I have decided to post two more articles rather than one final article concerning the topic of our identity in Christ (click here to read the previous article in this series). The reason being that it will keep the posts shorter, but even more, I believe I will be addressing two related yet distinct topics – first, the final characteristic of our new identity in Christ and, secondly, who is Paul talking about in Romans 7. Hence, the need for two articles rather than one.
But launching into the purpose of this blog post, I will address our new identity in Christ. As in the previous two articles, it might be good to state what our identity was before we came to Christ – sinner. That is the bad news. And I don’t know any Christian that would disagree with that statement. All are on the same page that humanity is born into sin. But it’s our new identity that will lead to some debate. Nevertheless…
So, before we were born again, our identity was that of sinner, and we were mightily good at it. I could quote numerous passages in Scripture, but I think just one will suffice:
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. (Romans 3:10-12)
But, the good news, the absolutely great news is that when we came into our new life in Christ, we became saints! Whenever Paul started off one of his letters, he usually began with a greeting like this:
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints. (Romans 1:7; see also 1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; etc.)
Paul wrote to ‘all those in Rome’, and supposedly, he was referring to all Christians in Rome rather than a select group. And all of those Christians he wrote to were the ones ‘loved by God and called to be saints’. The word saint simply means ‘set apart one’ or ‘holy one’. And that is who we are, for this is who God says we are. This is not a status we attain to after death, but a reality right now (see Acts 26:10 and how Paul said he had imprisoned the saints, and Paul could only do this to people who were alive, not dead).
Therefore, we are saints! I am saint Scott and you are saint _______. Yet, I wouldn’t use it as a title. Rather it is our true identity in Christ.
Because of this reality about our identity, I must confess that I believe it a misnomer to make this statement about ourselves: I am just a sinner saved by grace. I know that is the motto of many a Christians, but the truth is that the people of God are saints, not sinners. We are people that are declared righteous, declared not guilty, have been given a new heart and now have the identity of saint! Thus, I believe a better description is this: I was a sinner, I have now been born again by God’s grace and am now a righteous saint in Christ.
Let me give you an illustration of the importance of recognizing and confessing who we are in Christ. What happens when you regularly tell a small child that they are stupid? Well, any psychologist would tell you it would be detrimental to that child. Why? Because the child would find it very easy to believe such a statement spoken over their life. And that would probably only escalate the actions of the child in accordance with what he or she believes. The progression becomes: I’m told that I am stupid >> I believe that I am stupid >> I will act like I am stupid.
The same is true of God’s people. You tell them enough times that they are wicked sinners, then guess what? They will believe it! And even more, it makes it that much easier to walk as such.
As another example, I will tell you a story about Exodus International. Started in 1976, this ministry was a resource to those coming out of a homosexual lifestyle. Interestingly enough, the founders and volunteers consisted of those who were themselves looking to follow Christ and leave the homosexual lifestyle. But a few years after the ministry started, one of the founders and a volunteer announced that they could no longer deny their passions inside. They were gay, were attracted to one another and loved one another.
This is a hard-hitting story, probably with much controversy as well, but the point I make is found in the importance of our identity in Christ. These two men who had supposedly come to Christ out of a gay lifestyle, were now identifying themselves as homosexuals. It’s not to negate their struggle and temptation with such, as we all have various temptations. But I just wonder if they had known the truth about the new identity of believers in Christ, would they have been able to stay the path in following Christ? If they were truly followers of Christ, I believe great strength and encouragement would have come through recognizing and confessing that they were saints, yet not denying their temptations towards homosexuality.
You see, this is serious stuff, and the enemy loves to lie to us about our identity. If he can get you to believe you are a liar, cheater, pervert, druggie, homosexual, or whatever, he will do so. But the truth is this: we WERE sinners, but we have NOW been born again by God’s grace and are now righteous saints in Christ.
The question might arise: What about Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 1:15?
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
You know, I do confess that it is ok to recognise who we are apart from Christ. Sometimes we find ourselves weak and given in to much temptation. All Christians find themselves in that place at some point. But we must also do what Paul did regularly and recognize who we are in Christ – and he did this a lot more than the former! And that is what the full gospel says: we are not simply forgiven of our sin, but we have been given a new life and a new heart in Christ, declared righteous by the Father and are now His saints!
