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    Christ and Identity

    So while some of our number remained on holidays, for three Sunday's Straightalks we've 'parked' ourselves on the theme of God's building code for the church that Jesus is assertively building (Matthew 16:13-20) from the text: "For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3: 11).  Last Sunday (13 January) we dug deeper into what it means that Jesus - the One anointed by God to re-establish his rule on earth for cosmic renewal - is the sole foundation of a gathering of his followers.  We viewed together Christ and Identity, the second of two talks by Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian, New York) given at the Indentity in Christ Conference hosted in London in June 2018 by the Living Out Team.

    Here's a summary of Tim's talk follows for our reflection and comment:

    CHRIST AND IDENTITY (What's unique about it)

    Opening thoughts:

    • No one lives completely out of a Christian Identity (Ephesians 4:22,23 ; Romans 12:1)
      • It is natural for us to fall back into old forms of identity - therefore "be putting off the old self and putting on the new"
      • It's a process of "growing in Christ",  of "sanctification"
      • Real are really rooted in the identity imposed upon us by our culture (traditional or modern)
    • Modern identity is individualistic - makes an idol, an ultimate, out of individual rights and preference
      • nothing wrong with being individualistic

    What the Christian (Good News) Is - what's unique about it and why it's so great!

    • It is NOT a return to traditional identity, assumed by many with modern identity (secular, sceptical westerner) in hearing the Good News
    • Jesus shows in the parable of the Prodigal Son neither son (adopting differing culturally imposed identities) acted in love of their father 
    • Both traditional and modern identities forms of self-salvation
    • Good News does NOT call us into traditional identity!  Therefore take care in conversing the Good News in our secular society of modern identity formation

    Two statements of the Christian Identity (highest good and ultimate validator):

    1. The Only Identity which is RECEIVED, not ACHIEVED!
      • Basis of the Christian (Good News) identity is Christ's performance, not our performance
      • Christian identity based upon standing in Christ
      • Reference: 2 Corinthians 5:21
        • God treated Jesus as if he had sinned - he is our substitute, standing in our place, taking our penalty/debt
        • When we believe in Jesus God treats us as if we were Jesus - he gives us standing in him
        • Salvation is earned indeed - by Jesus not by us
        • Greeks and Romans believed you needed to know/align yourself to the cosmic order of moral absolutes (the logos) to be a good person, a person of virtue
          • An exclusive, privileged, restricted access to salvation (by performance of virtuous deeds) 
        • John confirms (John 1:1) there is indeed a logos, a cosmic, transcendent moral order behind the universe, but not an abstract set of ideas, but a person, a divine person - "with God and was God"
          • A 'democratic', inclusive way of salvation
        • The heart of the Good News: God loves the one who believes in the Son even as he loves the Son (John 17:23)
          • God treated him as we deserved so that God now treats us as he deserves (John 17:24 and Ephesians
          • This completely changes identity formation
    2. The Ultimate Validator of Christian Identity is GOD not Us!
      • "the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards"
      • The more we esteem a person, the more that person's esteem builds us up
      • The only eyes in the universe whose opinion counts sees us in Jesus Christ as more precious than all the jewels that lie beneath the earth
      • Does that matter?
      • Human validator (in traditional  and modern forms of identity - often parents or romatic partner respectively ) can get it wrong and hurt us, smother, control, exploit us AND they can die
      • No such thing as an identity monologically developed - needs a significant other
      • Father looks at us and sees a beauty:
        • Jesus had the most wonderful identity and gave up its glory (beauty to some degree) of it so that we could have it also (Philippians 2) see also John 17

    Biblical Themes that relate to the understanding of Christian (Good News) Identity:

    • describe from differing perspectives why it's unique with respect to traditional and modern forms of identity - legalism and antinomianism
    1. The Image of God
      • We are created in God's image (Genesis 2:
      • Therefore can't kill and shouldn't even curse others made in the image of God (Genesis 9; James 1)
      • Richard Lints in Indentity and Idolitory: The Image of God and its Inversion says, there is no image without the original - to be in the image of God means we cannot be generate own identity - our own significance and security - we have to reflect God's and if not God's we have to make something else a substitute for God's image - an idol!
      • Explains why we form identity the way we do - we have to attach ourselves to something else to give us our identity - whatever else it is we will worship
    2. Adoption
      • Very important theme regarding identity
      • References:
        • JI Packer's, Knowing God - chapter Sons of God
        • Sinclair Ferguson's Children of the Living God
      • adoption provides legal status, intimate relationship with the father and a name - the family name
    3. Calling and Gifts
      • Not everyone has the same gifts (1 Corinthians 12)
      • Edmund Clowney suggests when I becom a Christian, I get my last name, but my first name depends upon what God has gifted me to do in this world - takes all my life to find it out.  He says...
        • The deepest secret of your identity is in that name (referring to Revelation 2:17 and Isaiah 62:2).  Only God knows your real name, i.e., the name by which he calls you.  True identity can never come ultimately from relationships with human beings for every relation is a role to be played.  To multiply the roles is to fracture the facets of emptiness.  There is but one relation that can give you identity and this is relationship with your Creator.  So, who are you?  What are you to do?  Both questions are answered in one another.  By what name does God call you?  That question will take a lifetime to answer.
    4. Being known by God
    5. The Language of Discipleship
      • Look at all Jesus says about becoming a disciple e.g., Luke 9:23:
        • “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it."
      • Language of discipleship almost the reverse of modern identity
      • The more we try to find ourselves the more we loose ourselves
      • If you will follow me, loose yourself and you will gain yourself

    Why the Christian (Good News) Identity is so Absolutely Great!

