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A New Identity For A New Life

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Intro: Good morning friends. Today we begin our study through the book of James.
Here the sufficient word of the Lord.
James 1:1 ESV
1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.
This is God’s Word.
As we consider our text this morning it is important to see several things.

James The Just

Acts 15:13–14 ESV
13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.
Acts 15:13-
The first thing we need to see is who our author is. This is James is none other than the half-bother of Jesus. He is often called James the just because of how he lived his life. He was so well loved by the people of Jerusalem that it caused the political elites to kill him. He is writing this letter sometime between 40-50 AD and it is the first book of the New Testament written. When he is writing it he is the senior pastor of the church in Jerusalem, which is still the epicenter for Christianity. It is the largest church and the missionary movement has just begun. Paul has either just begun his first missionary journey or he is about to. The counsel of Jerusalem has yet to happen. This is actually where we see James acting as the senior pastor. As the Apostles begin to spread their ministry James is placed in charge of the church. So much so that the apostles submit to his authority.

A doulos (δοῦλος) of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ

As he begins his letter he gives himself a very interesting designation. Look at the word he uses for himself. Depending on your translation it will probably say “servant” or “bond servant”. Those words while accurate don’t give the full breadth of the meaning behind the word. The word is actually the word for a slave. It is the Greek word doulos and it describes a slave in the Roman Empire. So you might be thinking “Jon, if slave is the right word then why do they translate it servant?” It is because of the evil sinful history of slavery in the English world which makes our understanding of slavery have different connotations than it would have during the day of Jesus, James, and Paul. Now it does share some similarities, but they are not entirely equal. Yes a slave would belong to a master, but a slave in that day was primarily economic. In fact a slave could actually expect to eventually buy his or her freedom. This was not a life sentence, unless the slave decided to attach himself to his master. Another key distinction is that slavery was not particular to any one group of people. As the Roman empire expanded they would take slaves from any conquered people. It was not the systematic oppression of one ethnic group against another specific group. The Romans would enslave anyone they conquered, unlike the European slave trade that exploited various African peoples.
Please hear me, I am not saying this slavery was good. Slavery was not viewed as positive in that day. Nor should it have been. Slavery in our history is not good. Nor is the slavery we see in our world today. Slavery is NOT GOOD! However, it is not identical to what we observed in history. It is shares more in common with indentured servant.
This is the term James willingly chooses for himself. He says he is a slave of Christ, and indentured servant, of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is telling us something about how he views himself.

To the twelve tribes

To the twelve tribes
He continues and tells us to whom he is writing. He says to the 12 Tribes in the dispersion. The 12 tribes is an allusion to the Biblical concept of the 12 tribes of Israel. But who the 12 tribes are has shifted. Although the church at this point remains primarily Jewish it is not entirely Jewish. The 12 tribes is a way of expressing all the people of God. He is not limiting his scope to just Jewish people. He is referring to all the people of God, which now includes all who believe. No longer are the people of God ethnically identified. They are spiritually identified. So when he writes this he is writing to all the people of God. The complete number. In the same way the the 12 tribes represented the full number of God’s people in the Old Testament they here represent the full number of God’s people.

in the Dispersion

Then he says in the Dispersion. This again is looking back to the Old Testament. This is the term used to describe what happened when the Jewish people were removed from their homeland. When because of their disobedience God scattered the tribes of Israel into various nations around the ancient world. Now James is not suggesting that these people have been disobedient, but simply that they are dispersed away from their home land. This is clear when we understand that James is writing after the martyrdom of Stephen which dispersed the believers. James is a good pastor seeking to care for the people who have been displaced because of persecution. He’s writing to tell them how to live in the world in light of their new identity in Christ. A world that is hostile to their new faith. A world that has little understanding of what their faith claims are. A world that has little understanding of who they worship is. A world that would rather they keep quiet. A world that will let them coexist if they shut up. A world that will let them worship as long as they don’t make any ultimate truth claims. A world that says “let us do as we please”.
Does that sound like a familiar world? It should. It is remarkably similar to our current world. As we look to this book we will see some crucial things for living in our modern world.
With that in mind let’s see how this applies to us now.

