by Roger McCay
24 November 2019
Sermon Passage: 1 Peter 1:1-2
Link to Audio Version
As we come upon Thanksgiving 2019, we recognize that there are so many things to be thankful for. The fact that we call the holiday “Thanksgiving” acknowledges that everything we have and are is a gift from God.
Among God’s many gifts, and perhaps the most important, is our identity in Christ. When we thank God for Jesus; when we thank him for his love; when we thank him for his grace; when we thank him for his salvation; when we thank him for anything at all, it is all encompassed in who we are in relation to him. He is our God. We are his people. Being so, who we are in relation to him is not something that we define ourselves.
Furthermore, as we are in Christ, he defines who we are. Any identity we would create for ourselves could only be fleeting, ephemeral, and limited by our circumstances and the situation of the world at our particular time in history. Such a self or socially determined identity is by definition temporary, in flux, and insecure. Hence, in utter contrast to these shifting sands, our identity in Christ is something that God defines. Since God defines our identity, that identity is our primary identity. It is a rock-solid concrete reality: unassailable, unchanging, and eternal. We really have no option to substitute it with another identity if we are truly the Lord’s. Attempts to do so are simply in vain.
For a true believer, one of the elect, this reality should be a very comforting thing. “Who we are” is utterly secure. Indeed, any notion of identity outside of Jesus Christ is inherently insecure.
Now, “Identity,” the question of “Who am I?” is a complicated thing in this world, about which much has been written. On an everyday practical level, when asked who we are, we might typically say something along the lines of …
– My name is so-and-so.
– I do this for a living.
– Or, I’m a student.
– I have x amount of kids or no kids.
– I live at such-and-such.
– I participate in these activities.
– These are my hobbies.
– I’m of such and such race and gender.
– I’m a Democrat or a Republican.
– And so-on and so-forth.
No problem, as long as we understand that none of these things are our primary identity—who we are. Who we are is much deeper. Think about it. Someone can know all that information about you and not know who you really are.
In recent events, a major hot topic for some folks in the church is the use of identification terms like “I’m a gay Christian.” Less startling statements might be “I’m a white Christian” or “black Christian,” and so on. The problem with such a labeling is that it puts an adjective to the primary identifier of one of God’s people.
An adjective, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named, to indicate its quantity or extent, or to specify a thing as distinct from something else.” As for quality, a person is either a true Christian or a false Christian (and I’d include the term “carnal Christian” into the false Christian category). So, a qualifying adjective is really no problem. It is in the latter two aspects that there can be a problem. Modifying the noun “Christian,” as to its quantity or extent, is to create a falsehood. You either are or you are not a Christian. There are no half-ways. You cannot be a Christian to some extent. Also, modifying the noun “Christian,” as to be something distinct from something else, can be problematic. Hence, terms like “gay Christian” is an identity separate and distinct from a so-called “straight Christian.” Such identifiers are just not helpful, and they risk dividing the body of Christ in an unbiblical way.
Can it be any plainer said that “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” (Gal. 3:28)? This does not mean that race, gender, etc., disappears in Christ. It means that those things become secondary identity traits, which might be labeled callings. Our primary identity, our primary calling, is in Christ Jesus. With that singular identity, we are united and not divided in our union with Christ. As such, any secondary identity or calling is to be understood, validated, or rejected within the bounds of our primary identity.