Series: Stuff You've Got To Know
My Identity In Christ
July 22, 2018 | Randy Smith
1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7
My Identity In Christ
1 Corinthians 3:21–4:7
Sunday, July 22, 2018
Pastor Randy Smith
It’s one of those memories that get etched in your mind. I was newly saved and with several other Christians I was watching the 1993 World Series that pitted the Philadelphia Phillies against the Toronto Blue Jays. A fellow-Christian walked into the room and the homeowner (a native Canadian from Toronto) asked if she wanted to sit with the saints or the sinners. The saints of course where those rooting for the Blue Jays. All expecting her to obviously identify as a saint, yet she said, as a professing believer, “Are you saying you are not a sinner?” The host wasn’t sure how to respond. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to process it either.
I knew the Bible teaches that all those who profess Christ are a saint. But I also knew I was still a sinner. And at that time in my walk with Christ I identified far more with the sinner part than the saint part.
How would you answer this? I am asking fellow Christians. How do you identify yourself? Are you a saint or a sinner? In this world with everyone “coming out” to be true to their real self, who are you? When you go deeper than skin color or sport’s team affiliation or sexual preference or home address or profession or special interest who are you? How do you identify yourself?
The question comes down to core identity. And sadly this essential aspect of the Christian life is rarely discussed and often misunderstood. If you are a Christian your identity in the eyes of God (which is all that really matters) is that you are a saint.
You died to self, received Christ by faith and His perfect righteousness is accredited to your account. Yes, you still sin. But your identity is no longer sinner. Your identity is saint, or we could say a saint who still sins.
This week I began reading 1 Corinthians in my morning devotionals. That was a really messed up church! Yet in the first chapter, the apostle Paul addresses them in the second verse. “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling” (1 Cor. 1:2).
As a Christian, in God’s courtroom you are not guilty for your sins. They have all been pardoned in Christ. You stand fully accepted by God, guaranteed heaven, recipient of grace because of what Jesus has done that you received on the basis of faith. Jesus became your sin. He received the just punishment for your sin. You became His righteousness as His perfect righteousness was transferred to you. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
It is a shame that the word “saint” has been hijacked by the Catholic Church. In the original Greek the word simply means “holy.” In Christ you are perfectly clothed with His holiness. In that sense you are a saint. That is how you are seen in the eyes of God.
How many of you who profess Christ see this as your identity? You don’t if you are trying to find your acceptance from other people. You don’t if you are seeking to earn God’s favor. And you don’t if your life isn’t seen as one that is practically becoming more holy (or more “saintly”) over time. Matthew 10:39, “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”
Your position is saint. You are not trying to become a saint. Your identity is Christ. It begins here and everything flows from that reality for the believer.
So that is where we are going this morning. As we take a break from Luke, I would like to address an essential concept of the Christian faith. When I learned this it revolutionized my life. And though I rarely do this, I would like to glean much of my material from a little book by Tim Keller called, “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.” Christian, if I can present this clearly and you can apply it to your life I trust it will radically change your heart as well!
Here we go.
For the longest time most believed the greatest crime was thinking too highly of yourself . From the text that read earlier in 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:6, Paul commands several times that we not give ourselves over to boasting. In the past, thinking too highly of yourself was viewed as egotistical and the root cause for most crimes in the world. Prideful people (or we could say selfish people) tend to be consumed with themselves and obviously care little for the needs of others.
Then in recent days our culture took a radical shift. It was a 180 degree turn that started championing just the opposite. And we fell for it. They said the greatest problem in our world is that we do not think about and value ourselves enough. We even gave it a term: self-esteem. We are taught in the schools that people are depressed and treat others poorly because their view of themselves is too low. Love yourself so you can love others, right?
So which one is correct? Should you think of yourself highly or think of yourself lowly? According to the Bible, the answer is neither. We’ll come back to this.
Let’s start with what the Bible identifies as pride. Commonly we think favorably of this term, but in the biblical sense it’s evil. Pride is an ultimate love for self, the opposite of the Bible which tells us the two greatest commandments are to love God and others over self.
Pride is also evil because it then empowers one to build a personal identity on the god of self rather than the true God. We have been created to find our satisfaction only in Christ. However, pride wants nothing to do with submitting to and depending on the Lord, Jesus. Pride wants to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, consumed with self-love. Unfortunately when we seek to build a life around self rather than God it will be substandard, sorrowful and superficial.
Let me provide an example. When I do a wedding it is common for many in attendance to say there was something unique about the ceremony. They can’t seem to put their finger on the specific, but they see something authentic, right and beautiful. I know the difference. In a typical wedding there is this trivial desire to put the couple on display. In my weddings I seek to put Christ on display. And even unbelievers, created in the image of God see a beauty when Christ is the focus over self.
Pride is synonymous with the ego. The ego is continually prodding me to make my life about myself. When that does not happen my ego will experience pain. Remember when you were young and all your body parts worked relatively well? You didn’t think much about them. It is because all our body parts only draw attention to themselves when they don’t work properly. For most of us, 99% of our body parts receive no attention throughout the day. However, occasionally a body part does receive our attention. It’s when it’s hurting. Perhaps it’s an ingrown toe nail or a migraine or a ringing in our ears. A body part will draw attention to itself only when something is wrong.
