Many times when I think about Christian identity the image of a superhero pops into my mind. Almost all superheroes have secret identities. They go through their everyday lives as mild mannered citizens. Then when a problem occurs they break out of their “mild mannered citizen” appearance and turn into Superman, Spiderman, or Batman and save the day. Their friends always wonder where they went during the crisis.
The thing is, this is a terrible image of Christian identity.
Superheroes are not mild mannered citizens. They are superheroes, that’s who they are.
I think a very helpful snapshot of Christian identity can be found in 1 Peter 2:
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. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
This is Christian identity in a nutshell.
Your identity is not an “if” but an “is”. There is no question about you are in Christ. It is a stated fact. “You are”…
A Purposed Community
Each description of the “you are” statement could be posts (or dissertations) in an of themselves. Peter is talking to Jewish Christians and states the fact that they are a “chosen race”. This chosen-ness extends also to Gentiles as they are adopted as children of God (see Romans 9-11). Peter firmly grounds the identity of the new Christian community in God’s sovereign choice. To be in Christ is to be hand selected.
This hand selected people is also a purposed people. We are described as a royal priesthood that is holy and possessed by God. The priesthood had a responsibility to stand between the people and God. But this role has changed due to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, therefore, Peter clarifies. The responsibility of the priesthood is now to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Our chosen-ness is reflected by our activity as priests. Our activity as priests is primarily marked by our proclamation of the “excellencies” of Jesus. Consider what Peter is saying here, he is not saying that we are to set out to convert people. We are to set out to proclaim how excellent Jesus is.
A Mercied Community
Our identities are also wrapped up in the fact that “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” What is critical here is the statement of mercy. We are a people who have been invited in as a people out of mercy. Mercy is defined as, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”
Our identity is shaped by the compassion and forgiveness extended to us by God. We were a people in darkness invited into the light, not because we were deserving, but out of God’s great compassion and forgiveness. This means that we are proclaiming the excellencies of a compassionate and forgiving God. When we proclaim with the intent of conversion we often cease proclaiming the excellencies of the compassionate and forgiving God but become harbingers of doom. While we must help people understand the fact that they need a Savior, we must realize that our call is to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus. We can trust that the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.
A Changed Community
Out identity is also expressed in our changed lives. Peter says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
We must understand that we are primarily sojourners and exiles in the world. This is where the superhero analogy is helpful, especially that of Superman. He is not from Earth. He is an exile from Krypton. When we become God’s people we are adopted and no longer find our identity based here but based in the reality of our new family which is in God.
This means that we are at odds in a fallen world. We experience passions that wage war against our soul which means that our new identity demands a new lifestyle in response to the excellent Jesus and his great mercy. Our lives are to be different because the world is watching. Peter wants our lives to be ones that cause people to give glory to God in his second coming.
A final thought…
This whole discussion is in the plural because our identity is a communal one. We are a people. We are a community. While individuals are indeed saved by the grace of God in Christ we cannot separate that from the reality that we are saved into a community.
I think I would summarize Christian identity this way, “An ever changing community proclaiming the excellencies of Jesus through word and deed.”