Society teaches that our identity is rooted in what we strive toward, while biblical instruction is cementing identity in the work and person of Christ from which people are to receive their subjective calling. Identity is not a facet to which we work for, rather a reality from which our work flows from. To this end scripture communicates that “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (James 2:22 ESV). Ultimately, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). Faith is trusting in the work accomplished on the cross by Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to resurrect Jesus from the dead. This faith, or identity, is not concealed to remain an intellectual understanding alone, but rather an expression of the outpouring of worship from the lifestyle lived by regenerate believers. The full awakening of human identity, as seen and understood in the creation account of Adam and Eve, is consummated through the redeeming work of Christ which off-sets the interjection of sin in the fall. Consequently the “holiness of Christian people and the conversion of perishing people hang on seeing and savoring the glory of God in the Gospel.”1
The Work of the Cross:
Due to the brokenness of shalom from the infusion of sin mankind’s bent toward understanding identity has been warped. Though God has created humanity in the imago dei, an embodiment of the continuous outpouring of oneself to defer to the Almighty God and others, sin has infiltrated a disposition which demands for the world to revolve around the self. Frankly speaking “the self-sins are self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love, and a host of others like them. They dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our natures to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them.”2 Therefore, the cross of Christ has come to redeem creation and mankind’s proclivity toward self-centeredness. The work and person of Christ presents restoration to the human nature so that humanity “might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV). The infinite wisdom of God constructed creation to function within selflessness which is the mirror of the trinitarian God, yet at the corpus of sin “self-centeredness destroys the fabric of what God has made.”3 For this very reason the cross of Christ is the very means to which we are to find restoration in having the ability to savor and delight in the glory of God. It is imperative that we find satisfaction in Him because “the glory of God in Christ, revealed through the Gospel, is a real, objective light that must be spiritually seen in order for there to be salvation. If it is not seen — spiritually tasted as glorious and precious — Satan still has his way, and there is no salvation.”4 The glory of God is to rewire and reprogram our lens of seeing the world to operate in accordance to our true identity in Christ.
Isaiah 53:5 ESV, “5 But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”
Strangers and Aliens:
“19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens. . .” Ephesians 2:19a ESV
From the time of the fall God has set forth a plan to bring about redemption to a broken world. God would “put enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, and between [the serpent’s] offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise [the serpent’s] head, and [the serpent] shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). Throughout redemptive history God laid out a plan that would speak to the world of His infinite grace and mercy. God would, through the Abrahamic Covenant, “make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1 – 3 ESV). Within redemptive history the people of God was birthed and the narrative of reconciliation took its course. Yet the very covenant that was to bring forth union and roll over into blessing constructed, through sin nature, exclusivity throughout Israel. In choosing Israel to be His nation God had called His people “to be a vessel through which the knowledge of God would be spread to the entire world.”5 Israel, who was meant to be a beckon of light, had now become a dividing wall of hostility toward the Gentiles. The Jew’s hostility was so filled with hatred that “some Jews believed that God created the Gentiles to use as fuel for hell.”6 Israel had perverted their calling of blessing and much of the discrimination surfaced in two ways — social and spiritual alienation.
The first type of alienation that the Jews harbored against the Gentiles was a social inequality. The apostle Paul reflects on this reality by saying “remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh” (Ephesians 2:11a ESV). Paul clearly makes a statement toward the distinction between the two conflicting people — Jews and Gentiles. This distinction was pressed through the physical difference in the word usage of “flesh” marking out the circumcision and uncircumcision. The apostle Paul “carries a tone of disdain for such Jewish hatred”7 to build up his point and magnify the work of Christ.
The second type of alienation abstracted from the Jew’s hatred toward the Gentiles was a spiritual inequality. Paul makes this distinction by reflecting on the Gentile’s alienation “from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Gentiles were people who had no direct connection to the Creator God and, consequently, were without hope of any conversion. Jesus clarified this claim in His discussion with the Samaritan woman by stating that the Samaritans, who are not fully Jewish, “worship what [they] do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22 ESV). In the eyes of the Jew the Gentiles were inferior.
