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Victory Over the Darkness: Realize the Power of Your Identity in Christ
by Neil T. Anderson
Learn More | Meet Neil T. Anderson
I really enjoy asking people, "Who are you?" It sounds like a simple question requiring a simple answer, but it really isn't. For example, if someone asked me, "Who are you?" I might answer, "Neil Anderson."
"No, that's your name. Who are you?"
"Oh, I'm a seminary professor."
"No, that's what you do."
"I'm an American."
"That's where you live."
"I'm an evangelical."
"That's your denominational preference."
I could also say that I am five feet nine inches tall and a little over 150 pounds-actually quite a little over 150 pounds! My physical dimensions and appearance, however, aren't me either. If you chopped off my arms and legs would I still be me? If you transplanted my heart, kidneys or liver would I still be me? Of course! Now if you keep chopping you will get to me eventually because I am in here somewhere. Who I am, though, is far more than what you see on the outside.
The apostle Paul said, "We recognize no man according to the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16). Maybe the Early Church didn't, but generally we do. We tend to identify ourselves and each other primarily by what we look like (tall, short, stocky, slender) or what we do (plumber, carpenter, nurse, engineer, clerk). Furthermore, when we Christians are asked to identify ourselves in relation to our faith, we usually talk about our doctrinal position (Protestant, evangelical, Calvinist, charismatic), our denominational preference (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Independent) or our role in the church (Sunday School teacher, choir member, deacon, usher).
Is who you are determined by what you do, or is what you do determined by who you are? That is an important question, especially as it relates to Christian maturity. I subscribe to the latter. I believe that your hope for growth, meaning and fulfillment as a Christian is based on understanding who you are-specifically, your identity in Christ as a child of God. Your understanding of who God is and who you are in relationship to Him is the critical foundation for your belief system and your behavior patterns as a Christian.False Equations in the Search for Identity
Several years ago a 17-year-old girl drove a great distance to talk with me. I have never met a girl who had so much going for her. She was cover-girl pretty and had a wonderful figure. She was immaculately dressed. She had completed 12 years of school in 11 years and graduated near the top of her class. As a talented musician, she had received a full-ride music scholarship to a Christian university. She also drove a brand-new sports car her parents gave her for graduation. I was amazed that one person could have so much.
She talked with me for half an hour and I realized that what I saw on the outside wasn't matching what I was beginning to see on the inside.
"Mary," I said finally, "have you ever cried yourself to sleep at night because you felt inadequate and wished you were somebody else?"
She began to cry. "How did you know?"
"Truthfully, Mary," I answered, "I've learned that people who appear to have it all together on the outside may not have it all together on the inside. I could ask almost anyone that same question at some time in their lives and get the same response."
Often what we show on the outside is a false front designed to disguise who we really are, and we cover up the negative feelings we have about ourselves. The world would have us believe that if we appear attractive or perform well or enjoy a certain amount of status, then we will have it all together inside as well. That is not always true, however. External appearance, accomplishment and recognition don't necessarily reflect-or produce-internal peace and maturity.
In his book The Sensation of Being Somebody, Maurice Wagner expresses this false belief in simple equations we tend to accept. He says we mistakenly think that good appearance plus the admiration it brings equal a whole person. Or we feel that star performance plus accomplishments equal a whole person. Or we believe that a certain amount of status plus the recognition we accumulate equal a whole person. Not so. These equations are no more correct than two plus two equal six. Wagner says:
Try as we might by our appearance, performance or social status to find self-verification for a sense of being somebody, we always come short of satisfaction. Whatever pinnacle of self-identity we achieve soon crumbles under the pressure of hostile rejection or criticism, introspection or guilt, fear or anxiety. We cannot do anything to qualify for the by-product of being loved unconditionally and voluntarily.
If these equations could work for anyone, they would have worked for King Solomon. He was the king of Israel during the greatest years in its history. He had power, position, wealth, possessions and women. If a meaningful life is the result of appearance, admiration, performance, accomplishments, status or recognition, Solomon would have been the most together man who ever lived.
Not only did he possess all that a fallen humanity could hope for, but God also gave him more wisdom than any other mortal to interpret it all. What was his conclusion? "Meaningless! Meaningless! ... Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless" (Eccles. 1:2, NIV). Solomon sought to find purpose and meaning in life independent of God and he wrote a book about it. The book of Ecclesiastes describes the futility of humankind pursuing a meaningful life in a fallen world without God. Millions of people climb those ladders of "success," only to discover when they reach the top that their ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.
We also tend to buy into the negative side of the worldly success-equals-meaning formula by believing that if people have nothing, they have no hope for happiness. For example, I presented this scenario to a high school student a few years ago: "Suppose there's a girl on your campus who has a potato body and stringy hair, who stumbles when she walks and stutters when she talks. She has a bad complexion and she struggles just to get average grades. Does she have any hope for happiness?"
He thought for a moment, then answered, "Probably not."
Maybe he is right in this earthly kingdom, where people live strictly on the external plane. Happiness is equated with good looks, relationships with important people, the right job and a fat bank account. Life devoid of these "benefits" is too often equated with hopelessness.
