An Identity From Christ

Galatians 2: 11- 21

A Crises of Identity or  Identity in Christ

INTRODUCTION

I love to explore, one of most exciting parts of a journey for me is the airport. I love the hive of activity you find and all the different people who merge at that point – people coming and going – people who dress in certain ways.  In 2016, I had the privilege to travel to Kenya to work with the Anglican Church in Kenya, on my return I decided to dress “Better”- I had my hair cut, wore chino’s, a shirt and a blazer. Why? because I wanted to present a certain Image, to come across as important; all in the hope of an upgrade.  Once inside Nairobi Airport my eyes took stock of so many people who through their actions and outfit expressed an Identity/Image.  Some wore Uniforms that portrayed work; Still the outfits and actions of others expressed wealth, ethnicity, comfort, business or pleasure, seasoned traveller or passing through.  However, of all the people I crossed or interacted with there was one man who stood out. My change of clothes had worked, when I had approached the desk the attendant had seen my seat, squeezed into the back and took pity on me, moving me to the front row.  As I got comfortable and prepared for the next few hours of flying, the man across the aisle from me was like no one else I had encountered on my travels. He had the latest iPhone, MacBook, iPad, apple Watch. Bose Headphones. Everything about him expressed an Identity.

PASSAGE CONTEXT

Paul is writing to a church that he planted in Galatia and only recently moved on from. In the short space of time that had passed from Paul being there False Teachers had entered the assembly and started poisoning the Local believers with a false gospel. It was a gospel that may at some level look much the same.  However, it was the opposite of the essence of the True Gospel preach by Paul. He taught that you are made righteous before God by faith in Christ.  Thus, our identity as Christians comes from Christ and what he has done for us.  As we are imputed Righteousness so to are we credited with a new identity in Christ. It is an identity that is sufficient and cannot be added to.  They taught that your Identity was in “Jesus Plus.”  The opposite of the True Gospel that says Christ is sufficient!

Paul Taught them and us that what defines is Jesus Christ and his atoning work on the cross. It is not your Jesus + ethnicity, bloodline, work, tribe, or something you have done.  It is not Jesus + religion or some religious action such as taking of the Lords super, or going to church or within their local context being circumcised.  It is simply Jesus.  Their Identity is simply In Christ.

THE LETTER SO FAR

  • The Opening section where Paul greets and offers his initial Rebuke (1:1-9).
  • His own Story and conversion, how He heard the Gospel from the Lord Jesus Christ. (1:10-24)
  • The Gospel he had preached to them had been received, recognised and approved by the Jerusalem Apostles; those whom had originally walked with Christ.(2:1-110)

A CRISIS OF IDENTITY (11-14)

Paul has been slowly building to this point, reminding the church In Galatia that the Gospel he preaches was received from Christ and approved by the Apostles in Jerusalem. Thus, he had authority:  Faith in Christ is the primary source of who we are and what we are.  He writes to the people and reminds that their identity and worth is given to them through the cross.

In verse 11 we see that Peter is condemned because through his action and living he was teaching identity was “Jesus Plus.”  Through his actions, he was inferring to the Gentile Christians followed the requirements of the Mosaic Laws they were not equal to their Jewish brothers.  Unless their identity was in Jesus plus then they didn’t truly know him.  Paul reveals to us that until men had arrived from James (probably the brother of Christ), Peter had lived and acted in accord with the Gospel.  Then the fear of man shaped him more than his identity in Christ and he changed his actions, withdrawing and refusing to eat with those who were equal with him in Christ.  Why? because he feared the opinion of the Circumcision Party more than he knew his security in Christ.  More often or not, we as Christians change our identity based on the opinion of those we are walking with and spending time with.  The question for us today is what is the equivalent of the circumcision party in our church today?  What are we telling people that they must do in order to be saved through inference or association? What are we basing our identity on other than Christ?

Secondly, we must be aware of how we live affects the lives of those who share our identity in Christ with. We must be aware of the impact of example. Look at verse 13 Where Peter through his influence lead all those whom shared his ethnic background within the body of Christ to act in a way that did not accord with their identity in Christ.  Such was Peters influence that he had convinced two groups wrongly around Identity.  That the Jew’s where Justified by the Christ plus submission to the very law he had come to fulfill.  Secondly, that the Gentiles Christians to truly be saved and must come under the same law.