The Fulfillment of Christ to Break Down the Barriers:
“17 And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” Ephesians 2:17 ESV
Through the coming of Christ God has brought forth the fulfillment of His covenant established with Abraham that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3 ESV). Jesus has become the perfection to which Abraham symbolized for the Israel people, and has presented to the nations the promise of the covenant through His work on the cross and in the resurrection. Jesus has “broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might created in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:14 – 16 ESV). Now instead of Israel being exclusive in practice through the law Christ has made all people God’s people through faith in Jesus. Through the work and person of Christ the “peace that the Gospel promises and creates is first between man and God, and secondly between people. When different ethnic groups share a common vertical reconciliation it produces a horizontal one.”8 In the eyes of God the blood of Christ has formed “one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Ephesians 2:15). There is no longer “Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV).
Fellow Citizens with the Saints:
“19 . . . but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,” Ephesians 2:19b ESV
Through the work of the cross and the fulfillment of Christ in the Abrahamic Covenant God has made all people one through faith in the Son. Paul distinguishes equality in using the term “fellow,” or sumpolités, which is a primary preposition denoting union. It is clear to understand then that in Christ “there are no walls, no classes, no castes, no races, no gender, no distinctions of any sort.”9 In Christ no one is more righteous than the other because our righteousness is a righteousness that is obtained through faith in the person of Jesus. The imputed righteousness of Christ is to be understood that only by Him “can we live holy lives out of His righteousness as our new status as Christians.”10 Therefore, “by virtue of being in Christ, our past, present, and future sin is taken away through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus and exchanged for His perfection, holiness, and righteousness.”11 To this end no one may boast because His righteousness and our justification has been a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8 – 9). This gift has granted humanity citizenship and sainthood in Christ Jesus. Believer’s identity is rooted in what Christ has done for us on the cross and the barriers, restrictions, and laws have been abolished through His blood and fulfillment in those things.
Not only are regenerate believers granted citizenship but they are adopted into the family of God and as members of the family “God now sees us and treats us exactly as He sees and treats His Son — with infinite love. Because the Father cannot give anything but His best to the Son, He cannot give anything but His best to those who are in His Son.”12 Consequently, as disciples of Jesus, “we’re equal joint heirs as brothers and sisters in Christ.”13 It must be understood then that “Sonship to God is not, therefore, a universal status into which everyone enters by natural birth, but a supernatural gift which one receives through receiving Jesus.”14 Yet citizenship and membership into the family should not be looked upon as a distinction rather as synonymous, one equalling the other. It should not be understood that you can be a citizen and not a son/daughter or vise versa, rather if you are a citizen through the blood of Christ then you are a son/daughter in His Kingdom.
Setting the basis to which we are to understand biblical identity has been crucial and pivotal in taking the next steps toward functioning within that ideology. A clear understanding of Christ-centered identity will light the path to how regenerate believers venture into the passages of Gospel fueled life. As stated in the introduction, it is imperative to distinguish that we work from our identity and not for our identity. To this end it is critical in establishing a theological framework to understanding Christian identity. Much of evangelicalism’s struggle toward half-hearted followers is built upon an inability to know and understand Jesus biblically. The westernized church’s issue is a crisis of identity in being disciples of Jesus. When the church commits herself to biblical principles rooted in the Gospel then she will be taking strides in cementing her legacy in Christ Jesus for this generation and the many to come.
1 John Piper. God is the Gospel: Meditation on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 87.
2 AW Tozer. The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine (Camp Hill: Wing Spread, 1993), 42.
3 Timothy Keller. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 227.
4 John Piper. God is the Gospel: Meditation on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 64.
5 John MacArthur. Ephesians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 68.
6 Ibid., 69.
7 Ibid., 71.
8 John Piper. God is the Gospel: Meditation on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 33.
9 John MacArthur. Ephesians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 67.
10 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 263.
11 Mark Driscoll. Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity in Christ (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 33.
12 John MacArthur. Ephesians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 82.
13 Mark Driscoll. Who Do You Think You Are? Finding Your True Identity in Christ (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 175.
14 JI Packer. Knowing God (Downer Grove: IVP Books, 1993), 200 – 201.