Last night we continued our exploration of what it means that God became man, by looking at this topic:
The incarnation explains our identity and addresses our attempts at self-definition
Current ideas about identity:
1. Identity is self-chosen, without reference to others or a higher authority. We’ve been taught that we don’t have any real access to any big truth about who and what we are, so, since no One’s there who can really tell us who we are, we have to make up the answers for ourselves.
2. Identity is primarily focused on parts of who we are. (Things like career, accomplishments, talents, sexuality, interests.) Since no one can answer the big questions about humanity, we don’t even try. We define ourselves by parts. We try to use these smaller parts of who we are to define the big things about ourselves.
3. Identity is based on difference, and on distinction. Since we’ve lost a vision for family and community, we’ve decided difference is more important than connection. And so we’ve elevated the things that make us distinct from others over those things that connect us to others.
In the Bible, God doesn’t tell us to start from the small parts of who we are and build an identity from the ground up, He answers the big questions first. He defines what humanity is. Then He invites you to find your identity as part of the big picture. And then, we interpret parts of who we are by finding out how they relate to who and what we are as part of the human family in its connection to God.
So what does the bible say? Identity is not constructed, it’s received. Identity does not come from distinction, it comes from connection. Identity is unique, but it is not separate.
How we find our identity in Christ:
1. See Genesis 1:26-28. Humanity is made in the image of God. (according to the pattern.)
2. See Corinthians 15:47-49. The first man (Adam) is made of dust, and “we have born his image.” The Second Man (Christ) is the Lord from Heaven, and “we will bear His image.”
3. See Colossians 1:15-17. Who is this “heavenly man”? He is the one who originally is the image of God, now in human flesh. In all the verses, the english word “image” is being used to translate the ancient Greek word eikon. (It’s the same word used in Hebrews 10:1 – “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form (eikon) of these realities” (Also translated , “the very image of the things.”) New Testament scholar Peter O’Brien writes: “Eikon speaks of ‘embodiment’ or ‘actual manifestations’ of the realities in question.” The NIDNTT states: “In the NT Christ is said to be the eikon of God, but there is no difference between the image and the essence of the invisible God, for in Christ we see God.”
4. See 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. Christ is the image of God, but Satan blinds the minds of people so they can’t see it. Murray Harris writes: “As eikon, Christ both shares and expresses God’s nature. He is the precise and visible representation of the invisible God.”
5. See 2 Corinthians 3:12-17. When you turn to Christ, the veil is removed, so that You see him for who he is, and then…”we are transformed into the same image” … our humanity is conformed into his humanity. (Also see Romans 8:28 —“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”) So Jesus was the first-born of a new family. He was the first of a new kind of human, and he actually points to the original kind of human that always should have been. Being his “brother” means that we share the new family resemblance. In other words, we’re conformed into his image.
6. See 1 Corinthians 15:47-49 again. When the “conforming” is done, we will bear the image of this new humanity. “A body permeated with divine glory and perfectly adapted to the ecology of heaven.”
Jesus shows us a humanity that is:
- Led by the Spirit. (Lk 4:1, Rom 8:14)
- Not defeated by sin. (Lk 4:1-13, Rom 6:14)
- Totally free. (from constraint, from anxiety, from compulsion—doing what he wants)
- (John 10:17-18, 14:31, John 8:31-36, Galatians 5:1)
- …and yet, totally submitted to the will of the Father (John 4:34, 6:38, Mark 3:35)
- …because he was in constant communion with the Father. (John 11:41-42, Romans 8:9, 2 Cor 13:14, Heb 13:5)
- Totally defined by and directed by the scriptures. (Mat 5:17)
- Living with purpose. (Lk 19:10, Jn 18:37, John 17:18)
- Knowing its future. (Matt 25:31-32; 1 Thess 4:13-5:5 (or just 5:1-5))
When the perfect image of God comes and lives a human life that perfectly pleases his Father, we can look at him and say, this is what a human is supposed to be!
And, since this kind of humanity is God’s original, true intention for humanity, you could say that when God makes us more like this…we’re being made more truly human. You could also say that to move away from the picture of humanity that Jesus showed us, to reject Jesus as the pattern of humanity, and to become some other kind of human, is actually to degrade our own humanity and choose something that is less than human. It is to choose a humanity (to invert the previous list) that…
- has no spiritual life in us
- has no leading of the Spirit
- is defeated by sin and enslaved to it
- is bound by all kinds of outer constraints and inner anxieties
- is totally out of step with God
- is not doing God’s will
- has no communication with God
- lives without a true, transcendent purpose
- is totally unaware of eternal things or the future in store for the world and humanity
And there’s even more than simply what Jesus showed us in his earthly life.
Now see 1 Corinthians 15:50-55. The New Testament is very clear, only those who’ve followed Christ and received new Spiritual life will inherit the coming kingdom. And here it says that only those who are “changed” inherit the kingdom, and it’s referring back to the statement in verse 49, we’re going to bear the image of the new man—Christ.
This means that, when Jesus returns and becomes king, everyone who lives in Jesus’ kingdom on the new earth will have this kind of humanity. Every other kind of humanity, anything different from Jesus’ kind of humanity, will not be in God’s kingdom. God calls all of this “sin.” And sin will be expelled from the coming kingdom.
So… If every other kind of humanity has been designated by God as something less than what he desires for us, and something which is ultimately harmful to our relationship with him and harmful to others, and if it means that every other conception of humanity is already declared obsolete by God, then… It means that only Jesus’ kind of humanity counts as humanity. It’s the only one which will last. And it’s the only kind which has the seal of approval from the creator of humanity.
So if we want to really talk about identity, we have to start here…
Human identity is found in Jesus. Jesus defines what it means to be human. And we’re either moving towards this or away from this. If we’re becoming more and more like Jesus every day, we’re becoming more truly human, because Jesus is the pattern, the proto-type. So that is the answer to the “big” question of identity—what does it mean to be human? And the answer to the smaller question of identity—who am I?—is found within the answer to the bigger question. I find my identity as an individual human as I find my place in the human family—a family that is led and defined by Jesus, humanity’s king.
I am not the center. I am not the pattern or the definer of anything. Jesus is. He is the image of God, and he is also the true image of humanity. We must conform to his pattern. If I attempt to find or create my identity outside of his commands or his authority, or without reference to him, I will lose everything—because whatever identity I construct will be false, whatever kind of humanity I build will be swept away.
So many of our problems today come from the fact that we’ve lost track of all this, and we’re attempting to self-define.
Now please hear this: Christians would never look at someone who disagrees with Jesus and say, “You’re less than human,” or anything horrible like that. No, we say something more like:
“God created you to be a human, that’s an awesome, holy thing–you carry significance and meaning and intention that are literally eternal. God created you know experience his love and everything he made forever. But you’re choosing to believe lies that cancel all this out and try to make you meaningless. Don’t go there! Turn around! The Bible says those things are beneath men and women. Let go of them…they’re harmful to you. And God doesn’t like things that degrade and harm human beings.”
At the bottom of it all, Christians are people who’ve heard the message of Jesus, and the message of the whole bible, and realized that it’s better news than anything else we’ve been told about ourselves and the world. And as we’ve embraced this better news, we’ve realized, it’s not just good news…it’s true good news.