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.


Robert said...

Congratulations! I was once on an airport bus with an America and a Canadian who were returning from a 6 month posting abroad. I asked them if they could explain the difference between an American and a Canadian. One of them said, I guess an American has rights and a Canadian has privileges. There’s a discussion for the supper table!

I also once visited Athens and met believers who I spoke with about the original Greek of scripture. One of them said, ‘assembly bible reading Greek makes many mistakes. You talk of the aorist tense as a decisive, never repeated action - that’s simply not true. If I say of a man he went out the door, I do not mean to imply that he cannot return and go out the door again’!

I think we all have come to see that the business of ‘reckoning’ who we are in Christ is a lifetime, oft repeated experience.

HandWrittenWord said...

One of your best, Mark.