Like James, we have a new identity.

What is so interesting about James’ introduction is that he doesn’t list any of his worldly qualifications. Look at it again. He doesn’t say “James, the half-brother of Jesus” or “James the senior pastor of the largest church in the world.” or any other designation that we might expect for him to attach to himself. It is because he understands his new identity. James has a brand new identity and it is one rooted entirely in Christ. He is not concerned about anything but being a indentured servant of Jesus. Jesus bought him and redeemed him. James has been born again and he has a new identity.
If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ you too have a new identity and we see three aspects of that new identity in our passage.

We Are Indentured Servants

The first thing we see is that we too are indentured servants. This point is going to take the majority of our focus because there is so much we need to see about our identity in this term.
As Indentured Servants We...
As Indentured Servants We...
Obey The Master
As indentured servants we obey the master. When Jesus was on earth he told his disciples “If you love me you will keep my commands.” Any master who had indentured servants would expect them to obey what he said. Our Lord is no different. When we say Jesus is Lord it means we will obey him. Repeatedly throughout the Bible it is clear that God expects his people, in fact all people, to obey his word. No one is off the hook, and believers are at the top of that list. Obedience to our master is non-negotiable. Now does obedience earn our salvation, no. That much is clear. But obedience is an indicator of salvation. If you don’t ever obey God’s word and have no desire to obey God’s word that should cause you grave concern. Jesus has told us that our obedience to his word is an indication of our love for him.
As indentured servants we obey
Submit To The Master
We also submit to the master. What this means is that we heed his word. We understand that his word and his ways are better than ours. This means we don’t get to decide different ways to do things when he has clearly spoken them. When the Lord says something we submit to his authority and do it his way. This covers every area of life. From how we interact with other individuals, to how we treat our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to how we worship God, to how we reach the lost, to how we treat our spouse. Every area. If he has spoken it we submit to him. He knows what’s best. He knows everything. If we truly believe he is all knowing then we will put our money where our mouth is when it comes to submitting to his word. How often do our actions show the opposite though. How often do we say “God you know everything” while at the same time doing the opposite of what he says when it comes to a particular issue.
It is the equivalent of taking your car to an expert mechanic. He says “hey you should be putting 91 octane in your car” and we say ok great and then we go and put diesel or 87. What are we doing when we do that? We are saying we don’t trust the expert mechanic. We don’t believe he actually knows how best to do things. When we go about life doing things the opposite the way God said to we are telling him he doesn’t know what is best.
Have The Master’s Best Interest In Mind
A third thing we must observe about our new identity as indentured servants is we always have the master’s best interest in mind. When a master sets his servant to a task he expects the servant to work towards his best interest. The servant’s thoughts process and question should always be “How can I best serve my master?” It is no different with Christ. We are to work towards his best interest, not our own. A good servant or slave will always be working towards what the master desires.
Thankfully the Lord is the one who brings his best interest to pass, but we are to have our mind to it. We are to seek to work towards it by obeying his word. By heeding what he says we have his best interest in mind.
Work For The Master
Work For The Master
A fourth thing is that we work for the master. When we become believers we cease to work for our own purposes. We are to do everything as if it is unto the Lord. We no longer seek to please the world. We no longer seek to please other humans. We solely focus on working for the Lord.
As Indentured Servants We...
Focus On The Master’s Business
A fifth thing is that we focus on the Master’s business. A good indentured servant isn’t distracted by other concerns. He is solely concerned about the master’s business. Our focus shifts to the master’s business. Now does this mean we won’t care about the issues going on around us, the day to day concerns of life? No, of course not. It just means that the master’s business becomes our motivation. We become more concerned with the things our master cares about than the things we or others think we should care about. It all begins to run through this filter of “what would Jesus say about this? Would Jesus care about this?” If the answer to that is “no” then we shouldn’t let it be our focus.
Represent The Master
As indentured servants we obey
