Identity in Christ

I found this article interesting. It tracks the use of the phrase “identity in Christ” and how it’s a very recent thing.


Very helpful! Thanks for sharing.

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It is time to stop using the word identity. Like the word diversity, it means something different to everyone and therefore means nothing.

I think the phrase “identity in Christ” originated as a response to a culture that keeps inventing new words to deceive and confuse.

Although I prefer the phrase “union with Christ” over “identity in Christ,” what is implied in the former is that who you belong to also defines who who are. So much of the New Testament is preoccupied with reminding people of who they are because they do not remember. Paul is constantly saying, “Don’t you remember who you belong to? Therefore, don’t you remember who you are? Now act like it!”

This is true of the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Her problem is that she continually forgot that God called her out and redefined her, beginning with her ancestors Abram and Sarai. Israel forgot that God had called Abraham away from his home on a great adventure and bestowed upon him and Sarah brand new names and a new identity they never would have chosen for themselves and presented them with a future they never could have imagined. He did the same with the conniving fraud Jacob, wrestling him to the ground and renaming him Israel. He called out Simon and renamed him Peter, transforming him from a coward into the rock and foundation of the church. He stopped a self-righteous, murderous man in his tracks and renamed him Paul, transforming him into an extraordinary missionary of the very church he was hell-bent on destroying. Throughout the Scriptures, God continually unites people with him, bringing them into his family and bestowing upon them a brand new name (identity) and future, oftentimes they weren’t sure they even wanted.

When a man and a woman are united in marriage, the woman also takes on the man’s name, his identity. She is literally given to him and redefined. When we are united with Christ, we also take on his name: Christ. I am a Christian — this is what I am because of who I belong to. This is a new union, but it is also a new name that redefines who we are — a new identity. Jesus said we must be born again. What is implied here is that being united with him means we become a completely new person with a new identity that is rooted in things eternal rather than things temporal.

As Paul writes in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul isn’t dismantling gender here, nor is he saying that one’s identity as a Jew doesn’t matter. But he is saying something to the effect, “You all need to stop putting your primary worth in these identities. Being united with Christ has completely redefined you. Remember who you are and act like the brothers and sisters you are.”

This passage from James 1 also comes to mind:

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.

The man described here has forgotten who he is because he has forgotten who he is united to.

I agree completely that we should stop using the word identity. But without using that exact word that may have been coopted relatively recently, the Scriptures are constantly talking about it.


To be a little contrarian.

Some years ago in Britain, there was a well-known public figure who discovered through the media that the man who he had always thought was his father was not in fact so; rather, he was the result of a liaison his mother had had with someone else some 24 hours previously. He responded to this gross violation of privacy by stating, with considerable dignity, “My identity is in Jesus Christ, not in genetics”. Everyone knew what he meant.

I get the point about the fact that the term, “identity in Christ” might not be that helpful; but to the masses out there, the term “union in Christ” will not be understood.

PS the public figure concerned was ++Justin Welby.

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I’ve given this kind of thing a bit of thought in the past, and have to dissent with the author a bit.

I think it’s important to question the words we use, and why we use them, of course, but I think the author is too critical here, and may overlook that this same style of critique could be used to pick nits over virtually endless aspects of our Christianese.

There is a fundamental reality, I think, that we are all men of our times, and we all speak in ways that relate to what we know. We are all born into a particular time, place, and ethos – complete with its own sets of sins that make up a particular “spirit of the age.” And for those who are converted to Christ, they are converted out of that ethos. It stands to reason that their Christianese will be influenced by the types of sins inherent to their day.

Case in point, consider the existential nihilism that permeates this generation. Consider the emphasis on the self: self-esteem, self-expression, self-determination, “your life is what you make of it” – all that kind of stuff. Consider the experience of a person who is saved after spending decades of their life steeped in these particular patterns of thought. Ought we be so quick to get bent out of shape when their profession of faith in Christ includes such pronouncements as to say that they once found meaning and fulfillment in their sin, but then they saw their sin for what it was, and their need for a Savior, and have come now they find their identity in Christ? Shall we be so annoyed by the residue of postmodern lingo in the pronouncement, that we fail to rejoice in the faith being expressed?

The spirit of the age – whether an individual lay person understands anything about where this language came from – instructs people to think about the world in certain terms. Part of our ongoing repentance is, of course, being transformed by the renewal of our mind, as informed by the word of God. Amen, indeed! But I don’t think that means that being a good Christian means capturing the right generation’s Christian vernacular. Each generation’s sins are the same, but different.

I think the kind of critique in this article has a place, with the warning that we be careful not to snuff out the smoldering wick of infant faith. Spend some time considering what other patterns of speech we may employ in our Christianese that could just as easily fit the criticisms in this article, and hopefully that will have a tempering effect. :wink:


Agreed. One place in which our problems with Christianese need addressing, is in our evangelism. To use an example, we know what the term, “washed in the blood of the lamb” means - I still remember the hymn with that line in it - but it would not at all be understood, now, in the “outside world”.

I am reminded that 75 years ago, CS Lewis was saying that ordinands should be asked to take a piece of theology “and translate it into the vernacular”. While that was reflecting the British situation then, it is beginning to reflect on the American situation now.