One of my favorite illustrations to demonstrate what we’re going to talk about in this post, the change in perspective of identity, is probably one you have heard before. The story goes that there are three blind men trying to understand what they are feeling.
This parable, most likely from the land of India, describes three blind men who try to understand what an elephant they have never seen before looks like. Here is the basic idea of the parable:
A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town, but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity, they said: “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable”. So, they sought it out, and when they found it they groped about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said, “This being is like a thick snake”. For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg, said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree-trunk. The blind man who placed his hand upon its side said the elephant, “is a wall”. Another who felt its tail, described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear.1
Each one of the blind men has a different perspective based on what he could perceive on his own. It would take all three trusting one another and being able to understand that they are all looking at part of the whole to gain a true picture and proper perspective of the elephant.
As we look at the next ways the Bible describes our identity in Christ, we will see a change in perspective from the old life to the new life in Christ. Changes in perspective of our identity in Christ show us a different way to live.
These images of our identity in Christ describe the difference between the old life and the new life, focusing on the way we live now for Christ and our role as Christians in this world. Let’s take a look at some of these facets of identity in Christ.
Conformed to Christ’s Image
Paul describes a process in Romans 8:29-30 where God the Father has designed a program, predestined it to always work in us, that when we become Christians, he conforms us to the image of Christ.
Conforming us to Christ is a lifelong process. But it begins with our salvation and prepares us for service in the kingdom of God. We are the brothers of Christ, who are becoming like him. This requires us to listen to and obey the Holy Spirit as he conforms us to Christ.
God calls us into his service, justifying and preparing us to serve him well. And the final step is our glorification, are joining Christ for eternity in heaven. As we walk with Christ, Paul describes it as “renewing our minds” (Romans 12:1-2).
As part of our service to Christ as we grow in him, we refuse to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by this renewing of our minds. This is a constant and regular discipline of reminding ourselves what Scripture says about us and the world.
Renewing our minds is the first and most important battlefield for holiness and conforming to Christ. We must believe more of what God says of us than what the world, or even our inner voice, says.
All of this must be aligned with Scripture rather than the world’s opinion. Although Christ has made us new creatures in him, renewing our minds and being conformed to Christ keeps us new creatures in him.
Crucified with Christ
As we follow Christ, one of the most significant images of our conversion is water baptism. Paul often refers to water baptism as a way to understand our new identity as being crucified with Christ.
As we go under the water, it shows the death to our old desires, old lifestyle, and old priorities and perspectives. It’s like Christ’s own death and burial. And then we are raised with him as we are raised up out of the water to a new life, the water washing us clean as Christ’s blood washes us clean from our sin, giving us new life in him, an image of our resurrection in the body.
Paul especially makes this image clear in Romans 6:1-11. In Philippians, Paul is discussing his desire to be with Jesus in glory against the need of the Philippians for him to stay a while (Philippians 1:21). He describes this decision to stay as, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
The greatest thing about being alive in Christ and dead to sin is that we win whether we are living for him now on this earth or we die and go to glory to be with him forever. In Galatians 2:20, Paul describes the total dedication we have to Christ.
Being crucified with Christ means he lives in us, his will, his desires, his commandments and teachings. We abide by, and are devoted to, him alone. Like a slave, he is in complete control and only what he wants matters to us. We live to serve him.
This doesn’t mean we’re mindless drones. Our Lord does not lord his lordship over us. He uses us as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us to be his servants. To be crucified with Christ, we work for the Lord with no concern for ourselves. We have given ourselves over to him.
Colossians 3:4 doesn’t specifically mention the crucified life with Christ, but it defines it. Paul claims that our life is inextricably linked with Christ’s. Jesus himself is our life. But even more than that, through death and resurrection, we experience the same things he did.
We experience death to sin and the old life and to temptation. And we experience life in the resurrection when we will rise with him and be with him in glory.
