The Labels We Embrace
by Kenneth Ortiz
I have been to more than twenty countries around the globe, but India is like no other place I’ve ever been. Stray cattle wander everywhere; the air is filled with the aromas of curry and sandalwood; the streets are lined with an abundance of trash and sewage. Never will I forget what I experienced there.
More than the vivid images and unique smells, I will never forget the daily hardships the people face. Historically, Indian society divided people into social groups (known as castes) and imposed very strict limitations on the lower castes. While the traditional caste system is not nearly as strong in urban settings as it once was, it still continues today throughout the rural parts of the country.
During my first visit, I had a heartbreaking conversation with a Dalit woman that will stay with me forever. The Dalits are the lowest caste of India, often referred to as the untouchables. This woman and the other Dalits of her region live in extreme poverty, and often endure severe persecution at the hands of both local police and members of the upper-caste communities. They are forced to work in horrific conditions and are paid such low wages that many could legally be considered slaves. In many parts of India, the Dalits are denied access to public services, land ownership rights, education, freedom of religion, free choice of employment, and equal treatment before the law. In some rural parts of India, the sexual assault of Dalit women and young girls is extremely common. Often, crimes against the Dalits go unpunished.
The Dalit woman I met and spoke with had been terribly mistreated all her life. However, this wasn’t the most outrageous aspect of our conversation. What I found to be absolutely shocking was the fact that she embraced this societal status. Speaking through our interpreter, she even told me that having a job or a source of income would literally be robbing from someone more deserving. She made it clear that she and her family would never seek to gain a higher status in this life, nor would they ever strive to better themselves in any fashion. She told me she had rejected Jesus Christ as a god in her life because she was offended by the idea of any god thinking she was valuable enough to die for.
It may seem outrageous to us that anyone would choose to embrace the label of untouchable or the concept of worthlessness. But this is not unique or native to India. In our Western societies, there are just as many people who embrace similar labeling. This is especially true in our contemporary churches.
Most Christians do not truly understand what Jesus Christ accomplished at the cross, nor do they understand their own transformation. They see themselves as untouchable—feeling dirty, tied to the ball and chain of guilt. Many more do not fully grasp the freedom they have in Christ, always feeling the burden of being the “perfect Christian” and constantly feeling like God is mad at them. Much like the Dalit people, many Christians have not embraced the right labels and therefore never experience the life that God longs for them to have. But we can change all of that!
God desires that we live abundant lives (John 10:10) and that we be fully satisfied in him (John 15:11; 17:13). He desires our minds and hearts to be continually captivated by his love for us. God wants you to be satisfied in him. He longs for you to experience his love. Misunderstanding how God has redefined you will be the number one obstacle to the magnificent plan God has for you.
If we continually embrace the wrong definitions of ourselves, we will continually limit our ability to enjoy intimacy with God— doomed to bear the weight of guilt. A Christian weighed down by guilt or shame can never fully enjoy God and can never fully glorify God.
It is impossible to have a quality friendship with God without understanding how we have been redefined. Rightly understanding your divine redefinition will ignite reformation in your heart.
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