How should I identify myself?

A lot of people talk about being [FILL IN THE BLANK]-Americans, nowadays. That word before the hyphen usually has something to do with where the person’s family came from. And that historical adjective might even refer to things that happened hundreds of years ago. I really don’t think that way. And apparently I am not the only one. Someone has compiled a list of strange things that Americans do. Here is one of them:

“Identifying as your heritage instead of your nationality. Americans will say that they’re Italian, German, Polish, etc. when they don’t speak the language and have no real connection to those countries anymore. In other parts of the world people just identify with the country they were born in or have lived in for a significant amount of time, regardless of their ancestry.”

This is something I didn’t grow up thinking about. Yes, I did hear funny jokes about ethnic people. But most of them could apply to just about any other people group. Remember this one?

Q: How many [FILL IN THE BLANK]s does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: One to hold the bulb and 3 to turn the chair.

I really don’t have a firm grasp of where my family came from. My brother traced the family tree back several hundred years, but it didn’t make me think that I was from another country. My only recollection about me is that I’m an American from Ohio. What happened hundreds of years ago has little to do with who I am today.

When we think about who we are, our ethnic heritage really doesn’t matter for a Christian. It might shape the way we talk, act, think, or look, but our main descriptor should be Christian.

Think about what the Bible says about this.

  1. What does the Bible say about our past?

    While the Bible was written before we were born, there is plenty of information about our ancestors contained in it.

    a. We all descended from Adam and Noah (Gen. 3:20; 9:18-19).

    When God gave Eve to Adam, he named her because she was the first mother from whom all people came from. Sadly, those descendants spiraled out of control and became very wicked until only one family remained that was true to God. Noah and his family escaped God’s judgment on the Ark and later repopulated the earth.

    Because this is true, we are all related. We are related to the professors in the Ivy League schools as well as the primitive tribes in the jungle. We are all part of the human race irrespective of any differences we may see today.

    b. We have good and bad ancestors.

    It is easy to talk about our famous ancestors but not the ones we dislike. On Sharon’s side, we may be related to Stephen Foster. On my side, we may be related to someone who was in the Olympics. My personal claim to fame is that I was next in line to play a game of pickup basketball with the professional football player, Pepper Johnson. Are you impressed yet?

    If we go back to Noah, we can say that we are related to him. Yes, Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. But he also got drunk and took off his clothes after the Flood. Which of these are you more happy to be related to?

    The problem is that we are also related to criminals, pathological liars, and ungodly people. But nobody brings that up unless they are blaming you for something that happened in your family’s past. Were your ancestors slavers? Were your ancestors Nazis? Were your ancestors hateful? Probably, but we didn’t have a choice in becoming a part of our family just as others didn’t either.

    c. We have problems of our own.

    The Bible describes the entire human race in terms that do not flatter:

    Isaiah 64:6 – “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

    Romans 3:9-12 – “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.”

    These descriptions leave us with no excuses. We all are sinful and much different than what we want to be known for. But God peels away our facade and shows who we are at our core.

  2. What does the Bible say about different people?

    The Bible does talk about different people groups. In the Old Testament, the Bible talks about the color of someone’s skin (the Ethiopian, Solomon’s wife) but it mostly divides people up into nationalities based on where the people live. But even then, the Bible describes people by how they responded to God and his ways.

    When you get to the New Testament, the idea of describing people by their nationality is not as important. Not several verses that show us this.

    a. God loved the world (John 3:16).

    While we are very familiar with this Bible verse, we don’t often think of the context. Jesus was talking to a Jewish teacher named Nicodemus. When these words were spoken, a Jewish person would have expected Jesus to say that “God so loved the Jewish people.” Instead, Jesus said that He loved the world. That includes people outside of God’s Chosen People.

    b. God divides us into two types of people (Matt. 25:31-33).

    Jesus announced that He would divide people like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Apparently, this was necessary at the end of the day. In this passage, Jesus puts some people (sheep) on his right hand and calls them blessed for their character and actions. He then puts other people (goats) on his left hand and calls them cursed. He sends them away because of their character and actions.

    This gives us the idea that it is not one’s heritage that counts but one’s relationship to Jesus. Who are the people who do what is right? It is the people (in any place) who believe and obey the Lord. Who are the people who are rejected by the Lord? It is the people (in any place) who do not believe or obey the Lord.

    c. God unites believers from all over (Rev. 7:9-10).

    This final passage is one that makes me smile. After listing off the tribes of Israel, John writes that he saw an immense crowd of people from diverse backgrounds. The people in this group came from different nations, tribes, peoples, and languages. But these people were not united by those characteristics but by what they all believed. They all agreed that Salvation came from God and the Lamb and they praised God for that fact.

The Bible shows us what God thinks about our identity. While it does not ignore our nationality, skin color, and culture, it does minimize the value of those characteristics. Even being a Jewish person is not as important as you would think.

What God deems valuable is not our historical background, or national origin, but our response to Him. Are you a believer in Jesus Christ? Are you listening to and obeying God? Are you unified with the faithful people of God? These are the important characteristics that should differentiate us from other people in the world.

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