Taking on a totally new identity

Paul’s message birthed something totally new in people. It was like giving them a new identity.

He described that new identity too, in Galatians 4:19. “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

I think of all those movies where a detective or an informer goes underground to seek out and reveal the cause of some awful corruption going on. To survive without being detected he must be given a new name and a new identity, and then go through the laborious process of practice and testing until that new identity “is formed” – or comes naturally – to him.

To Paul that process was like the pains of childbirth. It was hard work getting those Galatians to understand and grasp the new identity they’d been given as Christians. He tried to explain it from his own experience in Galatians 2:20 that he’d been “crucified with Christ and I no longer live.” Paul came to realize he was no longer the person he was. He couldn’t even think like the person he was either, because that wasn’t him anymore. He had a totally new identity now that “Christ lives in me,” and it was his job to live that new identity, and to help other Christians realize and live their new identity too, until it came to them naturally.

The meaning of the word identity makes that come alive. It means “the individual characteristics by which a thing or person is recognized or known,” so what is it that Christians are recognized and known by?

It is their clear similarities to Christ in every aspect of their lives. And it has to be that way for us if we’re truly taking on our new identity. Just like informers who go underground, we must act and think our new identity in every situation, or as Paul phrased it in 2 Corinthians 10:5, we cannot let any thought loose that isn’t “obedient to Christ.” And this is what the Father and Jesus send us the Holy Spirit for, to enable us through practice and testing to do just that, so that we “are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (3:18). We take on our new identity more and more, until it truly becomes who we are.

And the means by which the Spirit does that is to give us gifts that enable us to share in what Christ is doing, which is always for the benefit of others in some way (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). We can, therefore, practice our new identity and be tested in very practical situations, so that more and more our new identity is becoming second nature to us.

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