Identity and Union With Christ, Part 1
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Identity is quite a big idea nowadays. In the flow of history how humans view themselves is quite changeable. It seems that in the most recent past, individual identity has become the way we are supposed to interpret reality. Perhaps the Obergefell decision in 2015 displays the weight that humans in our day place in sexual identity. This decision which permitted homosexual men and women the legal right to marry other’s of the same sex in the United States was met with both in laments and rejoicing depending on your persuasion. For Christians, it felt like maybe the last straw of having morality in America. For those supporting the homosexual agenda, their time had finally come. But I wonder if in either camp (and probably many in between) we had gone too far in allowing the issue to derail our understanding of our identity. In 2020, we have now come into a new (and yet old) identity discussion of race. In both race and sexual desires (while not the same morally), the identity can become the ultimate identity for a person. We could identify other sorts of identity that control our understanding of ourselves. We even could consider classic dichotomies like introvert vs. extrovert or home-body vs. busy-body, city-slicker vs. country or suburban-dweller.
The problem lies in the fact that we too easily make much of our desires as defining who we are. Or we make too much of who we are related to. If this is all a man or woman is, we are in trouble. How could my desire for my wife even help explain who I am? To interpret my identity simply based on my desire for one kind of thing versus another is trivial. In the same way if I base my whole identity on where I come from, I am not looking towards where I am going. Again, it is trivial. I certainly love my wife (which I do), and I love my bland German/Scandinavian heritage, lefse and all. The point is that these are flimsy things to know who I am.
The vacuum is here, I think, because we are not introspective much. I am a firm believer that you can be too introspective, but many of us don’t consider ourselves enough. We often just do what works for us; we do what we most want to do. It doesn’t really matter much who I am, but what I do. Isn’t this the curious thing when you meet someone? One of the initial questions is always, ‘What do you do for a living?’ For the past 50 years, the work we get paid to do is who I am. But now we have moved on to our sexual desires defining us, or our homes or our travel itinerary. Of course, we can also allow our past sins and mistakes to define us.
But what does scripture say about who we are? There are two essential identities for Christians. First: every human is made in the image and likeness of God. This defines why we are valuable. We are not like the squirrel eating Mara’s gourd just now. He is not valuable in the same way as a human, and really we’d consider him a bit of a pest. Every human whether from Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australia, Oceana, or Europe is valuable. Why should we be concerned about murder? Because even the smallest child and the oldest elder is specially made and reflects the creator and is called to responsibly rule over the rest of creation. But Christians specifically have a greater identity: we are in Christ. Ephesians 1 is a long meditation on our position in Christ. In him, in Christ, in him. Why is it important to our identity that we are in him? At its most simple, it is because in him we have life, and we are sons and daughters of God.
I think that this is where our world might have it half right. They see the importance of relationships to identity. Although my relationship to my wife isn’t my ultimate identity, it certainly affects my identity. The older we grow, the more we ought to grow together and in some ways reflect each other, most of all because we are growing into conformity to Christ’s identity. Why would sexual desire be such a strong identity? The problem lies in how sin has skewed how relationships affect who I am. Lamech’s taunt is quite an example, ‘I am Lamech the avenger, I’m gonna kill whoever gets in my way to avenge myself.’ This is his boast to his wives, his identity to others is that he is a wicked and terrible avenger.
We must go back to a more basic understanding of what our essential identity is: we are created in God’s image, and we are united with Christ. This is all I need and despite everything else that I think I might be (man, husband, home-body, gardener, chutney-maker), these identities must not be allowed to control my more basic ones. So spend some time and meditate on God’s word about who you are- you are in Christ, you’re a new creation, you are a son or daughter of the living God, you are chosen, you are beloved, etc. Look up these verses and consider how they should affect your view of yourself.