Last Tuesday at the weekly Bible study Marie and I host in our apartment we interrupted our ongoing discussion on Hebrews (led by Denise, thank you Denise!) to have a brief discussion on the topic of `identity’. This topic has taken on renewed importance with many of us recently. There was some good discussion, which covered many aspects of the topic. This post is a little of what I said on the night. (Note: I originally posted this on my fellowship’s blog).
I began the discussion by reading and then reading some of Tom Wright’s commentary on this passage. The crux of this passage (for our purposes, at least) is in verse 20:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20, ESV)
Here is what Wright has to say on this:
`The question then becomes: who belongs to the Messiah? How is that identity expressed?
`Paul answers this with one of his most famous beliefs, which remains difficult for modern Western minds to come to terms with. Those who belong to the Messiah are in the Messiah, so that what is true of him is true of them.’ (Tom Wright, from Paul for Everyone — Galatians and Thessalonians)
Now, in his commentary Wright focuses on the question `who belongs to the Messiah?’, because this is the very question Paul was himself trying to answer in Galatians. However, I noted on Tuesday that Paul, as he often does, has rolled out some very heavy machinery to answer this question. Paul has, to an extent, really dug beneath the questions of ethnic identity and covenant family identity to address the more basic and fundamental question of identity itself!
I think Paul’s approach to identity is threefold. First, the aspect highlighted above — our identity is subsumed by that of Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. This notion of the `indwelling’ of Christ and his Spirit is absolutely central to our understanding of the Christian life, as we all know. So,
… if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. (Rom 8:10, ESV)
Now, if taken by itself, this might seem to render our individual identities as people inconsequential or obsolete. Not so — as well as Christ living in us, whereby our identities are subsumed by his, we also live in Christ and here our identities as people are not consumed but fulfilled! Here are a few verses (among many) to illustrate this idea:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Cor 5:17, ESV)
…you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:11, ESV)
So, first — Christ is in us and lives through us and our identities as mere humans is subsumed by that of the Lord of all creation. Second — we live in Christ and our identities (as humans made in God’s image, as Children of God, as heirs of the promise, etc.) are brought to fulfillment in him. We are alive, really truly alive!
Finally — as well as Christ living in us, and us living in Christ — we live with Christ:
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Rom 6:6-8, ESV)
We have died with Christ. We are dead to old identities defined by sin and death, dead to identities provided for us by the world, dead to anything that might define us except our glorious new identity in and through the Messiah! Now we live with him, working alongside him, as children and as heirs.