"As we start the beginning of a new year, we have to ask ourselves what is the life that we are going to live in 2014? To whom does it belong? What will define the life that we're going to live? In what will we rejoice? Out of what identity will we live and move and act?"
These are the questions President Mark Labberton presented at the first All-Seminary Chapel of the winter quarter as he continued his preaching series from the book of Philippians. Teaching from Philippians 3:1-11 where the Apostle Paul challenges the Philippian church not to rejoice or take delight in lesser things -- things that are not the self-giving love of Jesus Christ.
In describing his own personal, human, and even religious pedigree, Paul expresses that in light of the distinctness of what God did through Jesus Christ, all other forms of identity are recalibrated, Labberton explained.
"Our personal family life, entailments of our experience, our background, our setting, all those things…are part of our identity," Labberton said. "But here Paul says, in fact, they are not the best that's going to ground our identity in the clearest most faithful way, and by comparison, to which, the grace of Jesus Christ trumps all of that and recasts it all in such a way that it enables us to actually live a new and fresh and clearer identity because of the faithfulness and love and mercy of Jesus Christ."
Labberton warned that what Paul is advocating for is not a false claim of humility that is often found in the culture of Christian identity. Paul is saying that the reality of each believer -- all the good and bad things of their lives -- can be recast in light of the mercy, love, and justice of Jesus Christ. That should be the place in which Christ-followers should come to understand who they most truly and fully are, he said.
"For Paul everything comes back to that fundamental sense that our identity is in Christ, through Christ, for Christ, under Christ, to Christ," Labberton said. "It's all centered in that one person."
So, how do Christians go about taking the complexity of who they are as human beings in all the forms of their experiences, cultural background, relationships and identity clarity and confusion? Paul says that we do it by seeking Christ - entering into the kind of profound relationship with Christ that isn't on the surface, but is a deep transformation in which as we come to know Christ, we know ourselves, and as we know ourselves we are invited to know Christ even more, Labberton said.
Furthermore, to know Christ is to know the resurrecting power of Christ, and through that understanding believers can share in the fellowship of his suffering.
Still, Paul doesn't end his letter on that great acclimation, Labberton said. Paul writes that there is a place of identification that is deeper and lies on the other side of resurrection. That identity is each believer's call to take up their cross and follow Christ. It's about surrendering all our accomplishments and all our losses to be given possibility of a new life.
Therefore, we start 2014 with the confidence not just that this year will be better than the year before, Labberton said.
"It's not a faint, vain hope. It's actually an entrance into a resurrected life," he said. "Today and everyday we are invited to live in the context of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and as a consequence to do something very important."
Labberton explained that Christians are called to not just indulge in the resurrection, but also share in the suffering of Christ's love, and the further invitation to live out their vocation as a resurrected person.
"Fuller exists for all kinds of reasons, but I would say at the very core it exists to help each of us and all of us to enact this call in our lives: to actually be people who live as Christ's disciples, who know Christ and, in that sense, seek to follow and discover him, who walk in the reality of the resurrection because of a hope that has been created for us -- a way that's been made that only Jesus Christ can offer -- and then to love in all the particular ways in which we are all made to love," he said.
Paul is issuing an invitation to step up to the call to know Christ, walk in the resurrection, and be people willing to identify in a fellowship of Christ's sufferings, living as one who has been saved. It's not a false humility or need for affirmation, but a real identity confident in the one who has given his life for the salvation of the world.
"May that be our call for 2014," President Labberton concluded.
The chapel time ended with an extended time of prayer and worship in the Korean tradition of "tong sung kido." Prayers were lifted up for the persecuted church, for un-churched regions of the world, and for the leaders of Fuller Seminary.
Go here to see the schedule of speakers for All-Seminary Chapel this quarter.