BE WHO YOU WILL BECOME
Written by Doug Ponder on August 7, 2016
Be Who You Are
Every time someone says, “Act your age!”, they are making a claim about identity and action. In particular, that exhortation (or is it more of a rebuke?) highlights a dissonance between who you are and how you are behaving. It implies that there is a way you ought to be acting or behaving based on your age and maturity, but you are not behaving in this way.
The important thing to see that identity precedes action; being precedes behavior. You do not act older in order to become older, as if your behavior could literally advance your age several years. No, you simply are a certain age and therefore ought to act in a way that befits who you are.
This principle is true in the Bible, too. God does not tell us to “act like a Christian in order to become a Christian.” We are never called to behave like a child of God in order to become his child. You do not have to live a life that deserves love in order to be loved. It is always the other way around: God makes us Christians by faith, and then works in us to make us act more like Christ. God adopts us as his children by his grace, and then calls us to live like his sons and daughters. God loves us first, and then calls us to love him in return. Identity precedes action; being precedes behavior.
When you get this backward, everything unravels. You will focus on your behavior incessantly, not because you want to ‘be who you are,’ but because you (wrongly) believe that you must behave in order to belong or that you must act a certain way in order to become what you want to be. This is nothing short of a works-based understanding of salvation, which lives as if your behavior determines your being or your actions determine your identity. Yet we are saved by grace, and only after are we asked to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1).
Who You Are Is Who You Will Be
The Scriptures add one important twist to the “be who you are” or “act like your identity” idea we have been discussing. It is this: who you are is who you will be.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are… Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)
These verses make three points. First, Christians already are God’s children because of the love God has given to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We do not need to ‘behave’ in order to ‘belong.’ We do not have to ‘act like God’s child’ in order to ‘become God’s child.’ We already belong to him because of Jesus.
Second, the verse says that although we are God’s children now, what we will be one day is not yet reality in our daily lives. This is not referring to a change in our status or relationship. You either are a child of God or you are not. You can’t become a “super child of God” or anything of the sort. So when it says “what we will be has not yet appeared,” it means that our daily lives, our actions, are not yet like Christ. In other words, our lives now are marked by dissonance between who we are and how we live. We are God’s children, but we don’t always live like that. But one day (when Jesus appears), we will!
Finally, these verses say that because of all this, those who hope in the good news about Jesus seek to “purify themselves just as he is pure.” What does this mean? Simply that Christians strive to be in practice who they will become in perfection. Or to say the same another way, God calls us to ‘be who you will become’ when he is finished with us.
This is not a matter of trying to create a new identity for ourselves. On the contrary, it’s a call to live in accordance with the identity we have been given in Christ. We have been forgiven and declared to pure in Christ—that is our true identity. But the daily actions of our lives do not line up with our identity.
So Be Who You Will Become
Like an immature man who never acts his age, every day Christians struggle to be who they are. The solution, however, is not one of self-help and self-created identities. The ethic of the Bible is not, “Become who you want to be” or “Be the change you wish to see in yourself.” Instead, God calls us to ‘be who you will become,’ which is a double reminder of his grace.
First, it reminds us that we already are his son or daughter because. We do not have to earn this status; it comes to us by faith in his grace. Second, it reminds us that we our actions will one day match our identity—and this is also by his grace: “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
Every desire to live a more godly life, every struggle to resist temptation, every prayer for God’s help to honor him are all about the same thing: be who you will become. In the future (at the return of Jesus) you will be godly in your actions (because of your present identity)—so be who you will become. One day you will not struggle to resist temptation, because you will be in the presence of an all satisfying Savior—so be who you will become. One day you will not need to fail to honor God, because your future with him is one of honor and glory forevermore—so be who you will become.
Who you are is who you will be, and what you will be when you’re with Jesus is ‘like him’ (1 John 3:2). So the entirety of Christian obedience, then, boils down to this: practice the presence of the future, and be who you will become.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.