You have a corporate identity that connects you to other people, but you also have a personal identity.
Your personal identity is made up of things like your personality, sense of humor, and emotional makeup.
Your personal identity is also made up of the things that other people never know about or see. Like whether or not you see yourself as
lovable, valuable, capable, or called; your motivation, sense of value, and life experiences. All of these things come crashing together to form a personal identity that you operate out of every day. You can’t help but be you, so your personal identity affects everything you do.
New Personal Identity in Christ
Paul’s encouragement in Galatians 2:19-21 is to form a new personal identity centered in Christ. While your personal identity is made up on the things listed above, it is typically centered on either desire (what you want) or law (what you can’t have or do).
Forming identity based on desire means chasing every whim of your heart and acting on every desire. This is, in my view, the most predominant way of forming identity in our culture. Our culture proclaims that it is your undeniable human right to chase after your desires. In this way, our desires inform our actions and our actions tell us who we are. This line of thought charted out, simply looks like this: DESIRE – ACTION – IDENTITY. The problem with this is your desires can’t always be trusted. When you center your identity on desire, you can become selfish and entitled.
Forming identity on law means forming your personal identity based on what you can’t have or what you don’t do. The law reveals your weaknesses or inabilities. When you center your identity on the law (a set of rules that you can never live up to), you begin to see yourself as incompetent and incapable.
Paul rejects forming personal identity based on desire or law and says your personal identity should be centered in Christ. Paul gives this encouragement because Jesus answers the problems to forming personal identity based on desire or law. When you center your personal identity in Christ, he transforms your desires based on your new identity in him. In this way, your new personal identity in Christ become the source of desire and action instead of the other way around. The goal is to have your personal identity is Christ inform your action, not your action inform your identity. The formulation changes from DESIRE – ACTION – IDENTITY to IDENTITY – DESIRE (transformed by Christ) – ACTION (for His glory and the good of His kingdom).
Jesus also answers the problem of forming personal identity based on law. Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the law because he perfectly obeyed the law. When you place your faith in Him, your personal identity is no longer about what you can’t do, but what has already been done on your behalf. It is no longer about what you can’t do, but what you can do through Him.
“In Christ” is a shorthand way of talking about centering our personal identity in Christ. The central image Paul uses to talk about being in Christ is being crucified with Christ.
Galatians 2:20 is a key verse in all of Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
When Paul talks about joining Christ in his death, he isn’t talking about physical death. He is talking about a death to doing things on your own, having your own way, and doing things your own way. In this way of dying, you become alive to doing things the Jesus-way, which is pouring yourself out for others. So, Paul calls all of us to a radical identification with Christ in His death for the purpose of pouring ourselves out for others (which is what He has done for us). When you do that, you find life.
Some greek will be helpful at this point. When Paul says in vs. 19 that he has died to the law, he uses the greek aorist tense, which means it was a past event that is over and done with. He died to the law and the ways of the law. When he says in vs. 20 that he has been crucified with Christ, he uses the greek perfect tense, which means it was an event in the past, but it has ongoing effects in the present. Paul is essentially saying, I died to the law once and for all, and now I go on living crucified with Christ.
Faith, then, is not intellectual assent to particular claims or facts (as it has often been communicated in modern America). Faith is a entering into covenant relationship with Christ to walk in conformity to Christ. Faith is saying, “I don’t want to be chained to the ways of the law, I want to walk in the freedom of Christ.”
Living Out Our New Personal Identity
In order to live out our new personal identity in Christ you must realize that new identity formed and centered around Christ requires a death. Your old self must die that your new self can be constructed. In other words, you must learn to live with your new identity in Christ. If this seems difficult, the reality is that all of us have already had to do something similar.
Anyone who has been widowed, divorced or separated must form a new identity of who they are without their spouse. When students move out of the house and go to college or the work place, they must “find themselves.” It requires, in a very real sense, a loss of who they were as a child and reconstructing a new identity as an adult. After a particularly difficult crisis in our lives, that crisis becomes part of our story and therefore becomes part of our personal identity.
This is precisely what Paul is talking about. You must let your old self die in order to construct your new identity around Christ. What are some implication of this?
- Being in Christ and joining Christ in his death also means that you join Christ in his resurrection. That means that what you have in Jesus is not just a good example to try and live up to, but actual power to overcome sinful habits and attitudes.
- When you are facing temptation, preach to yourself. Speak the truth over yourself, “I have been crucified with Christ and have died to this old way of life SO THAT I can experience live in Christ.”
- Know that your personality, sense of humor, and emotional makeup are not lost or changed; they are sanctified by Christ. You are still uniquely you, but Christ in you redeems every part of you for the glory of Christ.
To learn more about your personal identity in Christ, click on the resources below from Emmaus Road Church, a church in Fort Collins, CO.