9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.
Luke 19 NKJV
When I was a teenager, I thought very deeply about who I was and where I fit in. Yet I was born into a family who could not offer me a place of belonging. I remember going to my mother and father one day in desperation crying out ‘I don’t know who I am’. My father looked down with no words of comfort or help, wouldn’t even look me in the eye, and my mother flailed her hands around and cried ‘I can’t stand it when you are like this’. This was the first time I had ever voiced this despair, so my mother’s response was about her own lack. I remember realising with a sinking heart that I was alone, that my parents could not help me. The feeling passed, as feelings tend to do when you are a teenager, but I have never forgotten that incident. It inscribed on my soul the understanding that I was lost, that my family was lost and that nobody was able to point to the way home. Part of the reason I became a Christian was because a part of me recognised home in the Christians who preached salvation to me. However, I needed to travel a great deal further to understand that salvation is not in the church, but in Christ himself, and to recognise my lost condition I was going to need to have a much greater revelation of myself and of Jesus.
We are apt to think, especially in the church, that we, as Christians, are the blessed, the prospering, the glorious, the favourites of God. We do this readily, but without much thought or even bible reading; certainly without much spiritual understanding. We tend to believe without much nuance and in all encompassing generalities leaving ourselves open to misunderstandings and excusing a general lack of desire to search the scriptures for truth. We leave the bible study to the experts like the pastor or authors and teachers.
We have been told over and over again, especially if we have been part of certain church traditions, that we are special, better than those other poor sods over there who don’t have what we have. The language may not be that specific but the message is conveyed just the same. Christians are just as exclusive as any other group of humans and therein lies the problem. Are we looking to a group of human beings for our identity or to the one who created us? Is our primal connection to humans or to Jesus Christ? Because if we are looking to people, we will overlook the delicate issues, the differences of theological opinion, even the possibility that our definition of salvation is wrong. We will overlook these things in order to focus on belonging. If this is the case, then when somebody leaves because they denounce our beliefs as wrong, or our group as not meeting their needs, we shun, we reject, we close ranks because our identities as humans have been attacked.
If we are centered in God’s definition of us, we will not fall into this very carnal trap.
This is something we seek as human beings. We want to be part of something larger than ourselves. Something greater than we are. We want to connect ourselves to a group, a family, who will declare us to be acceptable not just to others but to God. Our most fundamental, yet least realised, yearning is to know who we are. We cover our unmet desires by rushing to grasp hold of anything which will reassure us of our identity. Yet too many of us rush to embrace identities which are not ours and were never meant to be ours.
If we come from families which have rejected us, if we have been bullied as children or hurt by significant others in our lives the pain of isolation and brokenness causes us to be even more desperate to know where we will be safe. We think if we know who we are, if we can identify with a group of others we will be stronger because we will stand together, we will be able to say as one, this is who I am, this is who we are, and the longing for the deepest unmet need will be met. Yet it doesn’t happen.
How many Christians are dissatisfied, confused and constantly seeking the truth of their identity, moving from church to church, often because of false teaching or practice, but also because they are fundamentally troubled and don’t even recognise it.
Every human seeks identity amongst those who are like us, and it is a natural orientation; ‘Birds of a Feather’ and so on. But we are looking for reassurance in the wrong place. We go to the natural to find solace, to the material, to the seen, rather than the unseen. We don’t go immediately to God, we go to God’s people. We think we know who God is because we know who God’s people are. But today, God’s people are not who we think they are. We look for theological orthodoxy, we look for biblical understanding, we look for traditional praxis and outward recognition of what is ‘Christian’ and settle on these things. But there always remains a seed of doubt, a germ of unrest which is never quite satisfied.
