Brand New | New Identity

Previously, we discussed that Christians or believers in Jesus Christ are subjects of Christ’s  kingdom.  Having been born again by the power of the Spirit for faith in the gospel, believers have been transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13), Jesus Christ.  However, we must not only think of our relationship with Christ in a monarchial way. The Bible employs several images to describe our relationship with God and our identity as Christians.  While much more could be said about the Christian’s new identity, I will only spend time discussing a few aspects, which I think are most helpful for this series.

IDCHRISTIndividual and Corporate Identity

Two of the most common reasons why some believers have stunted spiritual growth or fail to experience joy is that some fail to understand who they are in Christ and others forget who they are in Christ.  If either of these occur in the life of a believer, it can have devastating effects.  

One of the most vivid descriptions of the Christian’s identity is found in Ephesians 2.  In this chapter, the Apostle Paul describes the work of the gospel in the lives  of the Ephesians, who like all Christians were formerly spiritually dead.  We’ve discussed this in part 1, so I won’t elaborate on that more.  However, Paul goes on to say some additionally important things about how the gospel shapes the believer’s identity and some of its implications.  

Contextually, Paul is writing to Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians and explaining how their faith in Christ has implications concerning their relationship to God and to people of other ethnicities, specifically Jewish people.  In vv11-12, Paul declares that they were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  In other words, Gentiles generally had no share of the blessings of God and were without eternal hope.  However in vv13-22, Paul highlights the hope Gentiles now have because of the gospel and its direct implications. Paul says,

  • v13in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • vv14-16, 1914 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…
  • vv17-18 – 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
  • v22- In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

In verse 13, Paul explains how being Christians, or being in Christ, has brought them near to God when they were originally far off from God and without hope (v12). Do you see that contrast? Being in Christ, believers now have hope because they are covenanted with God in Christ. All believers are no longer alienated from the people of God and strangers to the covenants of promise, but are now the people of God and guaranteed inheritors of the covenantal promises.

In verse 14-16 and 19, Paul explains the relationship between believers of different ethnicities. Historically, Jews and Gentiles didn’t get along. In fact, hostility existed between them. However, in Christ, Paul says the dividing wall of hostility has been torn down (v14, 16) and they are now one new man.  While God doesn’t negate our ethnicities, which He created, our ethnicities are not what first defines us. What first defines us is our identity as the people of God. Our being in Christ not only gives us access to God and His promises, but it creates and puts us in a whole new family with other believers of different ethnicities (v19).

In verse 22, Paul uses Old Testament temple imagery to further clarify the Ephesian believers’ identity.  Under the Mosaic Covenant, or the Old Covenant, God commanded Israel to build a tabernacle and then a temple, which would be the locus of worship for Israel (See 1 Chronicles 28).  Not only would it be the place of worship, but the place where the Lord would often meet with His people. The temple signified the place where the Lord’s presence dwelled.  Paul says in verse 22 that the covenant community or God’s people are a dwelling place of God by the Spirit.  Back in Ephesians 1, Paul explains how believers are filled with the Holy Spirit , who is the guarantee of our inheritance. This filling of the Holy Spirit in believers was promised in the Old Testament in Ezekiel 36:26-27 and in Joel 2:28-29  and fulfilled in Acts 2 under the New Covenant in Christ. God didn’t dwell permanently in people under the Old Covenant as He does with people now in Christ under the New Covenant. Therefore, just as the Temple was the dwelling place of God on earth then, the church (the people of God, not a brick and mortar edifice) is the true temple or dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit on earth now.   It’s a wonderful and humbling reality that we need to understand!

Another profound description of our identity as Christians is found in Romans 8:15-17. The Apostle Paul said:

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

  • v15 – we have received the Spirit of adoption; God is our Father
  • v16 – the indwelling Spirit bears witness that we are the children of God
  • v17 – as children of God, we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ

Every true believer is an adopted child of God and a co-heir with Jesus Christ!  Just as children depend on their parents for provision, protection, love, etc., every believer has that relationship with God the Father.  The Aramaic term “Abba” is a term used by children that signifies a close intimate relationship with their fathers. The English equivalent is “daddy”.  With this familial reality comes a grand future promise.  That promise is that we are co-heirs with Christ. Not only are believers promised salvation, but eternal life and we will rule (to some measure) the New Heavens and New Earth with Jesus (Lk. 22:30; 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 3:21). This will be the ultimate fulfillment of man’s original calling to rule and have dominion over the earth and its non-human inhabitants (Genesis 1:26-28).

Salvation in Christ not only restores our relationship with God and people, but also our roles over creation.