The reality was that Peters withdrawal from eating with the Gentile Christians was the equivalent in terms of action and thought to that of the Circumcision Party suggesting that to truly be saved then you needed to be circumcised. Dangerous because it suggested that the Grace of God was dependant on performance of a certain action, or submission to certain law – thus undermining the very foundation of the Gospel of Grace that Paul Preach. That Grace and our Identity in Christ are freely received from the cross and we can do nothing to earn it.  Peter through his actions had Created a Crises of Identity.  In verse 14 Paul reaffirms his message that our identity as Christians comes from Christ alone and nothing else through the use of a rhetorical Question. JB Philips would put it:

 

If you, who are a Jew, do not live like a Jew but like a Gentile, why on earth do you try to make the Gentiles live like Jews?

For Paul the Gospel was not just the moment that People are saved, it is the very substance of their life.  They are not simply defined from that moment but by that moment in every moment of their live.  Peter had forgotten that his identity was secured solely in Christ and by no work of his own and was seeking approval and justification from Man.

Our Identity in Christ (15-21)

In verse 15 & 16 Paul reminds the church in Galatia and us of the reality we are all trying to find an identity. However, there is a price for seeking to find assurance, worth or purpose in anything but Jesus Christ.  Paul declares that he and they who were Jewish; those who sought to live under the law – knew that they could never be justified by the law.  This was two-fold: Firstly, the law only served to show them how sinful they where; Secondly, that they needed something outside the law beyond the law to have any hope. They who were under the law knew that only the Work of Christ could declare them righteous before God.  We are reminded that only those who build their identity in Christ will be declared righteous before God. It is not how we look, what we wear, how we eat, our work, our wealth, friends or family that will give us infinite worth and make us right before God. It is Jesus Christ.

 The only way that mankind could be justified by the law is if we were sinless, then we might be able to earn it. However, we all know today that not one of us is without sin. it is faith in Christ that sets us free from the curse of sin to then live holy lives.  Using the language of what we are thinking about today, it is when we define ourselves, our identity from what Christ did on the cross that we are saved.  We are Saved when our Identity is in Christ.   Thus, in the same way that “by the works of the law no one will be justified” nothing in our culture, country, blood line or life outside of Christ will count when it comes to the final judgement.  Only identity in Christ.

Quickly (verse 17) following on Paul speaks to those who are Jewish Christians, who strive to live in the freedom and truth of the Gospel, Through the Power of the Holy Spirit – thus they live free of the burden of the law. They can eat whatever they want and with who every they want. It is a Freedom that would leave them open to accusations of being a sinner by traditionalist Jews and the circumcision party because under the new covenant they associate with Gentiles.  Paul Dismisses such charge because those who are in Christ are free from the penalty of sin because Jesus paid it all, else Jesus Christ himself would be a servant of sin – someone under the burden of the law.  Someone not worth building your identity on. If such accusations where true Jesus would not be God.  Certainty not! Declares Paul.  Our Identity in Christ does not make us sinners it sets us free from sin.

In verse 18 Paul again reaffirms the stupidity of both Peter and the circumcision party. Those who would add to the work of Christ by pointing out that those who are most clearly seen to be sinners are not the gentiles outside it but the Jews under it. Paul declares that if he was to reintroduce the requirements of the law the only thing it would achieve is proving him a sinner.  That by adding to the security of Identity in Christ in any wave it decreases the security of it.

Paul declares in verse 19 in the shadow of verse 18 that an identity based in anything but Christ simply lead to condemnation.  Paul as Saul had sought to live for God, through accordance to the law, through stringent keeping of it and attacking anyone who would dilute the faith (the Christians).  He was under the law and living for the law to earn his salvation, then Christ stepped in.  Now he has died to the requirements of the law.  His new identity from Christ frees him from the burden of the law, but requires even more of him – that he lives for God not for Merit, but from Grace. He has received the approval of his heavenly Father through the atoning work of Christ on the cross and has received Sonship.  With Sonship he received freedom – thus Paul seeks to live in a way pleasing to God in gratitude for his new identity, not to try to earn anything.

