"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers." - VoltairE

Identity 3 - Our Christian identity

Posted by Anne Witton on Wednesday, August 9, 2023 Under: Reflections

In the previous posts in this series I looked at identity in society and culture and God’s identity revealed to us. In this final instalment we’re going to look at our Christian identity.

What is our identity in Christ?

(i) Uplifting images

These are the ones that are on all the bookmarks, cards and posters. And it’s right that we should delight in encouraging one another with all these wonderful things that are true about us now that we’re in Christ.

Here are some of them:

  • We are made in God’s image
  • We are loved (Rom 8: 31 - 39; 1 John 3: 1)
  • We are Children of the Father (John 1: 12 - 13; Romans 8: 14 - 17; Galatians 4: 6 - 7)
  • God is pleased with us (Isaiah 62: 1 - 5)
  • We are forgiven (Eph 1: 6 - 8; Rom 8: 1, 38)
    We won’t be condemned for the bad things we’ve done and thought and the good things that we’ve neglected to do.
  • We are reconciled with God (Rom 5: 10; 2 Cor 5: 18 - 19;  Col 1: 21 - 22; Heb 10: 19 - 22)
    We’re reunited, there’s no anger and we have free access to God.
  • We are rescued (Matt 20: 28; 1 Tim 2: 5 - 6)
    Rescued from a life-threatening situation (like when I was helicoptered off a cliff by the coastguard). Jesus paid the ransom for us. Sin no longer holds us hostage.
  • We are redeemed (Eph 1: 13 - 14; Col 1: 14; Titus 2: 14; Heb 9: 12; 1 Peter 1: 18)
    Our debts are covered and we have a rich inheritance in Christ.
  • We are known by God (Rom 8: 29; 2 Tim 2: 19)
    We have been known and cared about all along. God is always watching over us.
  • We are justified before God (Rom 3: 23 - 26; 5: 1; 8: 1, 30)
    We are declared innocent because of Christ and acquitted of our crimes.
  • We are accepted (Rom 15: 7; Eph 1: 4 - 6; 1 Pet 2: 10)
    We’re welcomed by God and we’re no longer outsiders.
  • We’re saved (Rom 5: 8 - 10; 7: 13 - 25; Eph 2: 1 - 10; Col 1: 13)
    From God’s just anger, from sin, from myself, from death, from Satan and a sinful system.
  • We’re alive (Rom 6: 11; 8: 9 - 11; Eph 2: 4 - 5)
    Our Spirits have been brought to life and will never die again. We will receive new bodies that will last eternally. I have new meaning and purpose in life.
  • We’re free (John 8: 32 - 36; Rom 6: 22 - 23; Gal 4: 7; 5: 1)
    We’re no longer slaves to sin.
  • We’re secure (Rom 8: 28; 31 - 38; 2 Cor 1: 21 - 22)
    God works all things for good and nothing can separate us from him. He’s put his seal of ownership on us and given us his Spirit as a guarantee.
These things are all wonderful truths and we should rightly meditate on them. But unfortunately, sometimes this is all we dwell on, in an attempt to make our faith a feel-good panacea. Perhaps this is a result of being immersed in a culture where everything is about making ourselves feel good.

But we know that discipleship, although rewarding, is also costly, so to get a full sense of who we are in Christ, we need to look further.

(ii) Challenging images

Pause to think:

  • Can you think of some challenging aspects of our Christian identity?
These aren’t as popular for merchandise, but they’re just as significant:

  • Fools for Christ (1 Cor 4: 10)
    We’re people who admit we’re wrong in the light of God’s truth and look like fools to the world.
  • Living sacrifices - taking up our cross and following Christ (Rom 12: 1; 1 Pet 2: 5)
    Following Christ costs. It will involve suffering and sacrifice.
  • We’re God’s servants (Eph 4: 12; 1 Cor 3: 9; Phil 1: 1)
    We’re called to live selfless lives of service to God and others.
  • Persecuted people (Matt 5: 10 - 12; 2 Thess 1: 4; 2 Cor 12: 10; Mark 4: 17)
    We’re to expect persecution from a world that is hostile to the gospel (indeed some of my Iranian friends know the extent of that all too well).
  • Foreigners and exiles (1 Peter 2: 11; James 4: 4)
    This world isn’t our true home and so we will often feel out of place and uncomfortable.
  • We are bought with a price and belong to God (1 Cor 6: 19 - 20; 7: 23)
    God owns us and our lives are no longer our own.
When we get this as well, we will have a much fuller picture of the identity of a disciple.

But there’s even more! It is perhaps symptomatic of our Western culture that we even think of our Christian identity in individualistic terms. We encourage people to personal repentance so that they can have personal forgiveness and personal salvation. Don’t mishear me - these are great things to encourage! But that’s not where being a Christian stops. Faith is not purely personal, and it’s certainly not to be lived out in private.

