A common refrain among young, Reformed Christians is the need to “find your identity in Christ.” There is a lot of biblical warrant for this idea. Let me give you a quick run-down:
- “Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit” 1 Corinthians 6:17
- “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17
- "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
- “[God the Father] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” Ephesians 1:5
- “For in Christ, all the fullness of deity dwells bodily, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” Colossians 2:9-10
I remember when I first learned about the Bible’s teaching on Union with Christ. It’s powerful and meaningful. To know that God sees me as his son, like a brother to Jesus, all because of the faith He gave me to trust Jesus with the help of the Spirit. There is great freedom in knowing where we stand with God. This knowledge can provide us with tremendous hope, power, and motivation to fight sin.
But here’s the problem: If God’s offer is merely to “find” our identity in Jesus, then what is offered is little more than a Christianized version of Buddhism. The goal of enlightenment in Buddhist thinking is to lose individuality by being enfolded into Brahman, the impersonal, amorphous-expression of ultimate reality. My Buddhist neighbors would be quite comfortable with the language of “finding your identity in Brahman” if all it means is losing myself.
Jesus does not ask us to find our identity in him. Instead, he offers to give us our true identity.
What does it mean for us to not only receive our true identity from Jesus, but to have a “true identity” at all?
Let me tackle the question of true identity first. In Colossians 3:1-17 Paul uses the language of “old self” and “new self” in describing the transformation that takes place in a person’s life because of Jesus. Verse 9 of Colossians 3 captures this well. There he clarifies that the “old self” is best seen in particular “practices.” Paul contrasts this list of “old self” practices and character traits with the “new self” and it’s transformed desires, traits, and motivations. The new self is described in both experience (3:15) and knowledge (3:16). Paul says something similar in Romans 13:14 when he tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” In both places Paul stresses the power of love in the life of the “new self.”
Before you begin to think this language of “new self” is just a rhetorical device, Jesus, in John 10:3 says “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out" (emphasis added). At this point it is essential to remember that God often gives people new names. We have become familiar with the names that God gives to people, but all you have to do is look down at the footnotes to realize that these names are filled with meaning and are nothing less than prophetic.
As an example, when Abraham is initially called by God in Genesis 12, his named is Abram (meaning “exalted father”). His wife’s name is Sarai (“Princess”). After Abram received God’s covenant in Genesis 12 and 15, he received the sign of the covenant in Genesis 17 and after this point, God changes his name from Abram to Abraham (“Father of many nations”) and changes Sarai’s to Sarah. The meaning of her name is the same, though the second form is a newer spelling, suggesting that she is going to be a Princess over something very new. It is in this context that God promises them both that the formerly barren 90 year-olds will have a son.
In the New Testament, in Matthew 16, Jesus gives Simon his new name: “Peter.” Peter’s new name is a play on words that becomes clear as Jesus proceeds to tell him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:17-19). This new name comes on the heels of Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question, “who do you say I am?” Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:15-16).
There are many other people that we could point to that would continue to prove my point. But the fact remains that God doesn’t just want us to lose ourselves in Jesus, so that we are indistinguishable from him. Instead, in keeping with the transformation of our character, our thinking, and our behavior, God has a new name for each us. All you have to do is ask him. If you have two or three friends who will pray and listen with you, even better. Whatever you hear from him may take a lifetime to unfold it’s full meaning, but you can be sure that you will find greater intimacy with him, greater understanding of his word, greater faith in trying circumstances, and greater effectiveness for the Kingdom of God.
So just ask.
If you’re willing, would you share what you’ve heard from the Lord?