Paul said that there was a reason that there were not many wise nor noble nor rich who were saved. He was trying to explain why the gospel was not acceptable in any culture, whether Greek or Hebrew, worldly or religious. 1 Corinthians chapter 1 gives us a comprehensive understanding of why we don’t find what we are looking for in the modern church.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks[b] foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
The genuine believers, those who are called and chosen of God were destined before the foundation of the world to be the lost. It is the weak, the orphaned, the broken, the imprisoned and the failure who is the favourite of God. Look throughout scripture and you will see the pattern everywhere. Adam and Eve tried 3 times to beget an heir, the precedent to the seed who would crush Satan’s head. And over and over since then, it is the younger or youngest son who has been the favoured of God. The least of these is the greatest. David, Joseph, Isaac, Jacob, and so on. Jesus himself said that he came to seek the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is the lost who will be found, God himself said it. If you are lost, if you are broken, if you are foundered, then you are a prime candidate for the salvation of God. Jesus said that the physician came to heal the sick not the healthy.
If you are truly lost and you know it, you will look upon a saviour with the eyes of the worshipper and marvel. You will never forget that you were lost and that He found you. A genuinely lost person will never ever forget what it was like to be in that condition. It will not leave you. That experience, that awakening – for it is an awakening out of the sleep of the shame and blindness of sin – will do a marvelous work in your soul. You will never forget the utter piercing of the heart and mind that lostness brings. A truly lost soul has the torment of the outer darkness etched into their hearts. And when the light of salvation comes, the joy and recognition that this is true and wholesome and holy and completely outside the realm of human knowledge and experience, likewise pierces your soul. A genuinely converted soul will never forget what it was like to be lost. Yet, we should know that it was our destiny to be the lost. We were ever meant to be the lost so that we could be found by Him. And to those who think they stand in their own brilliance because they believe themselves to be children of God from before the foundation of the world take heed. Yes, we become saved, we have the Spirit of Adoption, but who adopts somebody who is already taken? God adopts those without parents, those who have nobody to call family, those who have no home, and no inheritance.
It is terrifying to come to a realisation of our true condition without Jesus. A child lost in a supermarket knows the infinite coldness of having your parent ripped away from you in an instant. Believing you will be like that forever with nobody to help you is a terrible place to be in. Even though we only usually experience this for a brief moment and are restored to our parent, usually pretty soon, we never forget that feeling. Yet, as we come to a place spiritually where we realise that we are truly lost with no hope from another human being we can embrace the salvation of God, of His Son. Because it is at this point that the scales fall from our eyes and we will be ripe for the harvest of the Lord himself.
This is why no priest, no pastor, no Christian, no religious person of any persuasion is ever going to be able to save you. The place of salvation is the place of desertion of all hope. We have to come to that recognition of our own lostness in the vastness of the universe with no help from anyone. Then the God of the Lost will come to the one who cries out for the Great Shepherd and finds that His presence is immediate and help and salvation will come to those who seek it.
We are the lost. We are truly the ones who are saved by Jesus alone, by faith alone. This is our identity. We are the rejected of the world, the despised, the mocked, the misunderstood, the vile, the shunned. Rejoice that we are ever thus, because when we are saved, we will still likewise be rejected by the world. It was ever meant to be thus, and will continue to be thus until we receive our heavenly reward. To be on the earth is to be lost, to be found out of our lostness, yet to be found in Him, in an invisible embrace which is complete, utterly safe, sound and totally protected. There is no obvious difference in us to the rest of the world, yet again there is, if others have eyes to see it.
We are blessed and loved by God, accepted in the beloved, and cared for with compassion and tenderness. It is this very compassion which compels God to save those who are lost, the lamb in the wilderness who is at the end of her strength. We have no strength, no rightness, no intellect, no power, no nobility, no comeliness, no ability to be able to stand before God in our own self. We have no identity in ourselves. Our identity is that of a lost sheep, not that of the kings of the world. Yet we give honour and glory to those who are the best, the brightest, the most popular, the most powerful and the greatest. God is not moved by these ones. He is not impressed by human achievement.
If the God who made us, who gave us form, who watches over us and who seeks after us cannot define us, then who can? Really…..who? Ourselves? That is a lie from the pit.
But don’t even look for your identity in a church or any group of Christians. We are not saved by people and we are not sustained by people, we are comforted, clothed with righteousness and healed and sustained by the Holy Spirit and by Jesus Christ. He is the God of the Lost, the God of the Found and we can say that with a full heart and a deep spiritual discernment of that truth. This is our glory.