    1. There is a unique combination of humity and boldness (Philippians 3; Romans 3 and 4; 1 Corinthians 1 and 2; Galations 6)
      • We boast in order to get confidence
      • Paul says in spite of the fact of our wretchedness, this is the way to incredible confidence (in the Lord Jesus) and humility at the same time
      • The Good News both humbles us and gives us confidence in our King
      • Every achieved identity (modern of traditional) if living up to standards causes boldness and looking down on others; if not living up to standards feel humble and sympathetic but not confident
      • Neitche says high moral ideals of moral liberal secular people cause them to feel either horribly unworthy or smug
      • The Gospel derived mixture of boldness and humbility is unique
      • More liberal churches with modern idenities and more conserative churches with traditional identities produce arrogance or self hatred
    2. There is a unique openness to emotion and desire but these don't rule
      • emotion a bad thing in traditional culture
        • St Augustine's Confession unique in the world at that time - showed
      • in modern cultures, emotions rule
      • In the end communion with God is required for Christian identity formation
      • St Augustine says, can't love others too much, but can love God too little in relation to these - need to love God more
      • If we love others more than God, these become our identity
    3. There is a unique cultural flexibility
      • e.g., distribution of Christians across cultures in contrast to Islam, Buddism, Hinduism etc
      • We've saved by grace, not by rules which flatten culture
      • On becoming a Christian we "get one foot out of our culture"
      • All of us tend to bolster our self image (tradition and modern) by looking down on others
      • In Good News identity we are both lowered and raised up at the same time e.g., James 1:9,10 - never feel superior and never feel inferior!

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    So, we've considered that our collective encouragement of the personal discipline of putting off the old identity (traditional or modern) and putting on our new identity in Jesus Messiah is a fundamental element in building upon him as the foundation of our fellowship.

    What are you thinking?  

Comments

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    Jeremy says (25-Jan-2019):

    Thanks for the very thorough review Denis. Tim Keller made a brief reference to the prodigal son. In his book “The Prodigal God” Tim examines how the older brother who stayed home was just as guilty as the prodigal son because did everything right to try and obtain his father’s love and possessions. Keller describes the older brother’s identity as being rooted in self-righteousness, religion and “moral observance.” Question: what type of church culture feeds this identity? How might we develop a different type of culture to reduce the chance of our children becoming “religious”?

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    Denis says (27-Jan-2019):

    Yes, Tim's reference to Jesus's parable was a brief but fascinating example of traditional and modern identity formation. You might remember he gave the younger son as an example of modern identity formation though didn’t explain further. Perhaps inward reference for identity formation is not such a recent phenomenon but rather has become the dominant trend in modernity. But to your question of the older son's equally father-unloving traditional identity; it’s critically relevant. In today's (27th) StraighTalking I think we began to address what type of church culture feeds such an identity and how we might develop a culture which avoids our "children in the faith" becoming "religious" i.e., unspiritual - having a form of Godliness but devoid of its power. Perhaps it relates to what "building materials" we use in building church and upon what foundation (1 Corinthians 3). If we lay another foundation other than Jesus as God’s Anointed One, crucified and risen, we simply build another human institution in which regulation and power attempt to manage the human condition. If we teach AND express in life anything other than the Biblical Good News of Jesus, God’s Anointed One – either reduce its scope or add to it to fit the wisdom of our civil society (e.g., individualism, materialism etc) – our community, our culture will not exhibit vibrant, flourishing Good News life energised by the Spirit of Jesus! Ray Ortland’s article shared today sums it up wonderfully: "Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths. Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile. Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless. But the New Testament binds doctrine and culture together. For example: The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Eph. 2:1-9). The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Gal. 2:11-16). The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Eph. 2:14-16). The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Rom. 6:20-23). The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Rom. 5:2). The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10). And what is more basic than that? "If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts. If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t downplay the culture. But churches where the doctrine and the culture converge as one bear living witness to the power of Jesus. "Churches that do not exude humility, inclusion, peace, life, hope, and honesty—even if they have gospel doctrine on paper, they undercut their own doctrine at a functional level, where it should count in the lives of actual people. Churches that are haughty, exclusivistic, contentious, exhausted, past-oriented, and in denial are revealing not just a lack of niceness; they are revealing a gospel deficit, a doctrinal betrayal. "The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good. But a further discovery of the gospel as culture—the gospel embodied in community—will be immeasurably better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen. "It’s what revival will look like next." May God grant Liberty harmonious renewal in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus in both doctrine and culture. Standby for reference to Ray’s article in this week’s blog.

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