Identity as Slaves

The last issue of identity that I want to address pertains to our relationship with sin.  In Romans 6, Paul makes the argument that when we come to Christ through repentance and faith, our fundamental relationship to sin has changed.  Before being regenerated or being born again, sin was our master. We couldn’t not sin. It was inherent to our fallen state. However, after being born again by the Spirit, sin is no longer our master, Christ is. Paul says in 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”

slavechain

It is important to say that our battle with sin will always remain while we are here on this earth, but it is not our master any longer. We are no longer to be slaves to sin. One of the provisions the Holy Spirit provides is the power to not give into sin and the power and desire to obey God’s word.

The Implications of Our New Identity

The implications of these truths are significant and many.  I will only briefly examine a few based on what was stated above.  

First, we need to understand that because of Christ, we are accepted by God as His children and co-heirs with Christ. We have an eternal reward and eternal commission to look forward to!  We are a people of hope who are to set our desires on the world to come, not this world which is passing away.

Secondly, we need to understand that what fundamentally marks us is not our ethnicities, our genders, our educational backgrounds, nor where we live. Our fundamental identity is “Christian” over and above these other providentially given and governed aspects of our lives.  We are God’s covenant community from every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev. 5:9; 7:9) called to proclaim His excellencies (1 Pet. 2:9).  Therefore, racism, ethnocentrism, sexism, classism, etc. should not be named among us. We are first to be known by our obedience to Christ and must part with societal and cultural ways that contradicts God’s standards for His people. 

Thirdly, as God’s covenant community, every Christian is family – spiritual family. There is a familial aspect of our identity that is designed to display the wisdom of God (Eph. 3:8-11), our unity in Christ and love for one another.  To display these things means that we need to be regularly meeting together for worship (Heb. 10:25) and doing life together as visible expressions and proof of our new identity (John 13:34-35; 1 John 3:14; 4:7-21).  

Lastly, since sin is not our master, and Christ is, we are to live holy lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Colossians 3 is just one of many places that describes what holiness looks like.  In Colossians 3:5-11, Paul highlights a general list of sins that we are called to repent of and not be characterized by. Then in Colossians 3:12-17, he lists attributes that should mark every believer.  Galatians 5:16-26 offers us a similar perspective on how we should live based on our new identity in Christ.

May the Lord cause us to reflect on these truths and live out our identities by faith by the power of the Holy Spirit!

Grace & Peace,

d.

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Brand New | New Kingdom & King (pt. 1)

In my previous article of this series, I stated that one of the biblical implications of having a new life is being part of a new kingdom, namely the Kingdom of God. Colossians 1:13 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,…”. Throughout the New Testament there are many mentions of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. These terms mean the same thing as well as the expression the kingdom of his beloved Son.

What is the Kingdom?

A close read of the Gospels, which mentions the kingdom over 85 times, reveals that the kingdom of God is not a geographical location or a matter of political rule. Two key texts that convey this are John 3:5 and John 18:36. In John 3:5, Jesus tells Nicodemus that entrance into the kingdom is a spiritual matter – being born of water and the Spirit. In other words, one must be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. In John 18:36, Jesus tells Pontius Pilate that His kingdom is not of/from this world. By ruling out a geo-political kingdom, we naturally must ask ourselves what the Kingdom of God is. The Kingdom of God refers to the rule and reign of God in the hearts of man and over all creation and is entered into by faith in Christ.

Has the kingdom come already or will it come later?

Yes. In one sense, the kingdom has already come and in another sense it is coming and has not yet been fully consummated. Theologians call this the “already, but not yet” aspect of the kingdom. There is a present and a future aspect of the kingdom. The Scriptures make mention of this nature of the kingdom in many places.

The Present Kingdom
• Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 10:7, 12:28
• Mark 1:15
• Luke 10:9,11; 11:20; 17:20-21

kingdom of GodThe Future Kingdom
• Daniel 2:44
• Mark 9:1; 14:25
• Luke 9:27; 13:29; 14:15; 19:11; 21:31; 22:18
• 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 15:50
• Galatians 5:21
• Hebrews 12:28
• James 2:5
• Revelation 12:20

Seeing that Jesus said the kingdom was at hand (Matthew 4:17; 10:7) and had come upon (Matthew 12:28) His generation, how do we know that the kingdom had arrived? What marks the signs of the kingdom? To answer this we must go back to the definition of the kingdom. It is the rule and reign of God in the hearts of man and over all creation. To fully understand this we also must consider that another kingdom exists with another ruler. As previously stated, Colossians 1:13 tells us that once a person becomes a believer, that they are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Beloved Son. This kingdom of darkness (the rule of Satan) entered the world through sin (Genesis 3), which brought the fall of man and everything that was subject to him. When the fall happened, the effects of rebellion went viral, if you will. This was the beginning of the kingdom of darkness. Now, all of humanity and creation are under the effects of sin and its implications. Sickness, disease, decay, death, environmental and natural disasters, relational strife, etc. all have their foundation in man’s rebellion against his Creator (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 8:19-21). When Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command, they ushered in the kingdom of darkness.

