What is Identity in Christ? A Christian Psychology Perspective.

Last night, during the coverage of the Men’s 10m Synchronized Diving event, Team USA’s David Boudia and Steele Johnson took the Silver Medal, but it was their profession of faith that really made a splash.

The notion of “Identity in Christ” is rooted in Scripture and is the foundation of how faith develops in each of us. Given that this notion ties together the psychological term “identity” and the foundation of Christianity, “Christ” I want to explain the connection here, as it is an important one.

We are in Christ Jesus

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, as he discusses a controversy where the people there have been arguing about who they should follow (Paul or Apollos or Peter (Cephas)), he writes to them these words.

And because of him [God] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boast, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 (ESV, emphasis added)

Here we find Paul making a clear statement. We belong to Christ. Our foundation, our identity, should be tied to him and him alone. Now, bear in mind, this whole argument focuses on gaining unity. Paul’s words back in verse 10 reveal that his purpose is that there would be no division among God’s people. Coincidentally, this unity is the same thing Jesus prayed that we, His followers, would achieve in John 17, but that will be a separate post later on.

In this passage, Paul clarifies that the pathway to this unity, this oneness is that we must focus first on being in Christ. The root notion is that our identity, the crux of who we are, is founded upon belonging to and believing in Jesus. When we as individuals root ourselves in Him, we arrive at the ability to achieve the kind of unity Paul is suggesting here.

Now, just to clarify, identity refers to the picture someone has of who they are. Herein lies the individual’s beliefs about oneself and one’s values. Identity is the core from which personality flows. Where identity is rooted in view of self, or self-image, personality is the summation of the thoughts, feelings, and actions that flow out from that core. When personality lines up with identity, then there is an integration within our character, which we call integrity.

For the person who believes that Jesus Christ is the One and Only Son of God, that He lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead on the third day, (in short, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God), then that identity can be tied to Christ. This is the root of faith, identity in Christ. It is where salvation comes from and what enables unity, and it comes through surrender.

We must align our spirit with His Spirit

Surrender. There’s a word that’s typically not a fan favorite. And yet, it is the necessary ingredient to an identity with Christ. It starts in a recognition that there is one greater than us and that we must surrender to Him. This is what Paul is talking about in the second chapter of his letter. Paul explains to the Corinthians that if we are to achieve true unity in Christ, it must start with the voluntary aligning of our spirit with God’s spirit (vv. 2:6-16). This voluntary alignment may also be thought of as a surrender of the will. In effect, it is an individual saying, “I am giving up the right to my identity that I may first be identified as Yours, Jesus.” In doing so, an individual declares faith: that one believes that Jesus is who He says He is and that He did and does what He said. When we give up ourselves, or as Jesus worded it, “let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23),” we actively choose to follow Him.

This volitional act, this willful surrender is the necessary prerequisite to gaining identity in Christ. It is the step that allows one to easily point away from self and to the God of the universe for the successes we find, even Olympic ones. It is also where Paul sums up this portion of his letter to the Corinthians.

So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [Peter] or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 (ESV)

Paul reiterates that boasting should be in Christ because we ultimately owe all to Him. Now, to point out what Paul says here, everything is ours. Whether we choose to like Paul, Apollos, or Peter or the world the most, whether we focus on life or death or the present or the future, all are ours to choose, but we must first choose Christ. Our identity, and the greatest opportunity for unity starts and ends with Him.

This is what Identity in Christ is all about. This is where faith begins.