Think about how you see yourself. Is it the same as who you are? Is it possible that your self-identity is different from who you really are? I think it is very possible. Consider people that think they are losers, failures, or many other negative words. Perhaps other people told them that. Perhaps they did make a mistake or fail somehow. But is that who they really are?
Our identity is WHO we are, not how we see ourselves. The goal of this Identity series is to acknowledge and learn our identity. Given what I have said about Jesus in the previous post, we need to acknowledge the reality of who we are in Christ. Who are we in Christ?
Turn to Ephesians 1, and read verses 1-13, taking notice of how many references the writer, Paul, makes to “in Christ” you see.
A lot of “in Christ” in there, huh? When you add the instances of “in him,” it is clear that this is a major concept for Paul in this section. He is praising God the Father that we are in Christ, and he goes on to explain the blessings that are available to us because we are in Christ. In other words, for Paul, this should inform our understanding of our central identity. He is saying that he sees himself as “in Christ,” and that is a very good thing. In fact it is so good, it is hard for him to express how good it is, so he goes on and on and on continually adding to his description about how good it is that we are in Christ. Whatever this “in Christ” identity is, Paul is saying that God chose it for us, that is it a massive blessing, that is a loving thing for God to do for us, that it adopts us into his family as his sons and daughters. You might want to reflect on this passage further this week. Study Ephesians 1 and look at all the ways Paul says that “in Christ” is a good thing! You’ll notice that those in Christ are so privileged.
But what does Paul mean when he repeats over and over again that we are “in Christ”? What is this unique identity?
Paul is teaching us that there are people who are included in what we might call the salvific effectiveness of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Salvific effectiveness? Geesh, Joel, what kind of big word is that? Let me try to explain. Salvific effectiveness refers to the idea of what Jesus accomplished through his life, death and resurrection. And whatever Jesus accomplished, those people that are “in Christ” are a part of that. In other words, what he accomplished is nothing short of amazing and fantastic, and what’s more, people can participate in it, benefit from it. What did he accomplish? Victory over of death, victory over sin, and victory over the devil! Praise God!
I love how Paul himself puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 when he describes what Jesus accomplished through his resurrection like this: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Those of us in Christ get to participate in that victory. Much of what we read in Ephesians 1 is Paul’s description of what Jesus accomplished through his life, death and resurrection.
This is our identity in Christ. This is how we Christians need to see ourselves, as participants in the victory and new life of Christ. When you come to a difficult situation do you automatically despair? Or do you know that you carry victory? That does not mean that all situations will turn out exactly like you want. But your identity is in Christ, and he is victory. So you can know that you do not need to despair, but you can walk into difficult or fearful or anxious situations with victory. Walk with confidence in the one in whose image you are made, rather than placing confidence in yourself or others. This is having confidence in the one who made you, knows you and adores you. You can face temptation with the knowledge that you are a new creation, you can face a difficult person with the knowledge that you are made in the image of God and you carry his identity, not the identity of how that person may or may not be perceiving you.
This is why Paul would also say in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” Think about that! In Christ we are made new. This is the miracle of resurrection. We have access to new life in Christ.
So often we consider this new life as eternal life. That is absolutely an important way to understand the new life that we have in Christ. I could point you to so many places in the New Testament that talk about this eternal life. John 3:16 is almost certainly the most famous such verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life.”
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear “eternal life”? Probably heaven right? Life after death.
But that’s not the only way that Jesus talked about the new life that we can have in him. In the next post we’ll examine what Jesus meant!