Let me start this message off by giving us a short pop quiz. College students are thinking…a pop quiz, another one? And those who aren’t college students are like, I haven’t taken a pop quiz in x amount of years, you can fill that blank in.
Don’t worry it is probably one of the easiest pop quizzes that you will ever take in your whole life. Ready. Good.
(Show 5 brand logos- Nike, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, Apple, Guinness)
Now that was easy. It is easy to identify these corporate logos. But let’s go one step further. Let’s revisit these logos and I want you to share with me what these logos are saying, how do they make you feel, what emotions do they bring up in you, or what meaning do you derive from them?
According to Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, “Branding is everything.” And while he didn’t say it, I would imagine that we could also everything can be branded. But what is branding? Brand is a manufactured idea that infiltrates the imagination and is a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer. It is what we did with the second part of the pop quiz. Brands are really about identity. And in the 21st century we derive meaning and value based not on what is inside, but by what brands we consume. Consumerism has created a culture that values style over substance, image over reality, and perception over performance. Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist and philosopher said, “Consumption is a system of meaning.”
So if consumption is a system of meaning, giving us identity by the brands we consume, and meaning by what we buy, than shopping malls would be the new church. And then Douglas Atkin’s would be right, “Brands are the new religion”. And consumerism is a religion as well, giving us meaning, identity, and purpose.
But what about Christians whose identity should be wrapped up in God’s image, are we any different? Researchers were unable to differentiate between self-confessed believers and non relative in behavior and values except in one instance- what they buy. The religious consumer industry is a 7 billion dollar a year enterprise. So Christians, for the most part, are constructing and expressing identity not based on biblical worldview, or on what God says about us, as children of God, but through consumption of“Christ-branded products.” Christ branded products are becoming the identifying marker then of a Christian- what a Christian wears, reads, listens to, gets inked on their bodies, or puts on the back bumper of their car.
But before we go any further down this road, let’s go into the past and see what things brought people identity and what the markers were for the people of God.
In the Old Testament, the identity of God’s people, was circumcision. Circumcision was the external marker of spiritual identity and was identifying forming. But another way to say it today, it would be like saying that circumcision was the brand of the people of God. It was what set the people of God (at least the males of the people of God) apart from the rest of culture and the world. To be uncircumcised was seen as rejection of their cultural identity as the jewish people. In fact, in the Old Testament, when God gave the command to Abraham, for the males to “cut of the flesh of his foreskin”, those who didn’t were to be “cut off” from his people. In fact the world “uncircumcised” became synonymous with “unclean and heathen”. It was the people of God’s brand- an external marker of their spiritual identity. A symbol which would pull together people and build feelings of national and religious pride.
But is that what really is supposed to define or be the brand of God’s people today? Are we supposed to define our identity on what we consume or what we do to our bodies? Let’s look at a few Scriptures to see what is really suppose to be our brand, if you will. What is supposed to give us identity and meaning as the body of Christ in this world.
Romans 2:25-29 says, “Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the[ written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit,( not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” What Paul is getting at here is the connection between outward conformity and inner heart. The outward conformity to the people of God, the Israelites, was circumcision. But Jesus came not for outward conformity, but inner heart which would then change how you live. What Paul is also radically redefining is the concept of who is a true jew, who is truly the circumcised and who is the truly uncircumcised. To Paul, being a Jew is not about outward conformity to the law or to a physical marking or to an ethnic background. No a true Jew is one who is one internally, who has a heart to follow God and live for Him. Who has a heart that is branded (circumcised) towards God and His Kingdom.
External branding or circumcision, if you will, doesn’t mean squat. It is meaningless if there isn’t something behind and inside of that, an internal spiritual reality. So what he is getting at, is the fact that true circumcision isn’t outward and physical. No true circumcision is inward and spiritual- and not just for men. (not that it doesn’t lead to physical and outward acts of justice, mercy, compassion, and love)
Let’s rewrite part of Romans 2 to reflect wording for today, and the connection of branding and consumerism. We might rewrite it this way, “For no one is a Christian who is merely one outwardly, nor is branding outward and physical. But a Christian is one inwardly, and branding is a matter of the heart.” So if Paul was addressing us today he would say something like that. It would say that if you want to wear a cross around your neck, that is fine. If you want to have a cross tattooed on your body, that is okay. If you want to wear a Christian-inspired T-Shirt, that is up to you. If you want to display your faith by putting a fish on your bumper, than go right ahead, but make sure your driving reflects your faith (speeding, cutting people off, extending the one finger wave, etc..) But don’t expect that to give you identity, or meaning or identification as a follower of Jesus. Because following Jesus is about the heart first and foremost. That it is about love and relationship not just outward conformity to a bunch of rules and regulations.