A final aspect of this is we need to realize we represent the master. When a master would have an indentured servant if he sent the servant somewhere to complete a task he would represent him to the other person. As indentured servants we represent Jesus, and he cares how we do so. Look at all of Scripture. Isn’t it clear that God cares how his people represent him to the world? We are told to live in such a way that people will not have valid complaints against us. We are told to live quiet lives. We are told to obey the authorities over us. Why? Because God cares how others view him in light of us.
All of these are not things we do to earn our salvation. They are a result of our salvation. There have been people who have faked all of these well and has still be condemned to hell. Many of these are actually internal. You can fake all you want but you can’t change the internal. Only God can change that. You can think of it this way justification leads to sanctification which results in glorification. It is not sanctification that leads to justification. That’s the wrong order. It is impossible for you to earn your salvation by works. However, works are an indication of your salvation.
And with our salvation comes some amazing benefits of being an indentured servant. Here are three.
As Indentured Servants We Also Have Benefits of...
The Master’s Resources
The first is we have the Master’s resources. No master is going to put his servant to work without also giving him access to his resources. This is an amazing truth when we think about it. What are the master’s resources??? Well, everything. Literally all of creation is the master’s resources. Now he doesn’t give us all of that all the time. But he gives us the most important things. He gives us the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. Think of that. God has given you himself, the Holy Spirit, so that you can accomplish the tasks he desires for you to accomplish. God has the Holy Spirit indwell each of us and the Holy Spirit helps us to be about the Father’s business. He also gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish the tasks. There is not a single thing we need that we lack when it comes to completing what the Father has for us. We have our master’s resources at our disposal for the work he places before us.
Isn’t that wonderful news? Sometimes it seems like we act as if God has given us some huge task and hasn’t equipped us to complete the task. Here build 5000 piece Lego set without the instructions and you’ve only seen for 5 seconds. Or here make this particular chocolate chip cookie but I’m not giving you the ingredients. No that’s not God. Our master is not like Pharoah. He will not withhold the things we need to accomplish all that he desires for us to accomplish. There is not a single thing, no not one, that Jesus asks you to do that he does not also equip you for. Now it might feel like you are utterly unequipped but that doesn’t mean you actually are.
Rest in this fact friends. You are totally and completely resourced for every good work he has for you.
The Master’s Protection
We also have the benefit of being under the master’s protection. Our master is totally and completely in control. As it says in the Psalms “our God is in heaven and he does as he pleases”. We are never outside his protection. Can a single hair on our head be harmed without his permission? No. Look at Job. Look at all he experienced. The loss and pain he encountered. Was God the author of it? By no means. But at the same time it did not occur without his allowing it. God is sovereign even over our sufferings. We are under his complete protection. Not a single thing occurs without his having allowed it.
We must hold onto this truth in the midst of every thing that occurs to us. Our master is never caught of guard. He never lacks the power to deal with a situation. He is never absent. He is there in it all. As his servants we have his protection. Remember what our Lord said in
Are All Being Equal Before The Master
Are All Being Equal Before The Master
Another amazing benefit of being an indentured servant of our master is we are all equal before the master. In life people are always jockeying for position. People trying to elevate themselves above others. Unsure of that? Simply go watch kids play on a playground for a few hours, err maybe minutes. Or go sit down at a high school during lunch time. There are many ways people have done this throughout history. Money, race, class, family, physical abilities, etc. But not so in the Kingdom of God. All those that belong to the King are equal in his sight. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all equal before our master. He views everyone of his equally. It doesn’t matter how he’s gifted you or what task he has called you to we are all equal.
God views everyone of us who are his equally. Billy Graham, C.H. Spurgeon, George Muller, Martin Luther, Jon Varner, Nyanna Brown, Ben Myles, Christine Lancaster, all are equal in before him. Isn’t that fantastic? There’s no last person to get picked for the kick ball team.
But being indentured servants isn’t the only identity change we need to consider. The second is that ...

