Who Do You Say I Am?
by Mikhail Manuel
If you could describe who you are in ten seconds, what would you say? This is the question we asked a variety of students on six main university campuses across South Africa. We got a mixed bag of answers, some students more sure than others. In reality, however, our identity as humans is an extremely complex and convoluted issue – ten seconds not nearly long enough to do it justice!
Figuring out who you are is a process. It could take someone an entire lifetime to be able to say with confidence who they think they are. As students, this is a time of self-discovery where we can analyse and critique common-held beliefs and worldviews – framing the choices we make around what we believe to be fundamentally true. But how do we come to the point of knowing that some things are better for us than other things? And what are our motives behind the key decisions that we make which will determine who we are as people?
A lot of the time we care so much about what others say or think about us that we form who we are based on society’s expectations of us. We crave others’ approval and praise, forgetting what our hearts desire most which is the love, freedom, joy, and peace that flow from relationship with God. In Mark 8:29, Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do you say I am?” He never asked them this question because he was unsure about His own identity, in need of affirmation, which is often the case with us. Instead, He wanted to make sure that they knew who He truly was and with what authority He was saying and doing the things He said and did.
Peter answered Jesus’ question by stating that He is the Christ. Effectually, ‘Christ’ was Jesus’ title. The Greek derivation of ‘Christ’ is translated to mean the ‘Anointed One’ or the ‘Chosen One’. This was significant because the Old Testament prophets prophesied about a coming King that would set God’s people free. Isaiah predicted that “a King will reign in righteousness” [i] and Daniel prophesied the “coming of an anointed one, a prince”[ii].
Jesus’ time on earth was the fulfillment of many prophecies by many people over many centuries. To understand the purpose behind why Jesus came to earth, Paul tells us in a nutshell that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”[iii] I think each person will be able to understand these words by first deeply considering the state of their own heart. At the core of who we are is a yearning to feel loved and to live with freedom, joy and peace. But these desires are never fully met because we are sinful, searching in all the wrong places for satisfaction and always coming away empty.
To see the truth in that statement, we need only to look at any human rights issue in the world. You will find that the fundamental desire behind the fight for equality is a group of marginalised individuals wanting simply to feel loved, free, joyful and peaceful. My parents fought for these fundamental desires when they struggled against the Apartheid government. Gay rights movements around the world have fought for marriage equality for decades under the same auspices. Today, Fees Must Fall, Rhodes Must Fall, and every other student protest is a struggle for the same cause. Everyone wants to feel loved and live freely with joy and peace.
God never intended for us to attain these fundamental desires by forcing social or government reform, or trusting in these things to save us from the problems we face. They will never fully be able to solve the real problem of sin in our hearts. Only Jesus can. This Messiah has made it possible for anyone to experience abundant life because He died so that our sins might be forgiven. He rose in victory over death and has promised to restore all things to how they were meant to be in God’s perfect world where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain”[iv]. All who are called His children will be able to live with their Father forever.
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”[v] Is it not true that we feel most loved when we are accepted unconditionally? I believe it to be the case. The Merriam Webster Dictionary mistakenly only describes love in terms of feelings, affection and emotions. But love is action. To love is to accept someone irrespective of their flaws, putting their needs and wants ahead of your own. “Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends.”[vi] That’s exactly what Jesus did for you and me and now He is calling us to do the same.
At the core of who we are is a yearning to feel loved and to live with freedom, joy and peace.
The sense of freedom you have always yearned for will be fully realised. Picture Sarafina on stage in her black and white school uniform, afro hair and broad smile, the joy beaming in her eyes singing: “Freedom is coming tomorrow!” Sarafina sings with jubilation because she has declared that the oppression of Apartheid in South Africa will end. That song captures the joy that we ought to experience to an even greater degree when we know we have been forgiven and set free from sin.
You will have the utmost joy. In 2 Samuel 6, King David is described to be leaping, dancing and rejoicing before the Lord. David possessed a special relationship with God, one that was rare for the era in which he lived because few truly understood God’s love for His people. Today, we too can have the same level of intimacy with God as David had, understanding the ultimate sacrifice God made for us in dying on the cross so that all can draw near to Him. That consistent relationship with God is what will bring you true joy.
You will have peace. David writes, “He leads me besides still waters. He restores my soul.”[vii] Matthew Henry explains how this passage shows that God will not only provide us with rest but also with refreshment and delight. I can testify to this truth. I have always had trouble with clarity over the potential direction of my career and often fret over daily decisions. This verse helps me to remember that my true rest is found when remaining in His presence.
Jesus is everything your heart has always yearned for; love, freedom, joy and peace. These deepest desires and where we go in search for them shapes who we are. Whether you regard yourself as an average Joe, plain Jane, freedom fighter, student activist, university executive, or sports hero – whoever you think you are – in God’s eyes you are more. You are His beloved son or daughter.
“Who do you say I am?” A question Jesus is asking you today. However you answer won’t change who He is. But I can guarantee that once you have come to know the love, freedom, joy, and peace only He provides – it will change who you are forever.
[i] Isaiah 32:1
[ii] Daniel 9:25
[iii] 1 Timothy 1:15
[iv] Revelation 21:4
[v] Romans 8:1
[vi] John 15:13
[vii] Psalm 23:2-3