Identity starts with design and design happens at the very beginning of creation, before anything is made. Our journey into life therefore starts with the beginning—our genesis.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning, before anything spiritual or physical was ever created, was God. He is the source of all life and so the Bible starts by telling us that God created the entire universe.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
In the beginning God created everything, including us. As people, we are not a consequence of chance. Not a single feature of the awesome complexity that is found in every part of our bodies came about because of chance or random changes in nature. Every part of us: body, soul and spirit has been deliberately designed and wonderfully made by God. And if we are deliberately designed by God, it is because He has a clear purpose for us. As our Creator, He alone holds the answers. He alone can tell us who we are and why He has created us.
Looking into the Mirror
In the natural realm, mirrors show us how we look physically. They are so much a part of our life that it is hard to imagine being raised without mirrors and not being able to recognize our own face. Yet that is exactly how so many people live spiritually. Too many people drift through life, never stopping to look into a spiritual mirror to see who they really are.
James 1:23-25 (emphasis added)
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
In this passage, James says that the word of God is like a mirror. In the same way that our glass mirrors show us our physical image, the Bible is a spiritual mirror that shows us our natural face. The word translated as natural here is the Greek word genesis, meaning “source, origin, or birth.”[i] Our natural face is our genesis face. It is our identity as God originally designed.[ii]
This makes the Bible so much more than a collection of historical books. It is a living revelation of God and of His original design for our lives. Like a person staring at their reflection, if we look intently into the word of God, we will be able to see our true purpose and identity in Christ. However, if we fail to act on what we see, we become like people who look at a mirror only to turn away and forget who we truly are. It is therefore essential that we learn how to move from reading to reality. Every time God speaks to us through the Scriptures and reveals who we are in Christ, we need to act on that word and let the Holy Spirit make it real for us.
The Greatest Command
As our Creator, God has made us with a specific design in mind and so our identity is forever set. It can never be changed because it can never be improved. No matter what kind of identity we try to develop for ourselves, it will never be as good as God’s design. And because God is so good, He has shared His design with us. It is not meant to be a mystery—every living person is supposed to know what it really means to be human.
It took me some time to come to this knowledge. Even though I grew up in a church, I knew little of why God created me. Then I heard a person teach the Bible with a spirit of wisdom and revelation. It was awe-inspiring and humbling to hear. To listen to someone speak of the word as a reality left me feeling like a complete novice. I realized that despite my knowledge of Scripture, I was still far from knowing the truth. One day, I threw my Bible on the bed and stared at it. I turned my thoughts to God.
“I know nothing about this book. If I’m going to learn to understand the Scriptures, you’re going to need to teach me.”
A short time later, I began reading the Bible and quietly came to a point of revelation. As I opened the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit opened my mind and showed me a truth that would alter the course of my life. He showed me what it meant to be human.
Matthew 22:34-40 (BSB)
And when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they themselves gathered together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested Him with a question: “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in the Law?”
Jesus declared, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.’”
If I was a clockmaker who made living clocks, I would not give my clocks the freedom to define themselves. If I did, one of my clocks could spend all day on a wall looking at a toaster and start to think that it too was a toaster. Instead, I would make their design and purpose clear. To do this, I could write a long instruction manual containing everything a clock must do to function. But if I was to write only one command for the clock, I would simply say: Tell the time. Within that one command I would communicate the whole design of my creation and its very reason for being.
Jesus does exactly the same thing here.
By revealing His greatest command, Jesus shows us why He created us. Every single one of us has been expertly designed to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. Our entire being is created for love.
Though I had read this passage many times, I had never read it as a revelation of my purpose or identity in Christ. I had also never paused long enough to realize what Jesus was doing by making this command first. It is first, not in the sense of being the initial command given to humanity, but first in terms of priority and importance. This is God’s number one priority for our lives. Why? Because it is the very reason for our creation.
Deuteronomy 6:1-5 (emphasis added)
“Now this is the commandment, and these are the statutes and judgments which the Lord your God has commanded to teach you, that you may observe them in the land which you are crossing over to possess, that you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe it, that it may be well with you, and that you may multiply greatly as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you—‘a land flowing with milk and honey.’
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
The most important command of God is first found in Deuteronomy. Like the rest of Scripture, the Mosaic Law contains many statutes and judgments, but they are all based on one single command: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. This first command exists as the foundation and context for all the rest of Scripture.
1 John 2:7 (NASB)
Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.
God does not change and neither does His design for humanity. There is no Plan B. Therefore, Scripture has always been unwavering in the call of love. From the very beginning where God first breathes life into Adam through to the very end where Christ reigns with His bride in awesome glory, the message of love resounds throughout all of Scripture. Within its pages we see an undeniable picture: We were all created by love, through love, and for love. Each one of us is a custom creation, specifically designed and perfectly built to love.
A Glorious Ideal
The greatest command expresses God’s unchangeable design for humanity, and it is worded in such a way that it leaves no room for partial obedience or half-hearted devotion. We are called to love God with our entire being and nothing less.
On the surface this seems like an out-of-reach ideal, disconnected from the reality of a fallen life. It is strangely comforting to think of the commands of Scripture as ideals that we strive for rather than realities that we attain. After all, who can be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, or completely humble and gentle?[iii] Who can fervently love others from a pure heart or pray without ceasing?[iv] Surely the commands of the Bible represent a collection of divine principles that we are to use as we strive to become more like Jesus. And because we are unable to meet the ideals of Scripture then surely our striving to keep God’s commands will be counted as obedience and rewarded by God. Or could we be wrong? Could there be a way to live in wholehearted obedience to God? Are we in fact capable of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?
Because all the commands of Scripture hinge on the greatest command, there is one question that we must be able to answer with absolute certainty. Concerning the greatest command, it is essential that we all—every single believer—settle this question in our hearts: Is it possible?
Do I believe in my heart that it is possible to love God with my entire being?
If no, then why not? What does this suggest about God?
If yes, then how is it possible? Is the first command the top priority in my life?
Is there anywhere in the Bible that clearly says if it is possible for us to keep the first commandment?
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Imagine approaching Jesus and asking Him, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Imagine Jesus looking you in the eyes and saying: “________, just love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.” Imagine what it feels like to hear Him speak those words personally to you.
This post is taken from the first chapter of First Love. Get your free copy.
[i] Thayer’s Greek Lexicon #1078
[ii] Note that many commentators believe the term genesis face mentioned here refers to our state at our natural birth, being inherently sinful (Psalm 51:5). From this perspective, being a doer of the word would mean turning from sin and “putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness” (verse 21). This may well be true on one level for the Bible often describes the sin and selfishness that ravages the heart of humanity. But the Bible is so much more than a list of good and evil. It is a revelation of the God of love and His design for us. The principle of looking into the mirror of the word equally applies to the genesis face of our new birth in Christ. If we read the word of God and behold the image of Jesus and our life in Him, but we do not then act on that image, we are like people who stray from our true identity and forget who we really are. The message is clear: we need to abide in the word of God to discover the reality of who we are and then let the word of God change our identity and our actions.
[iii] Matthew 5:48, Ephesians 4:2
[iv] 1 Peter 1:22, 1 Thessalonians 5:17