However, in the first coming of Christ and His ministry, we see that Christ ceased demonic activity, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, raised the dead, and forgave sins. All of these miracles were works that reversed the effects of sin. Sickness was eradicated, ailments were healed and life returned from the dead. One of the glorious promises for believers is that, in eternity, there will not be the presence of or the effects of sin. We can count on this because when Christ offered himself on the cross and resurrected from the grave, Scriptures tell us that Satan, sin and death were defeated forever (Colossians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 15). Jesus’ miracles were a demonstration of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. In other words, Jesus was demonstrating glimpses of the reign of God over Satan and the effects of sin in particular instances which pointed to the future total reign of God in the new heavens and new earth.

What does all of this mean for Christians?

Every believer is already in the kingdom of God, even though the kingdom has not yet been fully consummated. Until that day, we are called to faithfully live on earth as citizens of His kingdom under the orders of our King awaiting His return (Philippians 3:20).

Grace & Peace,

d.

Brand New | New Life

As I stated in the introduction of this series of articles, I believe there are six foundational truths that new Christians should be familiar with very early on in their Christian life.  The first, which this article will focus on, is the reality of the believer’s new life. Let’s examine two texts:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 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— 3 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. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:1-6)

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,… (Colossians 2:13)

The Apostle Paul uses very vivid language concerning the former state of the Ephesian and Colossian believers.  In both texts, Paul says they were dead in trespasses and sins. The death that he is speaking of is spiritual death, which is due to the sinful nature every human is born with because of Adam’s sin.  Every human being born since Adam and Eve transgressed God’s command has been born with a sinful nature and is spiritually dead.  To be spiritually dead or dead in trespasses and sins is to be without spiritual life and separated from God.  This is why Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3 that no one can see the kingdom of God (or be in the kingdom of God) unless one is born again.

regenerationHowever, once new life is granted to unbelievers, they are in union with Christ and are spiritually alive. This is known as regeneration and the Holy Spirit is responsible for it (Titus 3:5;  John 6:63). Some of the terms the Bible uses to convey this reality are to have a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26-27), to be alive in Christ, born again or born from above (John 3:3), raised from the dead (Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 2:12, 3:1), new life (Romans 6:4) and a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). This new life exists because the Holy Spirit not only causes spiritual life, but also because He indwells every believer (Ephesians 1:13) as a promise of future salvation. This new life also transfers us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).

Going from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive is no small matter. In fact, it is miraculous! Regeneration and conversion are miraculous gifts from God that change who we fundamentally are. Was that something you were taught early on in your Christian life? Imagine a new believer being taught this early in his Christian life.

Now that we’ve considered the new life and how that makes us subjects of the Kingdom of God, next we will consider the Kingdom, the King of the Kingdom and our relationship to Him.

Grace & Peace,

d.

Brand New

“Hello.”

“Hey, Aunt Kim!”

“Hey, Dave! How are you?”

“I’m good! I know I don’t call you often, but I was wondering if I could go to church with you next Sunday?”

“Sure! Why?”

“Well, I’ve become a Christian and I have a desire to be in church.”

About two days prior to that conversation back in September 1998, I found myself on my knees in my bedroom crying out to the Lord confessing my sins and receiving, by faith in Christ, the pardon for my sins. My conversion is what some would call a “Damascus Road” (see Acts 9) experience.  I was confronted by the Lord and drastically changed almost instantly.  The knowledge of sin and righteousness seemed to be crystal clear and I was overjoyed at the reality of my salvation.  Maybe you didn’t have that experience, but what I began to realize soon after my conversion is something that every Christian experiences.  I began to feel a tension between what I knew was right and what I was surrounded by, and the war within me.  I knew my life had to change.  I no longer had the desire to do the things that I once enjoyed doing and I had new desires and new affections for God and the things of God.  I knew there would be a risk of losing my girlfriend and some of my closest friends due to my new found love.  I needed someone to talk to.  I needed guidance. I needed to know how to live the Christian life and none of my peers were believers.  Thankfully, my aunt was there and she helped me as much as she could understand what it meant to live as a Christian.

discipleshipOver the course of my life as a Christian, it has been a joy to see the faith and excitement of new believers.  There is such a brokenness and a raw love for Christ and for others that it puts many seasoned believers to shame.  As great as that excitement is, it needs to be tempered with wisdom and discernment.  If you are a mature believer, one of the greatest joys you can experience is the joy of discipling a new believer. Aside from the gospel, there are some fundamental truths that need to run deep in the lives of new believers.  I’m sure you agree.

This became very clear to me due to a situation close to me.  As I began listening to particular conversations and questions more intently, six ideas came to mind as I thought about future conversations with this particular person. These six ideas were:

* New Life
* New King & Kingdompart 1 & part 2
* New Identity
* New Community
* New Goals
* New Destination

I am aware there could be many more categories and that there is some overlap between these, but I think these help lay a solid foundation.

In future posts, Lord willing, I will explain in detail what these are from Scripture and why they are important.

Grace & Peace,

d.