades family life. Perhaps you will catch sight of dear older ones, steadfastly living up to their dedication to Jehovah despite the maladies of advanced age. (Proverbs 16:31) All love Jehovah deeply. And he saw fit to draw them into a relationship with him. “No man can come to me,” affirmed the Son of God, “unless the Father, who sent me, draws him.”—John 6:37, 44, 65.
2, 3. Why can it be challenging to maintain a strong sense of Christian identity?
2 Are we not delighted to be part of a people who have Jehovah’s approval and blessing? Yet, maintaining a strong sense of our identity as Christians in these “critical times hard to deal with” is a challenge. (2 Timothy 3:1) This is especially true of young ones who are being raised in Christian families. “Though I was attending Christian meetings,” admitted one such youth, “I had no clear spiritual goals and, frankly, no crystallized desire to serve Jehovah.”
3 Some, while sincerely desiring to serve Jehovah, might be distracted by intense peer pressure, worldly influences, and sinful tendencies. When pressure is exerted on us, it may gradually cause us to lose our Christian identity. For example, many in the world today view the Bible’s standards of morality as old-fashioned or unrealistic in our modern world. (1 Peter 4:4) Some feel that it is not vital to worship God in the way that he directs. (John 4:24) In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of the world as having a “spirit,” or dominant attitude. (Ephesians 2:2) That spirit exerts pressure on people to conform to the thinking of a society that does not know Jehovah.
4. How did Jesus emphasize the need for us to safeguard our clear identification as Christians?
4 However, as dedicated servants of Jehovah, we realize that it would be tragic for any of us—young or old—to lose our Christian identification. A wholesome sense of Christian identity can be based only on Jehovah’s standards and his expectations for us. After all, we are created in his image. (Genesis 1:26; Micah 6:8) The Bible likens our clear identification as Christians to outer garments, worn for all to see. Regarding our times, Jesus warned: “Look! I am coming as a thief. Happy is the one that stays awake and keeps his outer garments, that he may not walk naked and people look upon his shamefulness.”* (Revelation 16:15) We do not want to shed our Christian qualities and standards of conduct and allow Satan’s world to mold us. If that was to happen, we would lose these “outer garments.” Such a situation would be regrettable and shameful.
5, 6. Why is spiritual stability vital?
5 A strong sense of Christian identity greatly affects the direction one’s life takes. How so? If a worshiper of Jehovah was to lose his clear sense of identity, he might end up unfocused, without well-defined direction or goals. The Bible repeatedly warns against such an indecisive state. “He who doubts,” cautioned the disciple James, “is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about. In fact, let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from Jehovah; he is an indecisive man, unsteady in all his ways.”—James 1:6-8; Ephesians 4:14; Hebrews 13:9.
6 How can we safeguard our Christian identity? What can help us to enhance our awareness of our great privilege to be worshipers of the Most High? Please consider the following ways.
Firmly Establish Your Christian Identity
7. Why is it profitable to plead with Jehovah to examine us?
7 Continually reaffirm your relationship with Jehovah. The most precious possession a Christian has is his personal relationship with God. (Psalm 25:14; Proverbs 3:32) If we begin to have disturbing questions about our Christian identity, it is time to examine closely the quality and the depth of this relationship. The psalmist appropriately pleaded: “Examine me, O Jehovah, and put me to the test; refine my kidneys and my heart.” (Psalm 26:2) Why is such an examination vital? Because we ourselves cannot be reliable assessors of our own deepest motives and innermost inclinations. Only Jehovah is able to fathom our inner person—our motives, thoughts, and emotions.—Jeremiah 17:9, 10.
8. (a) How can testing by Jehovah benefit us? (b) How have you been helped to make progress as a Christian?
8 By asking Jehovah to examine us, we invite him to test us. He may allow situations to develop that reveal our true motives and heart condition. (Hebrews 4:12, 13; James 1:22-25) We should welcome such tests because they give us an opportunity to demonstrate the depth of our loyalty to Jehovah. Such can show whether we are “complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything.” (James 1:2-4) And in the process, we can grow spiritually.—Ephesians 4:22-24.
