Our new identity in Christ

229 our new identity in Christ

Martin Luther called the Christians "simultaneous sinners and saints". This name was originally written in Latin simul iustus et peccator. Simul means "simultaneously" in English, iustus stands for "just", et means "and" and peccator stands for "sinner". If you take that literally, it means that we live in both, sinfulness and sinlessness at the same time. Luther's motto would then be a contradiction in terms. But he spoke metaphorically and wanted to address the paradox that in the Kingdom of God on earth we are never completely free from sinful influences. Although we are reconciled to God (saints), we do not live a perfect Christ-like life (sinner). When Luther formulated this saying, he occasionally used the language of the Apostle Paul to make it clear that the gospel's core is a double credit. On the one hand, our sins are credited to Jesus and to us his righteousness. This legal language of credit allows us to express what is legally and therefore actually true, even if it is not visible in the life of the person to whom it applies. Luther also said that apart from Christ himself, his justice never becomes our own possession (under our control). It is a gift that is only ours if we accept it from him. We receive this gift by being united with the giver of the gift, since ultimately the giver is the gift. Jesus is our righteousness! Of course, Luther had much more to say about the Christian life than just this one sentence. Even if we agree with most of the sentence, there are aspects in which we can not agree with it. J. De Waal Dryden's critique in an article in The Journal of the Paul and His Letters study does this in the following way. (I thank my good friend John Kossey for sending me these lines.):

[Luther's] statement helps to summarize the principle that the justified sinner is justified by the "foreign" righteousness of Christ, and not by the individual's own indwelling righteousness. Where this spell does not prove helpful, it is when, consciously or unconsciously, it is considered the foundation for sanctification (Christian life). The problem here is the constant identification of the Christian as a "sinner". The noun peccator indicates more than just a deformed moral will or inclination to forbidden actions, but defines the Christian's doctrine of being. The Christian is sinful not only in his activities, but also in his nature. Psychologically, Luther's saying calms the moral guilt, but keeps shame upright. The self-explanatory image of the justified sinner, who also proclaims forgiveness, precisely undermines this forgiveness if it represents an understanding of the self as a sinful being, categorically excluding the altering element of Christ. The Christian would then have a morbid self-image that is intensified by common practices, thereby representing that understanding as a Christian virtue. In this way, shame and self-contempt are fueled. ("Revisiting Romans 7: Law, Self, Spirit," JSPL (2015), 148-149)

Accept our new identity in Christ

As Dryden says, God "raises the sinner to a higher state." In union and communion with God, in Christ and through the Spirit, we are "a new creature" (2, Kor 5,17) and transformed to receive "share" in "divine nature" (2, Petr 1,4). We are no longer sinful people, yearning to be freed from their sinful nature. On the contrary, we are God's adopted, beloved, reconciled children, transformed into the image of Christ. Our thinking about Jesus and about ourselves radically changes as we embrace the reality of our new identity in Christ. We understand that it is not ours because of who we are, but because of Christ. It is not ours because of our faith (which is always unfinished) but through the faith of Jesus. Notice how Paul puts it in a nutshell in his letter to the Galatian community:

I live, but not me, but Christ lives in me. For what I now live in the flesh, I live in faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal 2,20).

Paul understood Jesus both as the subject and as the object of saving faith. As a subject he is the active mediator, the author of grace. As an object he answers as one of us with perfect faith, doing this on our behalf and for us. It is his faith and his faithfulness, not ours, that gives us our new identity and that justifies us in him. As I noted in my weekly report a few weeks ago: by saving us, God does not clean our vest clean and then leaves us to our own efforts to follow Christ. On the contrary, by grace, he empowers us to participate joyfully in what he and through us did. Grace, you see, is more than a glimmer in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. It comes from our Father, who chose us, who gives us gifts and promises of total salvation in Christ, including justification, sanctification, and glorification (1, Kor 1,30). We experience each of these aspects of our salvation through grace, in union with Jesus, through the Spirit given to us as the adopted beloved children of God, who we are in fact.