We Are God’s People

1 Peter 2:9 ESV
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
We are now also part of the people of God. When Jesus died on the cross he purchased you to become part of his people. We have a new family. We have a new family identity. With that comes a new purpose, to represent him to the world. We are grafted into the vine. In the book of Ephesians Paul speaks of us being adopted into God’s family. When we are adopted into the family of God all the benefits of being in the family come with it.
When my mom adopted David he became her son, fully and completely. He and I are equally her sons.
Look at what Peter says about us being the people of God.
We are chosen for his purpose and his possession. God has purchased us for his own purposes. We are now part of the people of God. We are part of the 12 tribes James is here describing.

We Aren’t Home

The final thing we see is that we aren’t home. We too are in a dispersion, but not in a national sense, in a spiritual sense. We have yet to arrive to our true home. Look at what these two verses say. You aren’t home. We long for a better country. We long for our true home. This has significant implications for our daily lives. It means that our lives should not reflect the totality of the country we now live in. Have you ever travelled to another country and noticed they do things differently there? Consider what it would be like to move to the Philippines. Did you know you would probably be a little conspicuous at first? You probably won’t speak the language very well at first. But that’s not the only way. You might act odd when ordering specific foods. You might turn up your nose at food the find quite normal. You also might be conspicuous when you arrive for a party at 2 when the party starts at 2. That’s not when that party actually start, a shocker right? Or you might notice and feel odd about their use of personal space or how they drive. When you aren’t in your home country you feel out of place. It should be the same here for us. You shouldn’t feel completely comfortable with the conversations your coworkers have or the things they value. You should be different. We should be conspicuous. We should be different because this is not our home. Where our home is should shape every decision we make. If we aren’t home what does that say about how we use our money. If we aren’t home what does that say about how we use our time. Or how we talk. Or what we focus on. Or how we treat others. Some of you are in the stages of life where you’re considering or have considered what you want after you die. Let your true home inform this. Let your true home inform what type of casket you have. Let your true home inform your burial decisions. Let your true home inform your funeral plans.
Friends we have a new country that is far far better than any we’ve ever experienced. It is far more magnificent. Far more beautiful. Far more lovely. Fiji, the Rocky Mtn range, back home where you grew up or spent summers. That place that if you could live there it would be “heaven on earth”. They all pale in comparison. That picture of that house you share on Facebook that you dream about, yeah it pales in comparison. Even the good ol’ USA pales in comparison to the better country.
Dear saints long for the better country. Don’t conform to this world, it is not your home.
Hebrews 11:6 ESV
6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:16 ESV
16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.
2 Peter 1:4 ESV
4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
1 Peter 2:11 ESV
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

Are you living your life in light of the new identity Christ purchased and redeemed you for or are you treating your Lord like a convenient addition?

James highlights these three things and they all fall under this umbrella. This idea that we must consider. “?” Are you living your life in light of what he has done? Imagine a couples gets married and they continue to live as if they were not married. They continue to live as if they weren’t even in a relationship together. The live in separate houses. They don’t share any resources. They don’t really talk to each other. They shake hands when they see each other. Offer a polite greeting. Would they truly be embracing their new identities as husband and wife? No of course not. Sometimes we treat Jesus like this. He has given us a new identity, he has purchased us, he has redeemed us, given us a new life, and yet we treat him like a convenient addition.
Friends he has done far too much for us and demands far too much from us for us to simply treat him as an add-on item. Jesus is not the cookie they tries to sell you for a $1 at Subway after you’ve built your sandwich. May we treat him as he deserves.
Let’s pray.
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