So when it all comes down to it, being circumcised or being uncircumcised outwardly doesn’t mean that much to God. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:19 puts it this way, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts.” And for Paul’s hearers this would have raised some serious objections from his Jewish listeners. As I said before they put their spiritual identity and national identity on this brand of circumcision and now here Paul is saying that it doesn’t matter. That what really matters is where your heart is. Is your heart open and receptive to a relationship with God? Are you following him with your heart or are you like the Pharisee’s who tried to follow every rule and regulation but their hearts were far from Him. Or put in another way, their bodies were circumcised but their hearts weren’t. They were all about the externals. The washing of the hands. The washing of the cups/bowls. The 613 Old Testament rules and regulations that they were supposed to follow. Paul was again trying to tell them that outward conformity to a bunch of rules and regulations was misplaced. To assign a spiritual significance to an external mark, missed the mark. And really wasn’t what God wanted. He wanted their hearts, not just people following external laws. He wanted a relationship not just someone checking off a bunch of boxes on a to-do list to be “right with God”.
So what about us? What are those things that we think gives us identity, that mark us as follower of Jesus, that when it really comes down to, are external and physical? Are we seeking to be branded as a follower of Jesus because of where we shop, what we wear, what is tattooed on our bodies, or even what breath mint we stick in our mouths when we have bad breath (Testamints anyone)? What are those rules and regulations that we think are essential to following Jesus but focus purely on the external without looking to the root of it all…the heart? How often do we get caught up in the externals, even the externals that are good, and forget that when the heart changes, the externals will change. The church focuses, in my opinion, on behavior modification, and not on heart change. On the externals and not the internal. On the circumcision of the body, if you will, and not the more important, circumcision of the heart.
Let me close with two things. There are outside markers that will give us identity and show who we live for. It isn’t what we wear, where we shop, etc.. It is what we put on according to Colossians 3:12. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves( with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Instead of putting on Tommy Hellfighter shirts, Jesus is my Homeboy underwear, or a cross tattoo to mark us and identify us, we need to be identified as a people who are known by our love (John 13:35) We need to be a people known to be marked by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Do we as the people of God in this world today live this out? Is that our brand? When people see the brand or logo of Christians do they automatically think about those things in John 13:35 and Colossians 3:12? And if not than we need to focus on having a circumcised heart that will change our heart and will change what we are known for.
Lastly, I want to return to the painting by Van Gogh, the Good Samaritan painting. How I wish that this could be our brand in the church. How I wish Van Gogh would have experienced John 13:35 and Colossians 3:12. Instead after moving to the tiny Belgian village of Petit-Wasmes to start a ministry to the impoverished miners of that region, of living in humble housing, giving away his clothes and furniture, and money, and becoming “a friend of the poor like Jesus was”, he was deemed as overly zealous, bordering on the scandalous, and his lack of concern for his external appearance unbecoming of a clergyman. The church concluded that his lack of “certain qualities may render the exercise of an evangelist’s principle function wholly impossible.” So they withdrew their support after 6 months. Maybe that is why Van Gogh painted the Good Samaritan because he desperately wanted the church to be branded this way, and not in the way that he (and honestly so many others in our own day and age) experienced.
So may we be a community known by our love and a community that puts on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
So let’s talk about what it looks like today. Let’s talk about branding and the church. Let’s talk about what our modern day equivalent might be of the identifying marker of circumcision. Let’s talk about how we can be more about the heart than the external rules and regulations. And let’s talk about how we develop a community that looks like Jesus together.
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, etc.. do you have about the Scriptures and/or the message?
2. What is the modern day equivalent of circumcision? An identifying external marker that we have as the people of God
3. How can we be a community known by John 13:35 and Col. 3:12?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?