Remember Who You Are
“Who is it who can tell me who I am?” cried King Lear as he faced the disconcerting overturn of his world, the uncertainty of everything he had considered true, and the dread of his loss of reason. Today more than ever, this has become a common cry.
I grew up in the hippy generation when we tried to “find ourselves” mostly by introspection. I have never been good at that. Today, we are encouraged to go beyond self-discovery. We can reinvent ourselves, rebrand our businesses, or try out new identities on social media. The problem is, the same social pressure, anxieties, and uncertainties that motivate us to change who we are can easily survive reinventions.
Who We Are in Christ
As Christians, we find our true identity in Scriptures. It’s not a superimposed identity, such as a code that is required in order to belong to a particular society, much less a forced identity that overrides our personalities (Stepford-Wives-style). It’s also not a reinvented identity, a self-creation we devise in order to cope with circumstances or to support our life goals. We simply arenew creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). God made us so by the direct, loving intervention of his Spirit who has freed us from the bondage of sin, liberating us to be all that we were always meant to be.
Our identity in Christ is as factual as any other aspect of Christian theology. Our faith is based on historical facts that are much easier to prove than they are to disprove. Because Jesus Christ was born, lived a perfect life, died for our sins and resurrected, the course of history has been changed forever. And because God’s Spirit applies the effects and benefits of these historical facts to our lives, we are new creatures, united to Christ by an indelible bond.
That’s why Paul repeatedly prefaces his exhortations with reminders of this new status. Since we are new creatures, we can now act according to our new nature, putting off the old self and putting on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-11). That means that we can react to our sins by slapping ourselves on the foreheads and saying, “Hey, I don’t have to live this way!”
It’s not a guarantee that we won’t fall back into the same sins, but if we remind ourselves of this reality often enough, some of it will eventually sink in. Again, this is not a way to trick ourselves into thinking that we are something we are not. We need to remember that the transformation has already taken place, even if the full actuation will take time. As Martin Luther used to say, we are simultaneously righteous and sinful. Our sinful nature is still besetting us, but we have been declared righteous in Christ and, in the eyes of God, that is our true identity.
For a time, we will feel the dichotomy of these two natures contradicting each other (Romans 7), but the Spirit isat work in our souls, slowly but surely conforming us to Christ’s image, and we can say with Paul, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)
The Bible often speaks of the church as the Bride of Christ, but this similitude extends to the individual Christian (Romans 7:4) and provides a good way to understand our status of new creatures in Christ. What’s startling is that the marriage is completely unequal. 18th-century poet and pastor Ralph Erskine says it well: “A marriage so mysterious I proclaim, betwixt two parties of such diff’rent fame, that human tongues may blush their names to tell: To wit, the Prince of Heav’n, the heir of hell!” It’s more startling than any unequal marriage that has ever happened in history because we have come to the marriage not only poor and of low status, but rebellious and condemned.
So here we are, former enemies of God, not only forgiven but wedded to Christ, who showers us with all of his benefits. As the Italian monk, Benedetto da Mantua, wrote in the early 16thcentury, “The Bride says, overwhelmed by joy: The realms and kingdoms of my beloved spouse are mine. I am queen and empress of heaven and earth. My husband’s riches—that is, his holiness, innocence, righteousness, and Godhead, together with all his virtue and might—are at my disposal. Therefore, I am holy, unblemished, righteous, and godly, and there is not a stain on me.”Because of this we can wake up in the morning, remember who we are in Christ, and spend the day in light of our new status and nature.
Believing the Unseen
Now, that’s what we can do. In reality, it’s easy to forget and fall back to our old habits. There are days when we don’t feel like royalty at all. There are days when we don’t even want to talk to our Husband, and we rush to take care of things that seem more practical and pressing. Besides, since our Husband is not present with us in body, we are often tempted to think it might all be a fairy tale, and the world around us—the same world that encourages us to reinvent ourselves and believe in dreams—is often quick to condescendingly smile at our faith.
That’s why we have to keep listening to the gospel, an external declaration of historical facts that we could never conjure up in our own minds. As John Calvin says, “All things around us are in opposition to the promises of God: He promises immortality; we are surrounded with mortality and corruption: He declares that he counts us just; we are covered with sins: He testifies that he is propitious and kind to us; outward judgments threaten his wrath. What then is to be done? We must with closed eyes pass by ourselves and all things connected with us, that nothing may hinder or prevent us from believing that God is true.”
Thankfully, there are also times when the work of God’s Spirit in our lives is evident—when we unexpectedly exercise a patience, a courage, or a love we never knew we had. The same William Cowper who mourned that he could find no comfort anywhere—not even in private prayer or in church, raised a song of pleasant surprise when “a season of clear shining” cheered his soul after rain.
That’s because the work of the Spirit is real. When God translated us out “of the power of darkness” and “into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (Colossians 1:13), he also began his work of transformation so that we could belong in the kingdom, being “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). And that’s the essence of the gospel. Our salvation is complete, all-compassing, real, and fully accomplished by our Triune God.