In verse 20 & 21 we are presented with a beautiful and freeing image.  An Image that is true for all Christians who truly believe and trust in the Cross of Christ.  We are presented with what happens with our old selves and our old identities, with all the things we tried to earn security with, or find purpose in.  Our family, friends, possessions and work.  All those old identities are crucified with Christ on the Cross! Because when we build our identity in Christ we die because he lives! Thus, the live we live now in this flesh is lived by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. In verse 21 Paul returns to his hypothetical from verse 18 whereby he ponders that if the law was back in force.  Firstly, he shows us that he is serious about God’s Grace for if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no purpose in Christs death. Making Paul’s understanding of God’s grace meaningless, however there is purpose to the death of Christ because such was the curse of sin that only a substitutionary sacrifice of the son of God on our behalf could save us.  Thus God’s Grace through the Gospel must be gratefully and humbly accepted as the only place to build our identity from as a means of securing our worth, purpose and identity for all eternity!

Conclusion and Closing

It is as Vaughan Roberts points out in his book, that our struggle with identity goes all the way back to the fall.  “We lost our identity and security the moment we turned away from God.” Ever Since then we have tried to fill the gap by our own Efforts[1]  Where have you been trying to fill the gaps in your own live?  In what things have you tried to false security, then when the have proved false you have moved on to something else.

As I close I want to consider some of the truths that Vaughan Roberts pulls from the Letter to the Colossians.  It is a letter addressing a situation quite like the one in Galatia; Paul was countering false teachers who had been upsetting the believers. Teachers who were adding to the Gospel and the work of Christ. Thus, requiring an identity that was “Jesus plus” declaring: Do not add or do not touch.[2] Paul contrasts their teaching in the same way we have seen by declaring it is not what we do for God or in life, but what has been Done for us in Christ.

That New identity in Christ is graciously given and frees us to Live Godly lives. We all who believe in Christ have been raised with him and are being renewed like Christ.[3] Because of that we set our mind on things above not the things of this earth. [4]  We as people who are in Christ have been given a new identity which should affect everything aspect of our existence.  [5] It will affect how we view ourselves: As we grow in the understanding and security of our new reality we are freed from this worlds obsession with image – we have a better self-image because we know what it means to be made in the Image of God. Secondly, we become like Christ in how we relate to others – how often we have the same desires of the world, that our Children would be successful rather than grow in Christ – we when our being renewed in our identity in Christ want others to know the Truth that sets us free.  Why? as Vaughan Points out towards the end his chapter on Image:

“We have taken off our old self and put on the new self.  We have a new identity in God’s eyes, no longer are we sinful people but as those who are perfectly righteous before him.”[6]

It is an identity that changes us as God by his spirit is committed to changing our outward reality to match our inward.  Our morals and behaviours will over time fit our new identity in the same way Peters should have.

But now, put all these things behind you. No more evil temper or furious rage: no more evil thoughts or words about others, no more evil thoughts or words about God, and no more filthy conversation. Don’t tell each other lies any more, for you have finished with the old man and all he did and have begun life as the new man, who is out to learn what he ought to be, according to the plan of God.[7]

Remember the man on the plane who stood out to me, in the Image he portrayed.  As the flight progressed I learned more about him, I learned that even though he was a man with an Image he was still searching for his identity.  The successful Lawyer. He was on a flight to London as a connection to L.A where he was going to a “university” to Study a Masters in Spirituality.  It was a flight that he had taken several times before, and would take every month for the next two years. The money wasted on flights and fess as this man journeyed to find himself, He was a lawyer because that is who his parents wanted him to be, he had tried Christ – if that was my path that was good – but that was not his truth.  Now like a Child lost and confused he searched for meaning in the streams of modern spirituality becoming even more lost. We think of that man and pity him, yet we are all like him, we all still search for meaning in things others than Christ. Because “we as Christians to often copy those around us in their concern to construct an identity to present to the world… We are not to create our identity but receive a new identity in Christ… Not to construct our own image but to cooperate with God in his great work of restoring us to his him.”  What then matters most in that we are in Christ, reflecting him to the world and not the identity we have chosen!

“Jesus came to announce to us that an identity based on success, popularity and power is a false identity an illusion! Loudly and clearly, he says: ‘You are not what the world makes you; but you are children of God.”
Henry Noumen – Living in the Spirit.

[1] Vaughan Roberts, Battles Christians Face, 11.

[2] Col 2:21

[3] Vaughan 12

[4] Col 3:1-4

[5] An Expression that appears 164 times in Paul’s writings

[6] Vau 15

[7] JB Philips Col 3:8-10

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