Neil Anderson, author of Victory Over the Darkness makes this comment:
‘It’s not what you do as a Christian that determines who you are; it’s who you are that determines what you do.’
This is, first, all about who we are in Christ, and that leads to how we walk. Our identity produces or precedes behavior: I am light, thus, I walk as light. I am righteous, thus, I walk in righteousness. I am not trying to give lessons in behavior management. I am laying out the truth of God’s word, the truth that sets captives free (John 8:32).
Anderson goes on to state:
‘Sadly, a great number of Christians are trapped in the same pit. We fail, so we see ourselves as failures, which only causes us to fail more. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only causes us to sin more. We’ve been tricked into believing that what we do makes us what we are. And that false belief sends us into a tailspin of hopelessness and defeat.’ (Victory Over The Darkness)
It’s like the young child I mentioned above. And it’s like the two men that identified themselves as homosexuals. Both lose the reality of their identity, and it proves detrimental to their lives.
The question is then asked: Why do we struggle with sin? Well, let me try and explain this one with an illustration as well. Let’s say I worked in a factory and my job was to prepare packages for shipping. Each day I work pretty hard, decently doing my best in my department. Yet, each day, I have a manager that always yells at me with foul language. It’s not fun (as some of you will be able to testify)!
But one day, my factory receives a new manager with the old manager being shipped out. While I am working away in gathering packages and getting the right paperwork filled out, the new manager begins to walk over. As he approaches my workstation, I start to look away, begin fidgeting and my heart starts beating fast. Why? Because my experience of managers is definitely bad, if not horrendous. But, as he approaches, I find that he only wanted to say, ‘Hi, my name is Don and I am the new manager. I just wanted to stop by and say, “Hi,” to all the employs and let you know that we are going to have a meeting this afternoon to discuss some new things I have in mind for the factory.’
Wow, that was different?! Much different to the way my old manager used to treat me. This manager was kind. This new manager seemed respectful.
And I believe that can help explain what has happened in our lives as Christians. Before we came to Christ, we had this old manager, and all that old manager knew how to do was sin. Thus, in most, if not all, situations, we reacted with sin. That was our bent. But when we were born again, a new manager stepped in and replaced the old manager. Yet, the thing is, we are still used to the way our old manager functioned, and thus, we even tend to respond in accordance. But we are slowly learning how this new manager works, this new man, this new creation. We still have that part of us referred to as the flesh. But we have a completely new manager, and we are learning to get along with this manager and know his ways.
Thus, I find it helpful it we start by remembering that our old self died when we came to Christ. Here are a few verses to remind us:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… (Galatians 2:20)
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:6)
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10)
But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24)
When your old self died, you became a new person in Christ! And there is no possible way that you can be both the old self and the new self. You are either sinner or saint, you are either unregenerate or regenerate, you are either unbeliever or believer, you are either the old self or the new self in Christ. As John Murray best said it:
‘The old man is the unregenerate man; the new man is the regenerate man created in Christ Jesus unto good works. It is no more feasible to call the believer a new man and an old man, than it is to call him a regenerate man and an unregenerate.’ (Principles of Conduct)
If we are in Christ and have believed the gospel, then we are God’s righteous saints that have been given new hearts! This is a done deal. And this is truth that sets us free!
Yet, as mentioned before, we all know we still have the flesh. That is the part of us that we still have due to living in a fallen world. And it’s that part of us which was so used to submitting to the ways of the old man. Thus, we are called to learn how to regularly submit to the Spirit of God, to live by His strength and His power. Or simply stated, we are to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). We are already united to Christ (Romans 6:5), seated with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6) and partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). But now we must learn to die to the flesh and walk in the Spirit daily.
People of God, be encouraged! The full gospel says you are saints, you are new creations, you are righteous in Him, and thus, in His power you can walk out His call on your life. Thus, if someone asks you, ‘Who are you?’ you can now answer with the confidence of His Word.
You can follow this link to see my articles on the enigmatic passage of Romans 7 – who is Paul talking about and how does it fit into the understanding of our new identity in Christ.