9. Is proving Bible truth to ourselves optional? Explain.
9 Prove Bible truth to yourself. Our sense of identity as servants of Jehovah can weaken if it is not solidly based on knowledge of the Scriptures. (Philippians 1:9, 10) Every Christian—young or old—needs to prove to his own satisfaction that what he believes is indeed the truth as found in the Bible. Paul urged fellow believers: “Make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Young Christians who belong to God-fearing families must realize that they cannot live off the faith of their parents. Solomon’s own father, David, exhorted him to “know the God of your father and serve him with a complete heart.” (1 Chronicles 28:9) It would not be enough for young Solomon to watch how his own father built faith in Jehovah. He had to get to know Jehovah for himself, and he did. He beseeched God: “Give me now wisdom and knowledge that I may go out before this people and that I may come in.”—2 Chronicles 1:10.
10. Why is there nothing wrong with asking honest questions with the right motive?
10 Strong faith is built on knowledge. “Faith follows the thing heard,” stated Paul. (Romans 10:17) What did he mean by that? He meant that by feeding on God’s Word, we build our faith and confidence in Jehovah, his promises, and his organization. Asking honest questions about the Bible can lead to reassuring answers. Furthermore, at Romans 12:2, we find the advice of Paul: “Prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Just how can we achieve that? By gaining “the accurate knowledge of the truth.” (Titus 1:1) Jehovah’s spirit can help us to comprehend even difficult subjects. (1 Corinthians 2:11, 12) We should pray for God’s help when we are having problems understanding something. (Psalm 119:10, 11, 27) Jehovah wants us to understand his Word, believe it, and obey it. He welcomes honest questions asked with the right motive.
Be Determined to Please God
11. (a) What natural desire can ensnare us? (b) How can we muster the courage to withstand peer pressure?
11 Seek to please God, not man. It is only natural to define our identity in part by belonging to a group. Everyone needs friends, and being included makes us feel good. During adolescence—as well as later in life—peer pressure can be powerful, generating a desperate desire to imitate or please others. But friends and peers do not always have our best interests at heart. Sometimes they only want company in doing what is wrong. (Proverbs 1:11-19) When a Christian succumbs to negative peer pressure, he usually tries to conceal his identity. (Psalm 26:4) “Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you,” warned the apostle Paul. (Romans 12:2, The Jerusalem Bible) Jehovah provides the inner strength we need in order to combat any outside pressure to conform.—Hebrews 13:6.
12. What principle and what example can fortify us to stand our ground when our trust in God is involved?
12 When outside pressure threatens to damage our sense of Christian identity, it is good to remember that our loyalty to God is far more important than public opinion or the trends of the majority. The words of Exodus 23:2 serve as a safe principle: “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends.” When the majority of fellow Israelites doubted Jehovah’s ability to fulfill His promises, Caleb staunchly refused to go along with the majority. He was certain that God’s promises were trustworthy, and he was richly rewarded for his stand. (Numbers 13:30; Joshua 14:6-11) Are you similarly willing to resist the pressure of popular opinion in order to safeguard your relationship with God?
13. Why is it the course of wisdom to make known our identity as Christians?
13 Make your Christian identity known. The saying that the best defense is a good offense is true as we stand up for our Christian identity. When confronted with opposition to their efforts to do Jehovah’s will in the days of Ezra, faithful Israelites stated: “We are the servants of the God of the heavens and the earth.” (Ezra 5:11) If we are affected by the reactions and criticism of hostile people, we can become paralyzed with fear. A policy of pleasing everyone will undermine our effectiveness. So do not be intimidated. It is always good to make it clearly known to others that you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In a respectful but firm way, you can explain to others your values, your beliefs, and your position as a Christian. Let others know that you have resolved to maintain Jehovah’s high standards on issues of morality. Make it clear that your Christian integrity is not negotiable. Show that you are proud of your moral standards. (Psalm 64:10) Standing out as a steadfast Christian can fortify you, protect you, and even move some to inquire about Jehovah and his people.
14. Should ridicule or opposition discourage us? Explain.
14 Yes, some might ridicule or oppose you. (Jude 18) If others do not respond favorably to your efforts to explain your values to them, do not get discouraged. (Ezekiel 3:7, 8) No matter how determined you are, you are never going to convince people who have no desire to be convinced. Remember Pharaoh. No plague or miracle—not even the personal loss of his firstborn—was able to persuade Pharaoh that Moses was speaking on behalf of Jehovah. Therefore, do not let fear of man paralyze you. Trust and faith in God can help us overcome fear.—Proverbs 3:5, 6; 29:25.
