Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
When I became a Christian, I received a completely new identity in Christ. I was put into a divine witness protection program of sorts. The old me was erased from the books – crucified and buried with Christ – and I was given a glorious new identity in Christ.
In other words, I’m not the old me. The Stephen Altrogge that was born on April 26, 1982, is not the same Stephen Altrogge writing this post (that is a truly mind-boggling thought).
A profound, fundamental change has taken place. God has transformed me so completely that it’s almost as if I’m a completely new person (who just happens to look a lot like Stephen).
But there’s also a problem: I often forget my new identity in Christ.
I don’t live in light of the glorious, breathtaking changes that have occurred in my life. Rather, I live…
- As if I’m still the old Stephen
- As if I’m not a completely new person in Jesus Christ
- As if changes of jaw-dropping magnitude have not occurred in me
This is stupidity on performance-enhancing drugs. It’s like a recently-freed prisoner still hanging around the prison yard, or a recently freed slave still obeying his master’s orders. It’s absolute lunacy.
So what’s the solution? What steps must I take to ensure that I’m regularly living out my identity in Christ?
I need to constantly remember who I am in Christ.
#1 – My Identity In Christ As Alive
Before God saved me, I was an enemy of God. At war with my Creator. Hostile to the one who created me. I delighted in and savored my sin, which resulted in me being separated from God and under his wrath.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind
Talk about a bleak, hopeless picture. Before I received my new identity in Christ, I was:
- Totally dead in my sins – a spiritual corpse
- Following the course of this world headlong into destruction
- A servant of the prince of the power of the air (Satan)
- Carrying out whatever sinful, wicked desires my heart and mind could come up with
- A child of wrath
That was my identity. Spiritually dead, plunging without thought into destruction, a servant of Satan, enslaved to my sinful desires, and under the crushing wrath of God.
But because my God is staggeringly merciful, he didn’t destroy me. Despite my joyful rebellion, he joyfully saved me. He caused me to be born again, to become spiritually alive, to hope only in Christ.
God flooded me with the life of Christ, and the things I once hated, I now loved.
God made me alive in Christ.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…
I am no longer a spiritually dead, God-hating, Satan-loving child of wrath. My identity in Christ is now spiritually alive, God-loving, Satan-hating, child of God.
#2 – My Identity In Christ As Adopted
After breathing spiritual life into my dead heart and forgiving my sins in Christ, God adopted me as his son. Ephesians 1:5 says, “…he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”
If God had only forgiven my sins and allowed me to only be a servant, that would have been a gift worthy of eternal praise. But God adopted me as his son. He wanted me to be part of his family. Let me say that again – God wanted me. Do you believe he wanted you?
My identity in Christ is as chosen and adopted son.
As God’s son, I have the right to address the King and Creator as, “Abba,” which is an incredibly intimate, familial term. Because God is my father, I can ask him anything, knowing that if it’s good, he’ll give it to me. And because I’ve been adopted, I share in Christ’s inheritance. What a baffling blessing. Someday, I will receive my rightful inheritance from God.
I love how Tim Keller puts it:
The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.
I am no longer an enemy of God. My identity in Christ is as a privileged, adopted child who can ask God for a glass of water at 3:00 AM.
#3 – My Identity In Christ As Accepted
Because I am a beloved, adopted child of God, I am fully and completely accepted by God.
Can I be honest? I don’t often feel accepted by God. I feel like I need to earn God’s acceptance through my good works. Yes, I’m saved and forgiven, but in order for God to actually accept me, I need to earn his favor.
This must break God’s heart. I know it would break my heart if my children felt like they needed to earn my acceptance.
I love how the New King James Version phrases Ephesians 1:6, “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
Christ is God’s beloved son, and I am in Christ. Therefore, I too am deeply loved by God and fully accepted by him. God will stop accepting and loving me only when he stops accepting and loving his son.
Even if I experience rejection from people, God will never reject me. He accepts and delights in me, even more than I fully accept and delight in my children. I can’t earn his acceptance, I can only revel in it.
Charles Spurgeon puts it this way:
If a man could know that he was loved by all his fellowmen, if he could have it for certain that he was loved by all the angels, yet these were but so many drops, and all put together could not compare with the main ocean contained in the fact that “God loved us.
My identity in Christ is as accepted, beloved, treasured child of God. And as Romans 8 so beautifully puts it, nothing can ever separate me from that glorious love of God.
#4 – My Identity In Christ As Free
Because I am a new creation in Christ, my old self that was enslaved to the power of sin is dead. Paul puts it this way in Galatians 2:20:
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.
Before I received my new identity in Christ, I was a slave to sin, unable to say, “No,” to the sin that would ultimately destroy me. I was ruled by my wicked and deceitful heart, neither able nor desiring to choose the things of God.
But that old self has been crucified and buried with Christ. The old, enslaved-to-sin Stephen is no longer in existence.
Now, the Holy Spirit dwells in me, giving me the power to put sin to death and to walk in freedom. I no longer have to obey the sinful passions and pleasures that once dominated me. I have the freedom to say, “No,” to temptation.
Titus 2:11-12 highlights this glorious change in our identity when it says:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…
My identity in Christ is one of freedom. I am no longer under the heavy, enslaving, crushing burden of sin. Now I am free to choose righteousness and obedience.
#5 – My Identity In Christ As United
Before God delightfully upended my sin-filled, hell-bound life, I was excluded from God’s family. Even more than that, Scripture says that I was essentially at war with those around me. Titus 3:3 puts it this way:
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
Hated by others and hating one another. Talk about a deeply depressing picture.
This doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have real, meaningful relationships. It means that all my relationships were self-centered, and when they failed to satisfy me, they quickly degenerated into hatred.
But when God saved me, I was brought into the blood-bought, gloriously adopted family of God. Suddenly, I was united with others through something outside of me – Jesus Christ. I was joined to the people of God – the people of the promise given to Abraham and fulfilled in Christ. A redeemed child of God brought into intimate relationships with other redeemed children.
It’s truly glorious.
1 Peter 2:9 says it like this:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
I am no longer isolated, hating and hated. My identity in Christ is as part of God’s chosen family. I part of God’s people, united with them to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus.
It Is Not I
There’s a story told about Augustine of Hippo that aptly describes what’s it like to have a new identity in Christ. As the story goes, after being saved by Jesus, Augustine ran into a former mistress on the street. Upon seeing her, Augustine quickly began moving the other direction. The mistress was surprised by this and cried out, “Augustine, it is I!”
Augustine replied, “Yes, but it is not I.”
Whether or not this story is true, it’s a beautiful picture of what it means to receive a new identity in Christ.
I’m no longer me. I’m new in Christ.