Recently a woman sat down at the next table in a restaurant where I had slipped off to do some writing work. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that she bowed her head for a few seconds before digging into her meal.
An idea hit me, and a few minutes later, I actually acted on it. Maybe it was the extra carbs from the pasta I’d just eaten, or maybe it was an impulse born of being in a fresh environment. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit. Regardless, I opened my mouth and let the words come out.
I told her I’d seen her pray, and asked her if she was a Christian. She said yes, and I told her I was also. Then, I explained I was working on a project, and liked to ask people their ideas on a specific topic.
I saw the question marks in her eyes as I spoke the query aloud.
“What is identity in Christ? How would you define it?”
She was surprised by the question..and I would have been too, if a random person walked up to me in a café and began asking me theological questions in the middle of my tomato soup! (I also would love it…if you see me in a restaurant, feel free to come up to me and start chatting theology. You’ll have made a new friend!)
She paused thoughtfully, and then said, “Well, to me it means that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and that he died on the cross so that we could be with him forever. And it makes me want to be a better person, a good person, and ask his help to be that.”
I thanked her for her willingness to share. It was so generous of her to be open to talking with a stranger about deeply personal thoughts.
At the same time, my heart sighed a little. What she said confirmed something that I had been suspecting.
For so many of us in the Church, our understanding of who we really are in Jesus stops merely with who he is and what we think we’re supposed to do.
We misunderstand the phrase “identity in Christ” as a question about who Jesus is, without ever connecting to the truth that what he is, we have become.
We don’t always follow the trail to the next step—our true self, the realest part of us, is already united with Christ. We are holy, and blameless, and beloved, in his sight.
The book of Ephesians highlights this amazing truth. In just the first few chapters, we’re told that we are chosen, adopted as children, redeemed, forgiven, and sealed with the Holy Spirit.
We are made alive.
We are raised up with him, and seated with him in the heavens.
Our experience may push us to assume that this statement is figurative, but that is not how Paul speaks about it:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with Christ even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might display the immeasurable riches of his grace through his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”Ephesians 2:4-7
He doesn’t say we will be raised with Christ, he says we already have been.
Often, our minds protest against this. It doesn’t seem to fit with our experience. Jesus was perfect, right? I am not! I experience the reality of this daily. But what if our experienced reality is the least real thing about who we truly are?
What if what God says is the most real thing?
What if how he sees us, not how we see ourselves, is more real than what we see in the mirror?
This is the basis of our identity in Christ—it is not about how people perceive us, how we define ourselves to others, or who we think we are. It’s about how God sees us, as his own personal, valuable creation, united with the person of his son, Jesus Christ.
There is hope, here. There is safety, here. There is joy here!