Saturday, September 29, 2018

Embracing our identity

About six weeks ago I became a citizen of the United States of America. I was one of 73 people from 35 different countries who turned in Green Cards and took an oath to their new country.

It was clear throughout the ceremony that the United States considers a change in citizenship not merely to be a change in legal status, but a change in identity. They were quick to tell us, "you are now Americans!" Not, "you are are now a citizen," but, "you are now an American." One of the statements that was made was, "this is our home, we have no other."

Part of becoming an American is renouncing all loyalties to any other country. A friend congratulated me on no longer being "under the thumb of the queen" (I was born and raised in Canada). I admit my first inclination was to point out that I am technically still a citizen of Canada, but I caught myself. Canada may not (and does not) consider my becoming American to have changed anything, but I do, and so does the United States.

Romans 6:2 makes it clear that we have a new identity in Christ. Baptism into Christ Jesus is baptism into His death – we have died with Him. We now consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God (Romans 6:11).

Now, it's a fact that Canada still considers me Canadian. Canadian citizenship law is quite different than its American counterpart. Canadian law doesn't recognize my American naturalization ceremony: it's not that Canada doesn't believe it happened, it's just that Canada doesn't care.

In the same way, the world doesn't really care that I have been baptized into Christ Jesus' death. The world doesn't really deny that I've been baptized into Christ Jesus, but it doesn't acknowledge that it really means anything. At most, the world considers baptism to be an antiquated religious ritual.

It isn't my place to convince the world that baptism into Christ Jesus has given me an entirely new identity. Part of being a man in Christ Jesus is not caring what the world thinks about it. My responsibility is in considering myself to be dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11).

One interesting thing about becoming an American is the number of people who have

  1. asked me if I am still a Canadian citizen
  2. said, "well, it's true you're an American now, but you'll always be Canadian..."
I'll be quick to say some of those people aren't malicious at all. They aren't trying to undercut my identity as an American. But regardless of motive, that's what they're doing.

In the same way, there are many folks who'll try to undercut our identity in Christ. They say things like, "well... that's true positionally." They don't deny that we have died with Christ, but they undermine it subtly as they try to put boundaries on what that means. Even if some of what they say is true, Romans 6:11 commands us to consider ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. It isn't obedience to undercut our new identity.

Were I to take my Canadian passport and move to Canada, I'd be welcomed back (after the customs officers dug through all my belongings). All would be forgiven: life could go on as a Canadian. But that's not an option if I took seriously the oath I took when I became an American. I still have the legal right to consider myself a Canadian, but that's not embracing my new identity. Like I was told at the naturalization ceremony: "this is our home, we have no other."

In a Saturday night meeting a couple weeks ago, one brother said the whole point of Romans 6 is to "embrace our identity in Christ." That gets right to the point. The world, the flesh, and the devil would all love for me to just go back to being a man in Adam. All would be forgiven, they'd love to have me back. And in a sense, I still have a legitimate claim to that. But a man in Christ Jesus is a man with a new identity, and it's our responsibility to embrace that identity (Philippians 3:20–21).

It can be hard for us to get our minds around our identity in Christ Jesus. There is plenty of evidence that we're just the same men and women we were before. We are reminded constantly that we carry around "the flesh". We think of this world as home much more often than we like to admit. And we find ourselves walking by sight, rather than by faith. But the command of Scripture is embrace our identity in Christ. It's not so much a repeated action as it is an ongoing one. It's not so much something we do as it is the way we think. We consider ourselves to have died to sin, and to be alive to God.

I shouldn't have to point out that I'm not trying to belittle Canada, nor Canadians. Of course it's just an analogy.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Counterfeit Spirituality

The four points of the gospel given in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 are:

  1. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
  2. he was buried
  3. he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
  4. he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve

These four propositions group themselves into two pairs: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" and "he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" seem to fit naturally together, while "he was buried" and "he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve" seem to fit together. Interestingly, these two pairs are pairs of opposites: dying and being raised are opposites, just as being buried and appearing are opposites.

We've also noted that these four points are an outline of the Christian life. Christ has died, and we have died with Him (Colossians 3:3). Christ was buried, and we have been buried with Him (Colossians 2:12). Christ has been raised from the dead, and we have been raised with Him (Colossians 3:1). Christ was seen, and we shall be seen with Him (Colossians 3:4).

We can see how this gospel is not only the gospel we have received, it is also the gospel by which we are saved, and the gospel in which we stand (1 Corinthians 15:1–2).

When we consider the gospel as an outline of the Christian life, we realize there is something entirely other about that life. It's entirely outside our experience to see a man who has died and was buried come out of the grave. If we saw that happen, we would be astonished. In fact, we might not believe it really happened, even if we had seen it ourselves.

Similarly, our lives are to be characterized by resurrection (Philippians 3:10). We're not called to live a good life, we're called to live an impossible life. We're called not to be good men and women, but to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal bodies (2 Corinthians 4:10–12). People aren't supposed to see our life at all, they're supposed to see the life of Jesus when they look at us.

Our lives should look as strange to our friends and neighbors as the Lord's life looked to the people around Him. Our lives should be as impossible for the people around us to understand and explain as it is for us to explain resurrection.

But that comes with a tremendous cost: 2 Corinthians 4:10 tells us the cost is death works in us. It's not here reckoning ourselves to have died (that's Romans 6). It's something we experience. And experiencing death is unpleasant.

In fact, it's such an odd concept to us that we manage to convince ourselves that Scripture doesn't really mean what it says: we convince ourselves that really it means we should try to live like Christ did, rather than what it plainly says: He lives in and through us.

And once we've convinced ourselves that what we're really called to do is to imitate Him, then we set about to make reasonable facsimiles of His life. Or at least reasonable facsimiles of some of the qualities we perceive in His life.

And we end up with counterfeit spirituality.

Because God doesn't call us to check items off a list to make our lives look similar Christ's. God calls us to a life the begins with dying with Christ, a life that's lived under the control of God, and in the power of His Spirit. He calls us to have the life of Jesus manifested in our mortal flesh.

God doesn't want my life. He doesn't want the best I can do, He doesn't even want the best I theoretically could do. He doesn't want even the very best version of me that could ever exist. He wants to see the life of Jesus manifested in my mortal flesh. And notice the contrast here: it's specifically in my mortal body that God wants to display the life of Jesus. Some day Christ will change my body to be like His – immortal and incorruptible (Philippians 3:20–21) – and then it'll be too late. God's not looking to display the life of Jesus in immortal bodies, but in mortal. He's looking for this amazing contrast: for the life of Jesus in unredeemed bodies.

So let's be careful not to become those who have a form of godliness without its power (2 Timothy 3:5).