inform - inspire - unite
Our Identity in Christ.
One day, while cleaning up some old papers, I came across the first business card I had. It was from my first full-time job in 1985. I had become a full-fledged lawyer with a Melbourne law firm. There it was: my name centred in elegant, raised letter printing on richly textured card. I can still recall the pride and sense of identity which that business card gave me then.
Today, business cards aren’t so prevalent. We use digital substitutes. But our yearning for identity still beckons. (Just note how much time – and money – people invest in curating their digital photos and profiles on social media.) We care about how we’re perceived. We care about what others think of us. For many, personal identity is closely connected to a sense of self-esteem and life fulfilment. Others find personal identity (or lack of it) a source of misery.
What about the Christian? Scripture is united in affirming that our identity is to be found in God. Jesus makes it explicit in the Gospels when he calls people to himself (e.g. Matthew 11:28-30; John 7:37-38). The apostle Paul elaborates by detailing how God’s blessings are to be found ‘in Christ’. Consider the longest sentence in the New Testament – Ephesians 1:3-14 (where the original Greek runs for 202 words) – a sentence-paragraph brimming with God’s blessings. In the English Standard Version, I count ten occasions when the terms ‘in Christ’, ‘in him’, and ‘in the Beloved’ are used. The inescapable conclusion is that Paul wishes his readers to know that the grand panoply of God’s blessings – including forgiveness, redemption, hope, inheritance, purpose, life in the Spirit – are all to be found in Christ.
But what does our identity ‘in Christ’ mean? Do I lose part of who I am, part of myself, when I’m baptised into Christ? Are my freedoms to choose how to live life, my autonomy, as well as my preferences and desires more restricted when I pledge allegiance to Christ?
I suggest that the answer to the two above questions is a categorical ‘yes’. But don’t despair. A ‘yes’ in this context is, paradoxically, for our good. Let me explain.
First, although humanity is created good in Genesis 1-2, the rebellion of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 means that thereafter all individuals are subject to sin and its consequences. Sin thus stains us. The wonder of the Gospel is that when we’re baptised into Christ, through God’s grace we wilfully set aside that sinful self – that rascal of our old self – in favour of a new life in Jesus (Romans 6:3-9). In that sense, baptism does mean a losing of part of our selfhood. But it’s the nasty part we’re losing, the ugly, fake, and selfish part of us. We’re better off with that charlatan gone.
Second, being in Christ does constrain our desires. In that sense, being in Christ limits our freedoms. That’s because the mind set on the Spirit is now re-directed: it pursues life and peace, not the things of the flesh (Romans 8:5-8). But that’s not a bad thing either. In the fifth century, Augustine described sinful humans as having ‘disordered loves’. This breeds addiction, not satisfaction. For example, sexual relations are healthy and life-enhancing in their proper realm; in contrast, sexual relations which are totally free and uninhibited by any constraint becomes disordered sex which debases and corrodes relationships. (Incidentally, Augustine also noted: ‘…every disorder of the soul is its own punishment’.1) In short, living in Christ does involve a re-ordering (and, sometimes, an excising) of desires. Yes, this limits our freedom – but in a positive, not negative, way.
It’s been 35+ years since that first business card described my role as a lawyer. Now as I encounter retirement, I can see even more clearly that professional identity is transitory. My identity in Christ – then as well as now – is incalculably more significant.
As the inimitable C.S. Lewis observes: 2
‘It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.’ ‘In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him.’
That’s why being in Christ matters.
1 Augustine, Confessions, Book One, XII:19, trans. F. J. Sheed (Hackett Publishing Co., 1993) 13.
2 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperOne, 2009) 232.
Benny is an elder with Belmore Road Church of Christ in Melbourne and editor of InterSections.