You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Recently during a few summer evenings, I've been watching the Jason Bourne films with my teenage boys while the women are out pursuing their acting exploits. There are five action-filled Bourne films, most starring Matt Damon, spanning 14 years. Funny how my kids think a movie made in 2002 is ancient. (Not actually funny.)
Each movie follows the same basic plot line, with big chase scenes, fights, and explosions. That isn't typically my cup of tea, but the story itself is a compelling one. A trained and brainwashed CIA assassin loses all memory of who he is/was and what he has done in his past. And so he begins a journey to put all the pieces together and discover his identity, all while others are trying to hunt him down, because if he finds the truth, he will have the power to bring the program's dark deeds to light. But he simply wants to know the whole truth. He wants to know who he was even before he was indoctrinated. He wants to find out his "born" identity, not simply the one he has "borne" for the last decade under the CIA's control. The name choice itself is great, since Bourne isn't even his true name... just the one he was given by his handlers.
It's a constant internal battle. He snaps into the near superhuman killer he was trained to be every time he gets chased... but he also has moments of choosing kindness, showing compassion, and refusing to take revenge. He wants to seek the truth, start over again, and to apologize to the many people he has wronged. But it's complicated, because of these multiple identities constantly at war within him (that's a New Testament reference... find it yourself). There's this whole person inside of him that he is trying to get free from, to become something new.
It's the unlearning that Bourne does in the movies that I found interesting. It's the moments that he stops and chooses a different way than what he was trained to do.
I frequently use the language of being "formed in Christ." Yet the truth is that like Bourne, most of us are not starting from a blank slate. Our moment-by-moment lives have already been formed by American culture much more than we probably care to know. Many Christian attitudes about society and value are formed more from western capitalism than the words of Jesus. Christians don't tend to use technology or social media any differently than their neighbors. We aren often supportive of violence as long as it is done against whoever we deem is the "bad guy." On too many days, Christians don't exhibit any more kindness, peace, forgiveness, grace, or compassion than their neighbors. In other words, we blend in a little too well.
Most days just by stepping out of our door, turning on the phone, or watching the news-- we are being shaped.
So an identity has been formed in us, all right. But often not the one Jesus would move us toward.
Perhaps we need to understand that a big part of discipleship with Jesus is learning to become de-formed from the cultural values that we swim around in every time we leave our house or look at our phones. Of course, it also means becoming de-formed from our own selfishness too (we don't get to blame society for the moments that we don't act with the heart of Jesus!).
I'm finding this journey with Christ to be a lifelong process of de-forming and re-forming identity. Sometimes it feels like discovering our old, foundational self... and sometimes it feels like something brand new is forming in us. Actually, that was true of Jason Bourne's experience, too. But he's not a great guide. Jesus is. And as we keep waking up to his Spirit, it's going to be a lifelong journey of being born again, again and again, into the love that will shape every little part of who we are.
Today, I encourage you to read a little from the life of Jesus. Invite him to bring to light some part of you that has been shaped more by outside forces than by Christ. Then, trust him with it and walk in grace, with hope of a renewed identity.
Jesus, help me let go today of the false attitudes and identities that do not reflect your kingdom, so I can live into who you made me to be.
*PSA- If you decide to watch these films, don't expect any truly profound themes to emerge. I had to make some serious jumps...