I’ve just been watching one of the episodes in the BBC television series ‘Who do you think you are’, in which celebrities trace their family ancestry. In this edition, the singer Marianne Faithfull traced her mother back to her roots in Germany and Austria, and it focussed on her Jewish grandmother who had to survive the horrors inflicted upon Jews by the Nazis.
One of the things that the Nazis did was to force all Jewish people to adopt a new name. Women had to add the name Sara to their other names. Similarly men had to add Israel to theirs. It meant that they could be
immediately identified as Jews. Later, of course, they were required to wear a yellow Star of David on their clothing. These symbols enabled the Jews to be excluded from German society, persecuted and ultimately rounded up to be taken to the concentration camps.
Today Jews will often wear a Star of David as a proud symbol of their identity. It is at the centre of the flag of Israel, a symbol of national identity. What was used against them now helps define them. They are a people who defied persecution and will never forget what they have suffered.
In his series on the history of the Jewish people, The Story of the Jews, Simon Schama refers to the sense of identity that has allowed the Jewish people to survive against the odds. Despite geographical separation across the world, and the destruction of a third of their total population through genocide, the Jewish culture has continued and flourishes.
Identity is vitally important. It gives us a sense of belonging and a sense of direction. There is a strange sense of security in knowing who you are. Many of us today proudly wear a cross in some form. It gives us a sense of identity too. It projects something about us that we want others to see. It says that we are followers of Jesus Christ who was executed on a cross and rose from the dead.
Hopefully our studies in the Letter to the Romans have given us all a sense of the importance of the cross and the importance of our identity. It is important to us not because we want to show off who we are – although, like Paul we are certainly not ashamed of the Good News of Jesus. It is important to us because it gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of direction for our lives and a sense of security.
This is especially important to us since we have been through a change of identity. Once we belonged to a different family and had allegiance to a different family head but as Paul says in Colossians 1:13-14 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We have a new family; the name we should insert into
our names is Jesus, and living with that name and that new identity should give us direction for the whole of the rest of our lives.
In Romans 8:15 Paul writes: So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. So let us leave behind the slavery of sin – we have been forgiven and set free from it. Instead let’s build the Kingdom of God. Let’s make that the priority for the way that we use our lives and all the resources that God has given to us. Let’s live up to our true identity without fear or shame because the world needs to see God’s love in action and we are the people He wants to use to do just that.
Yours in Christ