God is calling a people to himself, not just a bunch of individuals. We can only live authentic Christian lives in community with one another. Our Christian identity brings us into a new family - with new brothers and sisters and the occasional mad uncle!

What is our identity as a community of God’s people?

So what characterises this community of God’s people? What is our corporate identity?

I’m pretty convinced that the key identity for the church is to be a people on mission. All throughout Scripture, we see God calling his people to be counter-cultural, to live distinctive, holy lives in the midst of the nations, so that the nations can see the one true God and come to worship him.

Our calling is to live in the world, but to be radically different from it - to exhibit kingdom values that subvert the ungodly cultural values around us.

The brilliant John Stott puts it like this:

“Insofar as the church is conformed to the world, and the two communities appear to the onlooker to be merely two versions of the same thing, the church is contradicting its true identity.”  (Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount)

In other words, if Christians look the same as non-Christians, we’ve lost our identity.

Our identities and therefore our lives should look radically different from those around us. So how are we to look different? Let’s look at Jesus’ blueprint in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Sermon on the Mount - blueprint for Christian identity

The Sermon on the Mount is probably the most famous piece of Jesus’ teaching and paints a picture of a distinctive Christian counter culture - what life looks like under God’s rule. Let’s look at a few key sections.

(i) Beatitudes

Matt 5: 3 - 12

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This is a description of Christian character. These aren’t separate people - they’re Christ’s description of what all Christians should be like. This is how to live truly fulfilled lives. Our influence depends on our character. This is a very different list to one which might be in accordance with the values of our culture.

Question for discussion:

  • What do you think might be on a modern, Western, secular list of Beatitudes?
Jesus describes a person who recognises their sin and is sorrowfully repentant for it; someone who is kind and considerate; someone who hungers for justification with God, to have a right character and for society’s liberation from oppression; someone who seeks to alleviate the damaging effects of sin; who has integrity and transparency; who strives for peace and is prepared to endure persecution because of their allegiance to Jesus.

Do we want to be that person?

(ii) Salt and light

Matt 5: 13 - 16

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

What is the purpose of salt?
It's a preservative that prevents decay. We are to act to prevent the rotting and decay in our society.

What does light do?
It illuminates the darkness. We are to do that by spreading truth, beauty and goodness.

These are both metaphors showing that Christians are to be an influence for good in the world.

Jesus then goes on to show the true interpretation of the law on murder, adultery, divorce, promises, revenge, loving enemies, generosity and helping the poor, prayer, fasting, materialism, judging people… It’s important to know that these ethical standards aren’t how you get right with God, but rather evidence of lived faith when your life is transformed by grace. They are evidence of the saving and renewing work of Jesus in a Christian’s life.

(iii) Do not worry

Matt 6: 25 - 34

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

We sometimes use this passage to reassure ourselves of God’s provision, and that’s ok, but it’s important not to miss the key point.

The purpose of this teaching is to challenge us not to focus on the wrong things. In contrast to worldly people who spend all their time and energy striving to get better houses or cars or holidays or fancy meals out or the latest home furnishings, we should be putting all our effort into seeking God’s Kingdom. Yes, we can trust God to provide for our needs, but not to give us all the material things we want when we’re not pursuing him wholeheartedly.

Summary of key points:

  • Christians are to look different from the people around them. We should live radically different lives according to Kingdom values. (6: 8 - do not be like them)
  • We should be challenging the culture around us and seeking to influence it for good.
  • We shouldn’t make this world our home and identify ourselves with its values. We shouldn’t get too comfortable here and find our security in material things.
If we really live like this, people will notice.

I love this quote:

“Answers worth hearing flow from lives that are worth questioning.”  (Dean Flemming, Why Mission?)

United, but not all the same

It’s important to note that our identity as Christians doesn’t mean that God wants us to be all the same.

The church is a global community rather than institution and Revelation 7: 9 offers an inspiring vision of what the worshipping community of God’s kingdom people will look like.

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb."

There will be people from all cultures and languages gathered in praise of the Lord “not worshiping God in English…but in their own language shaped by their own worldview and culture. We can count on hearing about 6,280 languages. The view we get of the kingdom is a multicultural view, not one of ethnic uniformity.” (Whiteman, 1997, p.3).

Clearly, becoming a Christian should not mean abandoning our cultural identity and no individual culture is superior to another. Cultural diversity reflects the creativity of God and his children and is a blessing to the church and a witness to the world. Indeed, biblical teaching on unity and love can most fully be worked out where there is diversity. I love working out how to do authentic Christian community with a richly diverse cultural backdrop.

Pause to think:

  • What aspect of your identity in Christ most excites you?
  • What do you most struggle with?
  • How can we encourage one another to more fully embrace our God-given identities?
  • What challenges you from the Sermon on the Mount and what needs to change for it to become more of a reality in your life and Christian community?

The Sermon on the Mount section borrows heavily from Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount and the Lifebuilder Bible Study on the Sermon on the Mount, also by John Stott.

In : Reflections 

Tags: identity 


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