7. Identity in Christ
In session 6, we talked about values. Much of what we value stems from the various aspects of identity discussed thus far. Our gender, temperament, and heritage all affect our understanding of our world and ourselves and, therefore, affect our values. However, as we enter into a relationship with Christ, we are challenged to reevaluate our values and how we prioritize them.
- Individual Aim: To begin an exploration of the magnificent depths of your identity in Christ.
- Group Aim: To discuss the implications of identity in Christ on group members’ lives.
Read Session 7: Identity in Christ.
Complete the Life Inventory: Identity in Christ exercise beginning on page 116.
Complete Biblical Exercise: Ephesians 1–2 beginning on page 61.
We are dual citizens: of earth and of heaven. As we realize this, we feel our heavenly identity crashing down on our earthly identity. We will spend a lifetime scrutinizing how we prioritize our values in light of our commitment to follow Christ. As we do so, our heavenly values will sometimes affirm, sometimes modify, and sometimes completely reject our earthly values.
Let’s look at this heavenly identity, which is best known as our identity in Christ.
In his letters, the apostle Paul often used the expression “in Christ.” Although we can’t come close to addressing the breadth of this phrase in our session, we want to look at a fundamental aspect of being “in Christ.” To be “in Christ” means to share in Christ’s death and resurrection, and to be placed under the headship of Christ rather than Adam means that we now live with a completely different attitude toward everything we do. These ideas are laid out in Romans 5:12-21 and 6:1-11.
As you read through the list of characteristics in the “Life Inventory: Identity in Christ” exercise, you might not be “moved” by the significance of each one. There are several reasons why not: (1) Lists can be dull and impersonal, (2) each truth carries more weight than a simple declaration can capture, (3) you might not understand some statements, or (4) even though you understand and affirm each truth, they may seem distant and even irrelevant to your life right now. The last two reasons are worth looking into further.
Understanding our identity in Christ is critical to a fruitful walk with the Lord. The central events of Christianity, Christ’s death and resurrection, are the foundation of the Christian life. Dying with Christ means dying to the things that used to run our lives. For instance, while material wealth is the central motivation in many people’s lives, Christ calls us to relinquish pursuing wealth as a core motivation. The same is true of any other vice that keeps us from fully loving God and people.
Rising with Christ means rising to a new way of living under His kingship. Before we came under Christ’s kingship, our identity was dominated by concerns other than loving God and loving people as Jesus did. There was no way we could transform ourselves to make us acceptable to our perfect Judge and Maker. Whether we knew it or not, objectives and motivations that didn’t focus on loving God and others were running our lives.
Certainly, our earthly identity may contain characteristics that influenced us in godly ways. For instance, our parents may have taught us to be honest. Yet sin and offensive independence from God characterized our lives. Ironically, this “independence” was evidence of Adam’s control. When we come under Christ’s kingship, by God’s grace through our faith, we gain a heavenly component to our identity.
To say that we have a new component is a gross understatement. Coming under Christ’s kingship ought to so transform our understanding of our identity that, in many respects, we no longer consider ourselves the same people. We are new creatures (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). (For more on how we pursue transformation according to our heavenly identity, see the study called Integrity in this series.) The most basic truth of our identity, our position before God, is determined by who our King is, even though Adam’s realm may still influence us. And our actions will reflect our participation in one kingdom or the other, for each kingdom has certain “deeds” or “fruit” characteristic of it. The deeds of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-21) result from being in Adam, whereas the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23) grows when we are in Christ.
What does it mean to be under Christ’s kingship? To be under a king is to be subject to that king’s will. In our fallen world, that concept rarely sounds appealing. After all, who would agree to be entirely subject to someone else’s will? Would you approach a stranger and say, “I’m at your disposal, and I’ll do anything you want me to do”? Our minds immediately race through all the abuses that might result from such a scenario. That’s because we don’t trust strangers. As subjects of Christ’s kingdom, though, we face an entirely different scenario. We have come to know Him and have found that His will is love. As subjects of Christ, we are implored to do His will, which involves actively caring for others, as pointed out in 1 John:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (4:7-12) If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (3:17-18)
Many people think being saved is like eternal life insurance. It’s more like a pledge of allegiance to a new King. Our Sovereign God doesn’t compel us to produce something for Him that He lacks. Our allegiance to Him requires us simply to love our fellow subjects actively and also to love those who claim no such allegiance—our King’s enemies. How strange this kingdom is to a world that understands the love of friends but knows nothing of loving enemies! But the world has not experienced the love of Christ.We love those who are not followers of our King because we realize that they may simply be enemies who have not yet become brothers. We love fellow believers because we share the joy of being loved by our Great King and we are, therefore, now brothers. We believers are individuals in a community marked by Love, whose name is Jesus.
We have only scratched the surface of our identity in Christ. Though it will take a lifetime to plunge its depths, it’s worth your time and energy to make such an exploration. For instance, what does it mean for you, personally, to live a life characterized mainly by love? You will examine part of the answer to that question in session 9, where you’ll consider your spiritual gifts. Through exercising your giftedness as a member of the body of Christ, you’ll learn how your way of loving others has a unique focus.
The features of your earthly identity will also affect the way you love others. However, the first thing you’ll find if you seek to live up to the standard of love is that you won’t attain to that standard as Christ did. As a result, you may begin to ask yourself, Am I still a sinner who will be free from sinning only after death?
Read Ephesians 1:1–2:22.Also, review “A Method for the Biblical Exercises” beginning on page 17.
Observation — “What Do I See?”
1. Who are the persons (including God) in the passage? What is the condition of those persons?
2. What subjects did Paul discuss in the passage? What did he assert?
3. Note the sequence in which Paul made these assertions. (You might number them in order.)
4. What did Paul emphasize? Are there repeated ideas and themes? How are the various parts related?
5. Why did Paul write this passage? (Did he say anything about ways he expected the reader to change after reading it?)
Interpretation Phase 1 — “What Did It Mean Then?”
1. Coming to Terms —Are there any words in the passage that you don’t understand? Write down anything you found confusing about the passage.
2. Finding Where It Fits —What clues does the Bible give about the meaning of this passage?
- Immediate Context (the passage being studied)
- Remote Context (passages that come before and after the one being studied)
3. Getting into Their Sandals—An Exercise in Imagination
- What are the main points of this passage? Summarize or write an outline of it.
- What do you think the recipients of the letter were supposed to take from this passage? How did God, inspiring Paul to write Ephesians, want this passage to impact the Ephesian believers?
Interpretation Phase 2 — “What Does It Mean Now?”
1. What is the timeless truth in the passage? In one or two sentences, write down what you learned about God from Ephesians 1–2.
2. How does that truth work today?
Application — “What Can I Do to Make This Truth Real?”
1. What can I do to make this truth real for myself?
2. For my family?
3. For my friends?
4. For the people who live near me?
5. For the rest of the world?
Read Session 8: Saint or Sinner.
Complete Biblical Exercise: 1 Peter 1–2 beginning on page 70.