Identity in Christ
If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.2 Corinthians 5:17
In his letters, the apostle Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” more than seventy times. Clearly, this idea that believers are “in Christ” profoundly moved him. But what does it mean? How can believers find their identity in this?
First, if we are in Christ, it means we have been born again. The Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be born again or else we cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). To be born again is to be spiritually reborn, literally, “from above.” Being born again means sinners are brought from death to life (Eph. 2:1, 1 John 3:14).
The thought of this spiritual rebirth is so profound Paul wrote about it often so as to impress the truth of it in the reader’s mind. Paul writes to the Corinthians that anyone — boy or girl, man or woman, learned or simple, rich or poor — who is in Christ is a new creature. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). A new creation implies a creator, and that creator is God. He created the universe by the word of His power (Gen. 1-2), and He re-creates sinners living in that universe by the power of His Word. As believers, our identity in Christ begins with being born again and receiving the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23).
Second, Paul writes that our new spiritual identity involves being in Christ. In the Old Testament, believers found safety in the ark (Gen. 6:7, cf. 2 Peter 2:5). When guilty, they found protection in a city of refuge (Numbers 35). In the New Testament, believers are in the vine (John 15:4-5). Peter writes that saved souls are living stones in the building of which Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone (1 Peter 2:4-6). All these are pictures of born-again believers being in Christ. We do not lose our personality, but we lose our primary personal identity. Before being born again, we were at the center of our world, lovers of self (2 Tim. 3:2). But as a new creation in Christ, our primary personal identity is now “found in him” (Phil. 3:9). We are Christians not so much because Jesus is in our hearts, but foundationally because we are in Jesus Christ’s heart!
Do you identify yourself as being in Christ? When we do, we will be filled with joyous praise and humble gratitude for the Lord’s undeserved mercies! Such a glorious truth does not engender pride, but stimulates the soul to praise-filled worship for His life-giving grace.
Third, we find our identity in Christ as we seek to follow His example and walk as He walked. We find our identity in our reliance on the grace of the Holy Spirit to be Christ-like. We seek to reflect His characteristics of patience, wisdom, love, diligence, holiness, kindness, and forgiveness. We try to let our words be always seasoned with grace (Col. 4:6) so that others could see that we have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
We also find our Christian identity in Christ through our obedience to His Word. Christ delighted in every aspect of God’s law. When through faith we do delight to keep God’s law we do so out of obedience to Him “and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). We should grieve more when we feel like God’s law is a burden.
Lastly, our identity in Christ involves suffering persecution. We are promised, “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). This can be the hard part of our identity with Christ. When we seek to walk the Christian life, opposition can raise its stubborn head (John 15:20). We are tempted to compare our life to the apparent ease of the world and secretly echo Asaph: “I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Ps. 73:3). We may even tend to think in those difficult times of persecution, Where is God when I need Him most? But during persecution, He is not so far away that we cannot see Him; He is so close that we gaze beyond Him! How we should learn to joy more in Christ during such times! “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).
Are you in Christ by faith? Are you seeking to walk in Christ’s footsteps? Are you suffering well for His sake? Do you identify with Christ Jesus the Lord? The wonder of His sovereign and merciful grace is that, for those who are united to Him, He is in us and we are in Him. One day He will come again and receive us unto Himself, that where He is, there we may be also (John 14:3). As we await that great day, may we glory in His name and not only find the reason for our existence in Him but also find our identity in Jesus Christ.