Look to the Past, Build for the Future
15, 16. (a) What is our spiritual heritage? (b) How can we benefit from pondering our spiritual heritage in the light of God’s Word?
15 Cherish your spiritual heritage. In the light of God’s Word, Christians will benefit from pondering their rich spiritual heritage. This inheritance includes the truth of Jehovah’s Word, the hope of everlasting life, and the honor to represent God as proclaimers of the good news. Can you see your individual place among his Witnesses, in the privileged group of people who have been commissioned with the lifesaving work of Kingdom preaching? Remember, it is none other than Jehovah who affirms: “You are my witnesses.”—Isaiah 43:10.
16 You can ask yourself such questions as: ‘How precious is this spiritual heritage to me? Do I prize it sufficiently to make the doing of God’s will the top priority in my life? Is my appreciation of it strong enough to fortify me to resist any temptation that might lead to my forfeiting it?’ Our spiritual heritage can also infuse in us a deep sense of spiritual security that can be enjoyed only within Jehovah’s organization. (Psalm 91:1, 2) Reviewing remarkable events from the modern-day history of Jehovah’s organization can impress upon us that no person or thing can eradicate Jehovah’s people from the face of the earth.—Isaiah 54:17; Jeremiah 1:19.
17. What more is needed than merely relying on our spiritual heritage?
17 Of course, we cannot depend solely on our spiritual heritage. Each of us must develop an intimate relationship with God. After Paul had worked hard to build the faith of Christians in Philippi, he wrote to them: “Consequently, my beloved ones, in the way that you have always obeyed, not during my presence only, but now much more readily during my absence, keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philippians 2:12) We cannot rely on someone else for our salvation.
18. How can Christian activities enhance our sense of Christian identity?
18 Immerse yourself in Christian activities. It has been observed that “work has been a shaper of personal identity.” Christians today have been commissioned to do the vital work of preaching the good news of God’s established Kingdom. Paul declared: “Forasmuch as I am, in reality, an apostle to the nations, I glorify my ministry.” (Romans 11:13) Our preaching work distinguishes us from the world, and our participation in it enhances our Christian identity. Immersing ourselves in other theocratic activities, such as Christian meetings, programs for building places of worship, efforts to help those in need, and the like, can deepen our sense of identity as Christians.—Galatians 6:9, 10; Hebrews 10:23, 24.
Clear Identity, Tangible Blessings
19, 20. (a) What benefits have you personally enjoyed by being a Christian? (b) What gives us the basis for our true identity?
19 Take a moment to contemplate the many benefits and advantages we enjoy because we are true Christians. We have the privilege of being personally recognized by Jehovah. The prophet Malachi said: “Those in fear of Jehovah spoke with one another, each one with his companion, and Jehovah kept paying attention and listening. And a book of remembrance began to be written up before him for those in fear of Jehovah and for those thinking upon his name.” (Malachi 3:16) We can be viewed by God as his friends. (James 2:23) Our lives are adorned by a clear sense of purpose, by deep meaning, and by wholesome, productive goals. And we have been given the hope of an eternal future.—Psalm 37:9.
20 Remember that your true identity and value lie in God’s estimate of your worth, not in what other people may think of you. Others might appraise us according to inadequate human standards. But God’s love and personal interest give us the real basis for our worth—we belong to him. (Matthew 10:29-31) In turn, our own love for God can provide us with the greatest sense of identity and the clearest direction in our lives. “If anyone loves God, this one is known by him.”—1 Corinthians 8:3.
These words may allude to the duties of the officer of the temple mount in Jerusalem. During the night watches, he went through the temple to see whether its Levite guards were awake or asleep at their posts. Any guard found sleeping was struck with a stick, and his outer garments might be burned as shameful punishment.
Do You Recall?
• Why is it vital for Christians to safeguard their spiritual identity?
• How can we firmly establish our Christian identity?
• When faced with the question of whom to please, what factors can help us make the right decision?
• How can a strong sense of identity shape our future as Christians?
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Immersing ourselves in Christian activities can enhance our Christian identity