(My wrap-up and personal application for the Book of Romans, School of Biblical Studies – University of the Nations)
What happened to the bold, confident 16-year-old girl who quoted this very phrase by heart when her youth minister asked the question, “If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?”
“I wouldn’t be anyone,” that girl said. “I’d just be me because that’s who God made me to be.”
Yet, somewhere between that very moment and the dreams she would do anything to make come true, that girl lost sight of the motto she had taped to the inside of her school locker door. She forgot who she was, and she surrounded herself with people who told her who they thought she was. Sometimes that was worthless; sometimes that was high and mighty; sometimes that was stupid; sometimes that was too good.
So which was it? Was she proud or was she useless?
She was neither. She just didn’t know how to be herself anymore.
Don’t you know this is what the members of the churches in Rome were experiencing when they received Paul’s letter? What a debilitating situation they were in: the Jewish church was desperate to appease the ruling authority. They didn’t know whether to hide, obey, or revolt. They wanted to be leaders of the church, but in doing so, they became bossy, self-righteous, and just plain mean.
The Greeks, or Gentiles, on the other hand, had a scapegoat, sort of. They were a bunch of nobodies. They could have their little church without really posing a threat to the greater good of the Roman Empire. They weren’t doing church right anyway, according to the Jews, the “real” church, the cream of the crop – hand-selected by God to live with Him for eternity.
But then Paul came along, like Paul always seemed to do, and said, “Hey, stop trying to please everyone around you and just be the people God made you to be. Act how God wants you to act. Hey, just be you.
“Be nice. Treat people with respect. Love them. Pray for them. You don’t have to act like them. Do what you know is right. Walk away when you know it’s wrong. Just be you. And for Pete’s sake, be you with others like you! (Not like you in a sense of social status, but like you in a sense of Spirit.) Find those like you and learn with them, grow with them, love with them.
“Be Jesus with them.”
“That’s all God wanted in the first place.”
“Yes, do that. I’ll see you soon. Love, Paul.”
So, that 16-year-old girl I was telling you about … she sat in a church pew one cool March Sunday morning. Only this time she wasn’t 16. She was 32.
She cried. No. She wept, violently. She begged the God who had carried her through a string of untimely deaths, a parade of abusive relationships, three divorces, and a thousand and one hangovers to rain down on her a love she had not known in a very. long. time.
As she drank of that cup and ate of that bread that was Jesus, as broken and bone-weary as she was, she felt a wave of mercy and love wash over her like yesterday never existed and tomorrow would never matter.
She forgot at that very instant what the world wanted her to be and remembered the girl God created her to be. Perfect. Loved. And ready to find others just like her.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:20-23 (ESV)
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