What about life in God's kingdom? The success-equals-happiness and failure-equals-hopelessness equations don't exist. Everyone has exactly the same opportunity for a meaningful life. Why? Because wholeness and meaning in life are not the products of what you have or don't have, what you've done or haven't done. You are already a whole person and possess a life of infinite meaning and purpose because of who you are-a child of God. The only identity equation that works in God's kingdom is you plus Christ equals wholeness and meaning.
If our relationship with God is the key to wholeness, why do so many believers struggle with their identity, security, significance, sense of worth and spiritual maturity? Ignorance is probably the primary reason. The prophet Hosea said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (4:6). For others it is carnality, the lack of repentance and faith in God, and some are being deceived by the father of lies. This deception was brought home to me a few years ago when I was counseling a Christian girl who was the victim of satanic oppression.
I asked her, "Who are you?"
"I'm evil," she answered.
"You're not evil. How can a child of God be evil? Is that how you see yourself?" She nodded.
Now she may have done some evil things, but at the core of her being she wasn't evil. This was evident by the deep remorse she felt after sinning. She was basing her identity on the wrong equation. She was letting Satan's accusations influence her perception of herself instead of believing the truth.
Sadly, a great number of Christians are trapped in the same downward spiral. We fail, so we see ourselves as failures, which only leads to more failure. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only leads to more sin. We have been deceived into believing that what we do determines who we are. That false belief sends us into a tailspin of hopelessness and more defeat. On the other hand, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Rom. 8:16). God wants us to know who we are so we can start living accordingly. Being a child of God who is alive and free in Christ should determine what we do. Then we are working out our salvation (see Phil. 2:12), not for our salvation.
The Original Creation
To understand the gospel and who we are in Christ, we need to look at the creation account and the subsequent fall of humankind (see Figure 1-A). Genesis 2:7 reads: "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." This combination of clay and divine breath is what constitutes humankind.
Theologians have debated whether the individual members of Adam's race are made up of two or three parts. Those who hold to a dichotomous view believe we are comprised of a body, soul (containing mind, emotions and will) and spirit. Those who hold to a dichotomous view believe we are comprised of a material and immaterial part, an outer person and an inner person. They would understand the soul and the spirit to be essentially the same.
For the sake of our discussion, we are going to describe who we are from a functional perspective. Suffice it to say, we have an outer self, a physical body that relates to this world through the five senses, and an inner self that relates to God and is created in His image (see Gen. 1:26,27). Being created in the image of God is what gives us the capacity to fully think, feel and choose. After God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, Adam was both physically and spiritually alive.
The physical life we inherited from Adam is best represented in the New Testament by the word bios. Bios describes the union of your physical body and your immaterial self-mind, emotions and will. To be physically alive means the soul or soul/spirit is in union with your body. To die physically means that you separate from your temporal body.
In the Bible, to die means to be separate from, and to be alive means to be in union with. Paul said to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (see 2 Cor. 5:8). Obviously, who you are encompasses more than your physical body, because the body is left behind when you physically die and yet you will be present with the Lord.
Although your principal identity is more than physical, in this life you cannot exist without your physical body. Your immaterial inner self needs your material outer self to live and function in this world.
For example, your physical brain is like the hardware of a computer system and your immaterial mind is like the software. A computer can't function without software, and software needs a computer to function. You need your physical brain to control your movements and responses, and you need your immaterial mind to reason and make value judgments. The brain can't function independently of how it has been programmed. The finest organic brain can't accomplish anything in a corpse that lacks a mind. Your mind can be perfectly programmed, but if your brain is damaged by Alzheimer's disease you cannot function well as a person.
As long as I live in the physical world, I must do so in a physical body. As such, I am going to take care of my body as well as I can by exercising, eating right and so on. The truth of the matter is that my body is corruptible and it is decaying. I don't look the way I looked 20 years ago, and I don't have great prospects for the next 20 years. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-4, Paul referred to the believer's body as a tent, the temporary dwelling place of the soul. Using his illustration, I must confess that my tent pegs are coming up, my poles are sagging and my seams are becoming frayed. At my age, I am just glad there is more to me than the disposable earth suit in which I walk around.Spiritually Alive
We also inherited from Adam the capacity for spiritual life. Paul wrote: "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16, NIV). He was referring to the spiritual life of the believer that doesn't age or decay as does the outer shell. To be spiritually alive-characterized in the New Testament by the word zoe-means that your soul or soul/spirit is in union with God. That is the condition in which Adam was created-physically alive and spiritually alive, in perfect union with God.
For the Christian, to be spiritually alive is to be in union with God. This spiritual life is most often conveyed in the New Testament as being "in Christ," or "in Him." Like Adam, we were created to be in union with God. As we shall discover later in this chapter, however, Adam sinned and his union with God was severed. It is God's eternal plan to bring human creation back to Himself and restore the union He enjoyed with Adam at creation. That restored union with God, which we find "in Christ," is what defines who we are as children of God.Significance
In the original creation, humankind was given a divine purpose for being here. Humanity was given dominion over all the other creatures: "Then God said, `Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:26,27).
Adam didn't have to search for significance. That attribute was the result of creation. Satan had to crawl on his belly like a snake in the presence of God. He was not the god of this world at that time. He usurped the authority given to Adam and his descendants after Adam sinned and lost his relationship with God.
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