Identity Change – Genesis 17

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things become new.” When one comes to faith in Christ, a change begins to take place in them. You cannot be saved without it affecting you. Believing the Gospel and accepting Christ as Savior will result in a changed life. If you are not in the process of changing, then you have never been saved. When you are born again, your identity will change. As you grow in Christ you will become more like Christ. Eventually you should get to the point that when people look at you, they do not see you, but, they see Jesus. Unfortunately, there are very few who get to a place in their spiritual growth where when people see them, they see Jesus. As a matter of fact, I can count on one hand the number of people I have known that had such an identity change. One of those was my grandmother, Peggy Glassner. You could see it in her eyes. She was filled with the love of God. When you saw her, you saw Jesus. Though she has been gone for a number of years, her presence is still felt. Her influence remains. Why? Because she was changed in such a way that she was no longer Peggy Glassner, she was Jesus to this world.

In Genesis 17 we see the account where Abram and Sarai’s names are changed. We also see God’s covenant with Abraham and the sign of that covenant, which is circumcision. In verse 5, we see how God changes Abram’s name to Abraham. There is great significance in changing Abram’s name. The changing of a name marks a special event, in this case, God’s covenant with Abraham. The name Abram means ‘exalted father’, whereas, the name Abraham means ‘father of a multitude’. The change in his name comes with the additional two letters ‘a-h’ in the middle of his name. This also bears some significance. ‘Ah’ in Hebrew is an exclamatory word. It is in reference to pain or excitement. This change in Abraham’s life was not easy. Change is never easy. In verse 15, we see how God changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. “Sarah” is an alternate form of the older “Sarai,” meaning “princess” she as the lawful wife becomes the mother of all Israel.[1]

As we study Genesis 17, there are two basic things we learn concerning having an identity change. First, we learn how to have an identity change and secondly, we learn the results of an identity change.

How to have an identity change:

Walk with God (v. 1). God appears to Abraham and gives him some basic conditions in order for him to be changed and to receive God’s covenant with him. The first condition is to walk with God. As we are in the process of being sanctified, it is required of us that we walk with God daily. You cannot be changed, you cannot become like Jesus unless you are walking with Him. To walk with God is to have communion with God. It is fellowship with God. To have such communion with God one must practice basic spiritual disciplines. There are seven such spiritual disciplines:

  1. Worship
  2. Prayer
  3. Meditation
  4. Bible Study
  5. Giving
  6. Church Attendance
  7. Witnessing

As you practice these seven spiritual disciplines regularly, then you can truly walk with God. As you walk with God, you will begin to see a change in your behavior and in your attitude. Your life will begin to be a reflection of Jesus.

Be Holy (v. 1). God tells Abraham to be perfect. This seems like an unreasonable demand. However, holiness is something we are all called to. Being holy is impossible in our own efforts. It is a work that God must do in us. However, God’s work in us is dependent upon our walk with Him. Not that God cannot do the work without any effort of our own, but, that God chooses not to do a work in us without our obedience in walking with Him. If you want to be holy. If you want to be able to resist sin and live a pure life, then you must walk with Him daily. Walking with God, practicing spiritual disciplines, is a condition for a holy life.

Listen to God (v.3). I love verse 3. “Abram fell on his face: and God talked with Him.” When was the last time God talked with you? Think about this: God is always talking to you. He is constantly communicating. Are you listening? As a parent, there are times when I am caught up in a moment and I am busy. In that busy moment one of my children may be talking to me and yet, I do not hear a word they are saying. There have been many times when I catch myself and look at my child walking away in disappointment because I did not take the time to listen to them. That look of disappointment on their face breaks my heart. I wonder what the look is on God’s face when He is constantly trying to talk with us, but, we are too busy to listen. I wonder how much it disappoints Him when we do not listen. Abram fell on his face in the presence of God and God talked with Him. Oh, that we would hear the voice of God. Oh, that God would talk with us. May we humble ourselves, stop in our tracks, slow down, and fall on our face and listen to God.

Results of an Identity Change:

God’s Blessing (v. 4-9). As a result of the change in Abraham’s identity, God establishes a covenant with Abraham that will serve as a blessing to the whole world. He promises Abraham that he will be that father of multitudes. He promises Him that many nations will rise from his descendants. The greatest promise is the promise of God’s chosen nation: Israel. Through which God gives us Jesus to be the Savior of the world. Warren Wiersbre writes, “Keep in mind that Abraham’s descendants include not only the Jewish people, but also the Arab world (through Ishmael) and the nations listed in Genesis 25:1–4. All who trust Jesus Christ as Savior are spiritual children of Abraham (Gal. 3:6–9), and that will be a vast multitude (Rev. 7:9).”[2] The fruitfulness of Abraham was a blessing from God. It was nothing that Abraham did, it was all God. In being fruitful for God, we have nothing in ourselves that will accomplish the task. Abraham and Sarah had tried their own plan, and it failed miserably.[3] If we want God’s blessing, then we must do things God’s way. If we desire to live fruitful lives that mirrors the life of Jesus, we must do things God’s way. We must walk with God daily, be holy, and listen to God. As we live in such a way, God will bless and will produce beautiful fruit in us and we will be changed into the image of Christ.

Physical Sign (v. 10-14). The physical sign of God’s covenant with Abraham was circumcision. The physical sign of our commitment to Christ is water baptism. However, it goes much deeper than these symbolic gestures. When are identity is changed we are changed from the inside out. As God does a work in us, it is seen outwardly by the way we live. Your whole demeanor will change, your attitude will change, the way you talk will change, the way you present yourself will change. Everything changes when God gives you a new identity. My grandmother was one who was physically changed. She was beautiful. There was a glow on her face and a gleam in her eye. When you saw her, you knew there was something different, something special about her. What about you? Can people see a change in you? Does your countenance show that you have a new identity?

Earthly pleasures vainly call me, I would be like Jesus; Nothing worldly shall enthrall me, I would be like Jesus. Be like Jesus, this my song, In the home and in the throng; Be like Jesus, all day long! I would be like Jesus. He has broken every fetter, I would be like Jesus; That my soul may serve Him better, I would be like Jesus. All the way from earth to glory, I would be like Jesus; Telling o’er and o’er the story, I would be like Jesus. That in Heaven He may meet me, I would be like Jesus; That His words “Well done” may greet me, I would be like Jesus.

Oh, that we would be like Jesus! May God change us in such a way that our identity is completely change and when others see us, they see Jesus.

[1] Mathews, K. A. (2005). Genesis 11:27–50:26 (Vol. 1B, p. 205). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 66). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 66). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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