Our new identity in Christ

229 our new identity in Christ

Martin Luther called the Christians "simultaneous sinners and saints". He originally wrote this name in Latin simul iustus et peccator. Simul means "at the same time" in German, iustus stands for "fair", 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 we in the kingdom of God on earth are never completely free from sinful influences. Even though we are reconciled to God (Saints), we don't 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 essence is double counting. On the one hand, our sins are counted towards Jesus and our righteousness towards us. This legal technical language of crediting makes it possible to express what is legally and thus 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 righteousness never becomes our own (under our control). It is a gift that is only our own 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 itself. Jesus is our righteousness! Of course Luther had a lot more to say about Christian life than just this one sentence. Even if we agree with most of the sentence, there are aspects in which we cannot agree with it. J. de Waal Dryden's criticism in an article in The Journal of the Study of Paul and His Letters explains this as follows (I thank my good friend John Kossey for sending me these lines.):

[Luther's] saying helps summarize the principle that the justified sinner is spoken fairly by the "foreign" justice of Christ and not according to the individual, own, inherent justice. Where this saying does not prove to be helpful is when it - whether consciously or unconsciously - as the foundation for sanctification (of Christian life) is viewed. The problem here is the ongoing identification of the Christian as a "sinner". The noun peccator indicates more than just a deformed moral will or a tendency to forbidden actions, but defines the Christian doctrine of being. The Christian is not only sinful in his actions, but also in his nature. Psychologically speaking, Luther's saying appeases moral guilt, but maintains shame. The self-explanatory picture of the justified sinner, which also proclaims forgiveness openly, undermines precisely this forgiveness if it represents an understanding of the self as a sinful person down to the depths because it categorically excludes the changing element of Christ. The Christian would then have a pathological self-understanding, which is reinforced by common practices and thereby represents this understanding as a Christian virtue. In this way, shame and self-contempt are stoked. («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 level". In unity and fellowship with God, in Christ and through the Spirit, we are "a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5,17) and transformed so that we can have a «share» in «the divine nature» (2 Peter 1,4). We are no longer sinful people who yearn to be freed from their sinful nature. On the contrary, we are God's adopted, beloved, reconciled children who have been transformed into the image of Christ. Our thinking about Jesus and ourselves changes radically when we accept the reality of our new identity in Christ. We understand that it is not ours because of what 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 summarizes this in his letter to the church in Galatia:

I live, but now not me, but Christ lives in me. Because 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 (Galatians 2,20).

Paul understood Jesus as both the subject and 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 loyalty, not ours, that gives us our new identity and that makes us just in him. As I noted in my weekly report a few weeks ago: by saving us, God does not clean our vest and then leaves us to our own efforts to follow Christ. On the contrary, by grace he enables us to happily participate in what he has done and through us. Grace, you see, is more than just a glimmer in our Heavenly Father's eyes. 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 Corinthians 1,30). We experience each of these aspects of our salvation through grace, in union with Jesus, through the Spirit given to us as adopted beloved children of God, who we are.

Thinking about God's grace in this way ultimately changes our perspective on everything. For example: In my usual daily routine, I might be thinking about where I just moved Jesus. When I rethink my life from the perspective of my identity in Christ, my thinking changes 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 growing grace and knowledge about Jesus is all about. As we grow closer with him, we share more of what he does. This is the concept of staying in Christ that our Lord speaks of in John 15. Paul calls it "hidden" in Christ (Colossians 3,3). I think there is no better place to be hidden because in Christ there is nothing but kindness. Paul understood that the goal of life is to be in Christ. Remaining in Jesus brings about a self-assured dignity and the destiny that our Creator conceived for us from the beginning. This identity frees us to live in the freedom from God's forgiveness and no longer in the debilitating shame and guilt. It also frees us to live with the certain knowledge that God changes us from within through the Spirit. That is the reality of who we truly are in Christ by grace.

Misinterpret and interpret the nature of God's grace

Unfortunately, many people misinterpret the nature of God's grace and see it as a free ticket to sin (this is the mistake of antinomianism). Paradoxically, these mistakes mostly occur when people want to tie grace and the grace-based relationship with God into a legal construct (this is the mistake of legalism). Within this legal framework, grace is often misunderstood as God's exception to the rule. Grace then becomes a legal excuse for inconsistent obedience. When grace is understood in this way, the biblical concept of God as a loving father who rebukes his beloved children is ignored, and trying to force grace into a legal framework is a terrible, life-consuming mistake. Legal work does not include justification, and grace is no exception to the rule. This misunderstanding of grace typically leads to liberal, unstructured lifestyles that are contrary to the grace-based and gospel-based life that Jesus shares with us through the Holy Spirit , stand.

Changed by grace

This unfortunate misunderstanding of mercy (with its wrong conclusions about Christian life) may appease the guilty conscience, but it unwittingly misses the grace of change - the love of God in our hearts that can change us through the Spirit from within. Missing this truth ultimately leads to guilt 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 life based on grace. Because that is a life that is of the changing love of God, which justifies and sanctifies us through our union with Christ through the power of the Spirit. Notice the words of Paul to Titus:

Because the healing grace of God has appeared to all people and takes us to discipline that we refuse the ungodly being and the worldly desires and live prudently, justly and piously in this world. (Titus 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:
Because by grace you have been saved by faith, and not from you: it is God's gift, not from works, so that no one can boast. Because we are his work, created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in (Ephesians 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 the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, Jesus is the beginning and the completion of our faith (Heb. 12,2).

by Joseph Tkach


pdf Our new identity in Christ (Part 1)