My identity is in Christ, right...?
1 John 3:1-2 "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.! And that is what we are! The reason that the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."
2 Cor 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
A variety of scripture verses can be used to establish that our identity is to be found in Christ. The phrase "identity in Christ" has become something of a cliche, something Christian people say when they want to encourage others in the face of hardship or remind someone that God is working in the person's life. But what does it really mean to have your identity in Christ?
The Christian faith, through Jesus, brought something radically new and qualitatively different into the world. The way a person relates to God changed with Jesus' coming from a system of earning one's way and doing good, religious things to a simple relationship of knowing God and being known to God.
The rich young man man's situation can provide some insight into the issue. When he states, "All this I have done," he really means all. He is a person who has done everything right. He has kept all of the commandments, to the extent that he can confidently claim having fulfilled even the most difficult one--love your neighbor. Yet Jesus finds his actions lacking. When Jesus then tells the rich young man that he needs to do just one more thing--sell his possessions and and give the money to the poor, then come follow him--the man goes away grieving and hopeless. But why is this so hard, if he has already done everything it takes to satisfy all the other commandments?
I don't think Jesus was all that interested in the rich young man giving up his possessions to provide for the poor. Rather, he was interested in the young man detaching himself from everything that was preventing him from following Jesus. It isn't about just doing one more thing in this passage. It's about identifying, and giving up, whatever gets in the way of being in relationship with Jesus.
Jesus doesn't want us to do one more thing. He is interested in who we choose to be, and in our relating to him.
The idea that we are to "find our identity in Christ" poses the question of who we are supposed to be and offers an answer to it.
Paul, another man who "did everything right" in Jesus' time and culture (see, for example, Philippians 3:4-6), comes to "regard it all as loss." That is, nothing of what he did, much of which his people and culture counted as good, matters to him now. Before, his identity was in being Jewish, a Pharisee, zealous for Jewish faith, blameless according to the Law. The things he did back then were a reflection of these multiple identities. Now, his identity is in Jesus Christ, and the only thing that matters to him is "the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord." Who he is (his identity) is more important than what he does (which will reflect who he is in any case).
So what does it mean to find one's identity in Christ? I believe it means identifying those things in your life, besides Jesus, that you are attached to at the expense of being attached to Jesus. In some cases, these may be possessions or things we love to do or roles we play. I have to ask myself: do I find my identity in being an excellent teacher? In managing my family perfectly so others can see how great my kids are turning out? In having a perfect house or being a great artist? In preaching good sermons or helping the poor? Jesus is not necessarily asking us to give up everything in our lives that we love--but to constantly bring those things to him, confessing if they have become idols to us, and reaffirming our intention to find our identity in him instead of in these things. It means detaching ourselves from finding our core meaning in these things, so that we can place our core attachment in Jesus Christ.
Confess: Lord, my identity is not in (acknowledge the things you do or the roles you play that give you a sense of identity--for me, it may be being a perfect mom, being an excellent professor, a good friend, managing my life the "right" way, knowing the right answers, doing what others think is correct, etc.)
Pray: Lord, whatever I do today, I want to do this with you and in you. I do not want to do it alone, in my own strength. I do not want to do things as a cover for hiding what is really going on inside of me, or as a way to hide from you. I want to find my true in identity in you, not in what I do or roles I play.