The ego basically works the same way. When we are humble the ego is relatively quiet. When life is not about me I can easily deal with insults and being ignored. I don’t need flattery or more Facebook “likes” or a fan club.
But when our identity is in self, we will be prideful people consumed with self 24/ 7 because we think we are the most important person on the planet. And when people don’t treat us as important as we think we are we are easily wounded and the pain of that wound never seems to leave our attention. It just keeps screaming at us like a bad toothache because our identity is in self and self in this world get continually wounded.
Life for the prideful person always revolves around comparing and boasting. Wanting more than others and bragging to the world how much we want others to believe we have (got to love the planform provided for us on social media!). And since the ego is never filled, for pride is always craving for more, we run around in desperation spending our whole lives seeking to find adequacy amongst the things that promise, but are never are able to deliver. People and things were never created to give you deep satisfaction. And when we take the place of God and we use them to aid our self-worship we are left empty and discontent until the next temporary thrill comes our way. We are like Tarzan swinging from vine to vine hoping not to fall.
Who or what will transform us from this vicious rat-race ?
In verses 3 and 4 of 1 Corinthians 4, Paul said, “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”
Paul said he cares very little if he is judged on a human court. He does not look to the verdict of the world that he is somebody. He knew living by another person’s standards or even the superficial ones he might erect for himself was an evil trap. We forever try to attain them by impressing and pleasing people, but we always fall short. And when we play this game to find our acceptance and significance in self, the goal posts just moving further away. We never score and therefore we will always feel like defeated failures.
Paul said, “The One who examines me is the Lord.” You see, to Paul all that mattered was God’s approval. He is the only One to whom we ultimately owe an account. This is not to say Paul was not well aware of his sins, His short-comings before God. Of course he was, but he would not let his performance or the world’s pressures or his defective ego destroy his sense of identity. His standing with God was based entirely on His relationship with Christ. It was Christ in Him. And when Christ is living His life through us, ego no longer has any foothold. And when ego is taken off the scene, humility reigns.
So to the Christians is neither thinking too much of himself (I am a great person) or thinking too little of himself (I am a horrible person). It’s not self-loving or self-hating, since both of these still keep the focus on self. Rather a Christian simply thinks of himself less and Christ more (John 3:30). True Gospel humility sees one’s identity in Christ and therefore we can stop connecting every experience and every conversation with self. It’s death to ego. It’s self-forgetfulness. It’s Christ first. It’s freedom.
The self-forgetful person is not devastated by criticism, but is now open to ways to grow. The self-forgetful person does not fanaticize about hitting self-esteem home runs all the time. The self-forgetful person does not need to impress people with their knowledge in every Bible Study or get credit for everything they do. The self-forgetful person is so consumed with thinking about Christ that he or she has very little time to think about self. The self-forgetful person finds peace and joy in the confidence of their identity in Christ and practically living that out in their lives. Such freedom!
Listen to Paul from Philippians 1. “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Phil. 1:15-18).
You see that? It’s not about Paul’s ego. It’s about Christ and His glory.
My friends, as Christians we need to realize that the trial is over. Paul knew in this text that only the Lord’s opinion of him counted. He wasn’t on trial before people or God any more. As a matter of fact, when it comes to God’s courtroom, he didn’t even need to wait for the verdict. Only Christianity teaches that when you come to Christ you have the immediate blessing of God’s unmerited and unconditional acceptance.
God the Father said of God the Son, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The moment we believe in the Son, Christ’s perfect performance is imputed to our account as if were our very own. Yes there was a trial, but Jesus Christ went to that trial for us. And now because we are identified with Christ, God sees Christ in me and finds me more valuable than all the jewels in the world. Through Christ, I am well-pleasing in His sight. Only Christian self-forgetfulness gets you out of the courtroom. Only Christian self-forgetfulness delivers true and lasting peace.
Nothing can change our position in Christ – feelings, forgetfulness, ignorance or even sin. But the devil and the flesh and the world keep trying to suck us back to make it about ourselves. So we daily remind ourselves by Bible reading and prayer and faithful church attendance that we no longer have to live like other or for the approval of others. My identity and significance will not be determined by the Hollywood elite or the world’s popularity contest or the controlling church legalist or the bank account or the mirror or the stuff I own or the job or whatever movement is trending in society.
I will not allow anything of these things (some of which are not bad) to control me and trap me to find my significance in them. I will not fall for the bait that that is guaranteed to ensnare me in emptiness, dissatisfaction, weariness, discontentment and despair because I will keep chasing the wind.
I am secure in Christ. His presence and His approval is all that matters. Therefore I can make it my ambition to live out by grace perfecting holiness, not what I want to be but what I already am and who I will practically be for an eternity in heaven. I will not be continually defeated by a wounded ego, but will be at peace devoting the rest of my days not to the vain emptiness of self-love that lives for the sinful and the temporary. I know I am already loved by God. I can get out of the way and seek with God’s love now in me to spread of that love back to God and others. I will not use people to meet my needs, but realize my needs are met in the sufficiency of Christ and seek to bless the needs of others instead as Christ lives His life through me.
The absence of Christ will always be selfishness. With Christ we are content and empowered to live like Christ and live for Christ. That is maximum glory to God and maximum joy to self.