“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” (Colossians 1:1–2)
Imagine you meet someone tomorrow and they ask you to describe yourself. What would you say? Who are you? Try summarizing who you are in ten words or fewer (really, try it).
Paul introduces himself as “an apostle of Christ” (1:1). He writes not on his own authority but on behalf of Christ. In Colossians, Paul acts as a tour-guide pointing out the can’t-miss sites of Jesus and explaining what’s being seen in Him. Every paragraph radiates with the grandeur and supremacy of Jesus, His Lordship over all, and the sufficiency of Christ’s work for us.
Jesus Christ is everywhere in Colossians. There are no rabbit trails taking us away from Jesus but only hidden passages leading us to discover new things about Him.
Paul quickly shifts from himself to the believers at Colossae. He defines his readers in relation to Jesus. The saints—faithful brothers and sisters—are those in Christ (1:2). Paul furnishes us with three identity markers in one verse.
He first uses household terminology, “faithful brothers and sisters,” to express our family unity as Christians. (Sing Sister Sledge’s famous tune, slightly modified: We are family, my faithful brothers and my sisters and me.) We have the same Father.
The same Spirit remakes us into Christ’s image so we share similar family characteristics. We belong to one another because we belong to Jesus. The church, “the household of God” (2 Timothy 3:15), should offer all in the family a warm place of welcome. God’s people aren’t simply those who get together weekly in the same room but they’re those joined to one another as brothers and sisters.
We not only get a new family, we’re given a new identity. Some think the word “saints” refers to a special group of VIP Christians, an elite class of miracle workers who earned their way into the stained-glass hall of fame. For others, it’s hard to imagine how regular ole’ believers could be crowned with as noble a term as “saints.” The Bible never uses “saints” for a special group of believers or for those who’ve attained a higher level of holiness. It refers to all believers in Jesus.
If you are in Christ, you’re a saint. Put that on your resume. Christ sets us apart from the world and claimed us as His own. We are holy (or saints) because we are in Christ and we belong to Him. Paul reminds us who we are depends on whose we are.
It’s only two words and eight letters but if there’s no “in Christ’ in the New Testament then we lose everything. Because we’re united to Jesus by faith we receive Him and everything that belongs to Him. Everything.
We receive through grace what is Jesus’s by right: sonship, righteousness, eternal life, an inheritance, the embrace of the Father, and all other spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3–14). When God the Father now looks on us he sees us through the lens of His perfect Son Jesus Christ. “Our union with Christ may be summed up in these words: because the Father has immeasurable love for the Son, he has immeasurable love for us.”
Paul’s inaugural words remind us who we are. He plants our identity in Jesus. Because we act, think, and speak out of our identity, Paul wants us from the outset to define ourselves by whose we are. We’re in Christ. We belong to Him. Because we belong to Him, we’re devoted to Him in worship and obedience. Because we are His, we live with the security, joy, and blessing of being loved by Him.
The temptation to define ourselves by something other than Jesus assaults us daily. It’s a quiet and subtle temptation. It doesn’t knock loudly on the front door but it slips in through the back.
We find our identity in the wrong places. This includes attaching our identity to good things, since even those don’t define us. When we find our identity in our career, looks, possessions, spiritual gifts, ministry, what others think of us, successes, how good of a spouse or parent we are, our sexuality, or anything else, we misunderstand the core marker of who we are.
Every day Christ seeks to transform us into His image while the world seeks to conform us to its image. The image we reflect depends on what identity we live from.
The world, your peers, loved ones, friends, and even your own thoughts will fill your head with ideas about who you are or who you should be. They might try to confine you to your personality, skills, your failures or weaknesses, background, or your friend groups.
While some of these details describe you, only Christ defines you.
- You are who God says you are. The Bible alone possesses the authority and objectivity to rightly label you. You are made in God’s image. You are in Christ. You belong to God (saints) and His family (brothers and sisters).
- You are not what others think of you (good or bad) or what you think of yourself (positive or negative). You are what God thinks of you.
- You are not chained by what you’ve done or what’s been done to you. You are freed because of what Jesus has done for you.
- Your identity isn’t based on the parents you have, the place you’re from, your history, or the possessions you own. Your identity is based on your position in Christ. You are God’s son or daughter.
I Am Who I Am in Christ
Colossians grabs us by our cheeks, looks us in the eyes, and tells us our identity is in Christ. I need that memo engrained on my heart so I can fulfill my responsibilities without turning them into idols.
I also need it when I fall into sin. I’m not in Christ on my good days but on my own on the bad days. The good news of the gospel is we live by grace. Grace means God treats us not according to our performance but according to Christ’s performance. When I sin or when I fail, I need the reminder I’m still in Christ. I am loved, forgiven, adopted, justified, and I’m promised the hope of one day being glorified. Christ defines me, so I step out of my guilt and into His grace.
Paul identifies us as a faithful family adopted by one Father, holy ones separated to Him, and those now in Christ. Is that how you’re thinking about and defining yourself today? Is that the truth by which you approach and relate to God?
As we walk through Colossians, we’ll grow in seeing ourselves and our lives through our identity in Christ. The more we see Jesus and define ourselves by our identity in Him, the more we’ll live as if our life is Christ’s and not our own. Jesus defines us and Jesus directs us.
- Which identity-marker most resonates with you? Why?
- Where are you tempted to find your identity apart from Christ?
- Since you belong to others in the church, how are you living that out in your commitment to care for those in your church?
- Make a list of ways you think about yourself (some might be positive and some negative). Reflect on how being in Christ changes all of that.
- Keep a list of all the places you find “in Christ” in the Bible. Star or highlight all of the times that the phrase speaks to your identity
For Further Study
- In Christ: Colossians 1:28; Ephesians 1:3–14; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 5:12–6:14.
- Church as household: 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 4:1; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 4:19: 1 Peter 4:17.
 Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Found in Him (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 144.
The above article is an example of the daily devotional from my book Finding Satisfaction in Christ: A Devotional Study of Colossians. This is day one to give you a feel for the book. The book walks through Colossians a few verses at a time, explaining and applying the passage in a Christ-centered way. You can purchase the book on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
One thought on “Three Identity Markers in Colossians 1:1-2”
This detailed break down is fantastic!!