Identity: “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”
Identity is everything in American society where individualism and independence is prized and worshiped. We use our identities to create enemies and loosely bonded allies who can be discarded if they disagree about something. The problem with how identity works in America, particularly in the church, is that identity is a means of division: I’m a Democrat, I’m a Republican, I’m pro-choice, I’m pro-life, I’m straight, I’m gay, I’m a male, I’m a female, I’m trans, I’m a Baptist, I’m a Methodist, I’m this, I’m that. The list goes on. Even in the church, we use identity to divide, rather than unite.
The Bible reveals to us what our identity is. We are created beings endowed with the image of God. We also know that we have been marred by sin which has separated us from the God that created and loves us. Jesus lived a perfect life that we couldn’t live, died on a cross for sins that we couldn’t make right, was dead, buried, and raised to life by God on the third day. He did this so that we could be reconciled to him. For those who have repented, been baptized, and received the Holy Spirit, we receive a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17). That identity is the only identity we need.
Over the past 6 months, I have been memorizing the book of Colossians. Chapter 3 has had a remarkable impact on my understand of identity. Here are some of those thoughts.
Paul’s reminder is that when we are baptized, we are baptized into his death, we’ve “died to the elemental spirits of the world” (2:20; chapter 2 is a great place to go to get a better understanding of the transformational nature of baptism). He goes on to tell us what those elemental spirits are: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. . . [anger], wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk” and lying to one another (3:5, 8-9). Every single one of those things is an act of division. Every single one of those things are done by a person who believes their identity is in something other than Christ.
Paul doesn’t just tell us what we’re supposed to avoid, he also reminds us of who we are. “For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (3:3) “and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (3:10). Paul then makes a huge statement that took me weeks to see: “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11; emphasis mine). Paul is saying that whatever distinction that there could be between believers, it doesn’t matter because Christ is all, and in all. This is what Jesus prays for when he asks that we all would be one just as he and the Father are one. This is why Paul expects us to live with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (3:12). These are characteristics of Christ, who ought to be our only identity.
Brothers and Sisters, if you find your identity in anything that isn’t Jesus Christ, you have bought a lie. “For you have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” It’s not that Christ is hidden in you; rather, it’s that you are hidden with Christ in God. To believe anything less than that is to reject what God has done for you through Jesus Christ.
Brothers and Sisters, we have a duty in the church to seek unity at all costs. Where there is disunity and division is a person who is in rebellion acting for their own selfish gain. It ought not to be this way. Leaders, look out for those who cause disunity and division, they are ripe for judgment (1 Cor 3:17) if they do not change their ways.
Our identity is in Christ. Through that, let’s pursue unity.