Luke 9:23 talks about the life of crucifixion with Christ. Jesus tells everyone who wants to follow him must deny themselves and take up their cross daily. He speaks about the life of following him in discipleship as one where we deny our own lives, giving them up for the sake of doing his will.
It sounds like a paradox, to live the life of the dead. But Jesus calls us to be dead to sin and alive in him. We will be raised to life in (Ephesians 2:1-6. The life of denial of our own desires, temptations, and the ways of this world, living dead now, means we live with him forever. We delay gratification until the Lord returns to take us home with him.
New Creatures in Christ
At the moment of salvation, Jesus declares us to be new creatures in him (2 Corinthians 5:17). He makes us new, and the old has passed away. But it will take our whole lives to see in reality what Jesus has already made us to be.
That is why take so long for us to truly understand our identity in Christ. Understanding it is one thing. Living our true identity in him is another. But he gives us a head start, makes us new creatures.
Looking further at the context of this verse explains that being new creatures in Christ only happens because he reconciles us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). He makes us new creatures by not counting our trespasses against us. He makes us new through forgiveness and reconciliation.
Another way to look at this is what Paul says next, that we are Christ’s ambassadors, his representatives on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). God uses us as examples to the world of what he can do. Everywhere we go, we are the image of Christ.
The name we take for ourselves, Christians, means “little Christs.” In the city of Antioch, Christians began to be called this by unbelievers. But they took the name as a compliment. The world should see the difference Jesus makes in us.
So to summarize, to be new creatures in Christ, we no longer follow our old desires and old life, but have new life in him. Second, we acknowledge that God reconciled us, not counting our trespasses against us, and joining the ministry of reconciliation with others. We become ambassadors for Christ, his representatives and billboards.
From Old to New
We have passed over from death to life, from the old to the new. We give up the old way things used to be. We don’t allow our former desires to rule us. Jesus gives us the power to deny ourselves. The purpose in denying ourselves is to take up his agenda.
He gives us the strength and the ability to say no to old desires, temptations, and mindsets. We now can focus on the road ahead, serving God, and embracing new lines given by him. Like Paul, we strive and press on toward the goal of the upward call Christ gives (Philippians 3:12-14).
We have given up a lot of things to follow Christ. But none of them were worth anything near this new life in Christ is worth to us. Paul goes so far as to call them rubbish, trash, dung (Philippians 3:8). To the world these things are a loss for us, but we know the truth. Our gain is Christ, far greater than anything we “lost.”
In But Not Of
So how do we apply such images to our lives? One more part of our identity helps us to do just that. In the middle of Jesus’ high priestly prayer for all his disciples, he describes our position as being in the world but not of the world.
In John 17:10, he makes the distinction that he is no longer in the world, but his disciples are. He didn’t say anything about taking us out of the world. Instead, as we are in the world, he prays that God the Father will keep us, protect and guard us as we are in the world for him.
John 17:14 further clarifies that although we are in the world as Jesus’ disciples, we are not of the world. This means that we have a new nature, a different nature from the world. We don’t think like them, talk like them, act like them, or live like them.
A helpful biblical image for us to understand our place in the world as being among the people of this world but not being like them may be the believing remnant that God is making for himself. We don’t fit in, and we don’t want to.
I have described it as working in the world for Jesus but waiting for our true home with him in heaven. As much as we want to go home to be with Jesus, he did not tell us to hide ourselves away. Jesus says he doesn’t pray for us to be out of the world, but that God protects us from the evil one (John 17:15).
One of the ways we can walk this distinction out today is through the images we see of identity in Christ. We should be different from the world. But we are also Jesus’ examples and representatives, his ambassadors.
These images of our change in perspective show us how different we are from the world. But they also show us what Jesus expects of us in the world. We know the world well because we used to live like it. And now we represent Christ in all we think, say, and do.
Leave a comment and tell me how you live out these facets of our identity in Christ in your life. The next post on our identity in Christ speaks of our new status in Christ. Stay tuned!