One of the best things Christians can do to stir their affections for God is to read books focused on Jesus. These books help us follow Paul’s pattern of looking up to Jesus as the means by which we start looking like Jesus. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). Nothing refreshes the heart like a few sips of Christ’s glory.
Since my identity is found in Christ and sanctification is the process of the Spirit remolding me into his image, I find it to be of great help when I read the Bible to first focus on who Jesus is (worship) and then think about what is true of me because I’m in Him (identity) before tying it into how it applies to my thoughts, affections, and actions (ethics). This keeps my sanctification firmly rooted in a longing to see and become like Jesus as well as an awareness of what’s true about me (indicative) and available for me now that I’m in Christ.
Discipleship is essentially following Christ for the purpose of maturing in Christ-likeness. Disciples rediscover and then faithfully live in light of their identity in Christ. Or to say it differently, discipleship is the process whereby we’re remade and we regain who we were created to be as image-bearers of God by being transformed into the image of Christ.
If believers have a new identity in Christ why don’t we live it out? Obviously layers of answers could be offered here related to doctrines of sin, sanctification, and glorification so let me narrow the question. What are a few identity issues that keep Christians from understanding and living out the reality of who we are as a new creation in Christ?
Imputation. Not a word you use very often I would guess. Don’t give in to the temptation to skip over words you don’t know instead of learning words that open up new worlds. Imputation is one of those words. It’s important not just because it will impress everyone at the Scrabble table, but imputation is the only hope a Christian has for grace and salvation. Now, and when it’s our turn to be judged by the just and holy God, you better have a perfect, impeccable righteousness that will result in a verdict of “justified,” or “accepted.” God will welcome with a warm embrace all those with such a righteousness to live with him on a restored earth forever.
I found this quote by Calvin helpful as our church studies Romans 9 together. Calvin’s emphasis on union with Christ throughout his writings again pays dividends as he reminds us to look to Christ to know that you are loved by God…and will be so forever. If we have been united to Christ by faith then we have no need to look into the past and be puzzled if God chose us. Christ is our assurance so we look at him.
But if we have been chosen in [Christ], we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves; and not even God the Father, if we conceive of him as severed from his Son. Christ, then, is the mirror wherein we must, and without self-deception may, contemplate our own election. For since it is into his body the Father has destined those to be engrafted whom he has will from eternity to be his own…we have sufficiently clear and firm testimony that we have been inscribed in the book of life if we are in communion with Christ. (Calvin, Institutes, 3.24.5)
The Bible speaks about various positive outcomes to suffering, or reasons why we can rejoice in suffering. However, one which I think we often miss out on is that as we suffer Christ actually suffers with us. It’s not simply that we suffer like Christ or that we suffer in his name—although both are also true—but the NT offers tremendous encouragement in the mystery that Jesus actually in some way suffers with his church. This truth, forged in the OT with texts about God walking through the fire with us or being in the fire with us (cf. Is. 43; 63:9; Dan. 3:25; Ex. 33:14), is only ratcheted up in the NT through union with Christ.