Scot McKnight has a brief post pointing to Larry Hurtado‘s newest release Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. There he highlights distinctions between political, cultural, and religious identities in the first century world and notes that a Christian religious identity was unique among them all. This reminded me of something I’d written 10 years ago that takes on more of a theological and biblical spin and written for followers of Christ. Consider…
There’s a lot of identity theft going on these days and Satan is the key criminal. As the master deceiver, he seeks to steal our true identity in Christ and weaken our ability to live for Christ. And so it’s easy to forget that in every capacity of life we’ve been given a moral and spiritual identity that goes with us wherever we go. Whether as husband, wife, parent, grandparent, professional, neighbor, or citizen, our essential identity is defined by Christ. Paul writes to the Corinthians “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The Roman believers are admonished to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14). Paul’s entire outlook was so consumed with the notion that his life was Christ’s life that he could confidently assert “to live is Christ” (Philip 1:21).
No clearer statement on our identity is found in all the New Testament than Paul’s words to the Galatian believers, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20). It’s interesting to note that Paul uses the perfect tense in the expression “I have been crucified” denoting that his old way of life was not only put to death once but continues to be put to death. He is not merely looking back at a moment in time when Christ died for him but looks to the present as one always being crucified with Christ (perhaps harkening back to Jesus’s words in Luke 9:23). That is our identity. That is who we are. We have been crucified with Christ and we continue to be crucified. It is no longer we who live but Christ lives in us! Wherever we go and in whatever capacity we function we are to consider ourselves “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). That is our essential moral and spiritual identity. Satan, though a master thief, cannot steal that from us. We just need to be reminded of it. In one way or another every battle fought on the front of spiritual warfare begins and ends with who we are in Christ. And so, with this new identity comes a new outlook; a new perspective on everything.
Since our “life is now hidden with Christ” (Col 3:3), we have been given a unique orientation. Scripture is replete with examples of looking up and leaning forward. Paul, for instance, writes “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way” (Philip 3:13-15). Hebrews admonishes us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb 12:1-2). As we look up to Jesus we lean forward in holy living. John tells us that “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself [present tense] as he is pure” (1 Jn 3:2-3). Our certain future must impact our present living.
In fact, Peter insists that looking up and leaning forward must impact on our ethical living, because “the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Pt 3:10-14). I honestly believe that if our daily lives were governed more by the anxious expectation of our Lord’s appearance and its implications for our lives, there would be far less psychosis and far more hope-filled believers who anxiously live for Christ. Indeed, it is this forward focus that propels our new life in Christ. It provides a fresh and exciting orientation for living our lives as people of God whose identity is found solely in Christ Jesus.
You see, when Christ enters our lives we are set on a new course. Quite simply, being born again means that something happens to us and in us at the deepest level of our existence. Being born again is the activity of God whereby he radically transforms our moral, mental, emotional, and volitional fiber through the unique power of the Holy Spirit. Our value systems are wholly renovated, not just modified as old impulses and habits are gradually yet certainly replaced with new ones (Gal 5:19-24; Col 2:11-12). In our second birth, a spiritual death takes place of the old self or nature (Gal 2:20), which was dominated by sinful desires and activities (Rom 6:1-11), and we are given a new life that is inclined to love and serve the living God who by grace alone through faith alone saved us to a living hope that is never to be corrupted (1 Pt 1:4). Being born again begins this new journey or the process theologians call “sanctification,” which we’ll broadly define as the gradual but certain transformation of our lives in growing conformity to Christ’s life through the power of the Holy Spirit.