Who do you think you are? If you were to describe yourself in 50 words or less, what would you say? You might refer to your accomplishments, your habits, your strengths and weaknesses. And right there is the problem that lies at the heart of everything. You don’t really know who you are.
From the moment we’re born we’re conditioned to perform and pretend, to pursue what Ralph Harris, in his recently released book God’s Astounding Opinion of You, calls trivial nobility. We sweat on the treadmill of dissatisfying delusion hoping to become recognized as a good person, a good husband or wife, perhaps even an achiever. We get saved and learn kingdom principles that aid us in our quest for success. We have kids and raise them the same way, viewing them as little lumps of clay to be molded. We tell them they need to change, just as we are changing. But we don’t tell them that we’ve already been changed and radically so.
The most important thing in the world is to know what God thinks of you. If you have been born again, then you have been given a new nature that is holy and perfect. In God’s eyes you are blameless, righteous, royalty (Eph 1:4, Rm 5:17, 1 Pe 2:9). You may not feel like you are radiant royalty, but God says you are and you’re just going to have to take it on faith.
God’s Astounding Opinion of You is a book about what God thinks of us and how He treats us. Its message will leave you breathless at the majesty of God’s grace and gift to you. What is this gift? It is Himself and His unfathomable love. While we were sinners Christ died for us that we might be reconciled to God and made sons and heirs. Perhaps you know that you are His son, but do you act like it?
In this book Ralph Harris compares Christians who are unsure of their identity to Lazarus walking out of the tomb. They’ve been resurrected but they’re still wearing grave clothes. Their eyes have been opened but they can’t see. They’re saved for eternity but Christ is of no value to them now (Galatians 5:2). Because they do not see themselves as God sees them, they end up pretending to be something they’re not. They strive to tame their flesh and hate themselves when they fail.
This question of identity just may be the biggest issue in the church today. The sons and daughters of God don’t know they’re sons and daughters or, if they do, they think they are flawed and stubborn sons and daughters. They think they are little pieces of cement that God needs to whack into shape before they can be useful. “Rubbish,” says Ralph.
“Everyone born again by the Spirit has been born of a new nature… Giving my dog a whack to her backside might send her a message, but she’s a dog, and we don’t speak the same language, we don’t have the same nature, and I don’t live in her! I may get the behavior I want (and the lowered head and tail between the legs as well), but so what? Do I get any glory for what I’ve done? Any worship or praise? Is she glad and thankful for the whack? No! She just wants to do whatever it takes to avoid it in the future. Is that how God treats us – like His special pack of dogs? That’s a dog’s life, but it’s not mine, and it’s not yours.” (176-7)
What is this life that we have in Christ? It is “true nobility” that makes the pursuit of worldly nobility trivial in comparison. This is why Paul exhorted the saints to keep their eyes fixed on things above (Col 3:1). We live here but we’re from there (Jn 17:16). As Larry Norman once sang, we’re only visiting this planet. Problems start when we forget we’re aliens and our perspective shifts from there to here. Before you know it we’re playing by the rules of this world and walking after the flesh. This is why Paul, when he confronted the sinning Corinthians, didn’t preach law but reminded them of who they were (“sanctified in Christ”) and who they belonged to (“He will keep you strong and blameless”).
I would say I have a fairly secure identity as a son of God and yet I sometimes find my gaze has shifted earthward. I don’t see it in condemnation so much, but in competition and that old fleshly desire to perform and impress. Most of us have decades of conditioning to deal with and it will take a little time to rip the lies away. Renewing the mind isn’t something that happens at the front of an altar call. Thankfully, Ralph Harris doesn’t gloss over this stuff. In his book he provides a number of practical suggestions on how to live the life that Jesus promised. There’s a chapter for parents and another on burn-out. There’s a great description of different avenues of the flesh (chicken flesh, NASCAR flesh, whiny flesh, etc.). One thing that really struck me in this book is how the ministry of reconciliation is a calling to be a spectator rather than an initiator. (How different from what I used to teach!) This really is God’s show and He’s the best at everything He does.
My only gripe with this book is that many who need to read it may be turned off by its physical appearance. It looks like most every other book you would find in a Christian bookstore. I suspect middle-aged, middle-class folks will read it (people like me!), but teenagers, young guns and busy Moms won’t touch it. That’s a pity because they need to hear this message too. My advice to Ralph Harris and the good people at Harvest House is that they do a shorter version of the same book targeted for these different demographics. Every believer needs to hear the good news of what God thinks of us.
See all E2R’s book reviews here