Thinking about God's grace in this way changes our perspective to everything. For example, in my daily routine, I may be thinking about where I was drawing Jesus. When I think about my life from the perspective of my identity in Christ, my thinking is changed to the understanding that this is not where I want to drag Jesus, but that I am called to join him and do what he does , This change in our thinking is exactly what growth in grace and knowledge of Jesus is about. As we grow closer together, we also share more of what he does. This is the concept of remaining in Christ, of which our Lord speaks in John 15. Paul calls it "hidden" in Christ (Kol 3,3). I think there is no better place to be hidden than there is nothing in Christ but goodness. Paul understood that the goal of life is to be in Christ. Staying in Jesus creates in us a self-assured dignity and the destiny that our Creator devised for us from the beginning. This identity frees us to live in the freedom of God's forgiveness and not in our debilitating shame and guilt. It also frees us to live with the secure knowledge that God is changing us from within through the Spirit. This is the reality of who we are by grace truly in Christ.

Misinterpret and interpret the nature of God's grace

Unfortunately, many people misrepresent the nature of God's grace and see it as a free ticket to sin (that is the fault of Antinomianism). Paradoxically, this error usually occurs when people want to bind grace and the grace-based relationship with God into a legal construct (that is the fault of legalism). Within this legal framework, grace is often misunderstood as the exception of God. Grace then becomes a legal excuse for fickle obedience. If Grace is so understood, the biblical concept of God as a loving Father rebuke his beloved children is ignored. Attempting to force grace into a legal framework is a terrible, life-wrenching mistake. Legal work has no justification, and grace is no exception to the rule here. This misunderstanding of grace typically leads to liberal, unstructured lifestyles, in contrast to the grace-based and gospel life that Jesus shares with us through the Holy Spirit , stand.

Changed by grace

This unfortunate misunderstanding of grace (with its false conclusions concerning the Christian life) may appease the guilty conscience, but it unknowingly misses the grace of change - the love of God in our hearts that can change us from within through the Spirit. To miss this truth ultimately leads to a guilt that is rooted in fear. Speaking from my own experience, I can say that a life based on fear and shame is a bad alternative for a grace-based life. For this is a life that is justified and sanctified by the changing love of God, who, through our unity with Christ, through the power of the Spirit, justifies us. Notice the words of Paul to Titus:

For the salutary mercy of God has appeared to all men, and it is disciplining us to renounce the ungodly nature and the worldly desires, and to live in this world in a prudent, just and pious manner. (Tit 2,11-12)

God did not save us just to leave us alone with shame, immaturity and sinful and destructive ways of life. By grace he has saved us, that we may live in his righteousness. Grace means that God will never give us up. He continues to give us the gift of sharing in union with the Son and fellowship with the Father, as well as being able to carry the Holy Spirit within us. He changed us to become more like Christ. Grace is exactly what our relationship with God is about.

In Christ we are and will always be beloved children of our Heavenly Father. All he asks us is to grow in grace and knowledge of the knowledge of him. We grow in grace by learning to trust Him through and through, and we grow in the knowledge of Him by following Him and spending time with Him. God not only forgives us by grace when we live our lives in obedience and reverence, but also changes us by grace. Our relationship with God, in Christ and through the Spirit, does not grow to the point where we seem to need God and His grace less. On the contrary, our lives are dependent on him in every way. He makes us new by washing us clean from the inside out. As we learn to stay in His grace, we get to know Him better, love Him and His ways altogether. The more we know and love Him, the more we will experience the freedom to rest in His grace, free from guilt, fear, and shame.

Paul sums it up like this:
For by grace you have been saved by faith, and not from you: it is God's gift, not from works, that no one should boast. For we are His work, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has previously prepared to be transformed into (Eph 2,8-10).

Let us not forget that it is the faith of Jesus - his faithfulness - that redeems and changes us. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, Jesus is the beginner and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12,2).

by Joseph Tkach


pdfOur New Identity in Christ (part 1)