Recently I was asked for photo identification and gave my driver’s license as proof of my legal identity. That led me to think about identity. We each have a variety of identities – a legal identity which is part of our public identity; a personal identity based on the fundamental motivating truths, attitudes, and desires that make us who we really are. Other identities include vocational and political. Each identity label is assigned based on facts or alleged facts about us as persons. Christian Identity is the most important identity a person can have. What makes a person a Christian? Is it belonging to a church? Is it behavior?
No, the unique identifying fact about a true Christian is being “CHOSEN,” chosen by God for reasons unknown to us. All else determining Christian identity follows from being chosen. Nothing intrinsic to a person and nothing they can do of themselves can gain Christian identity. True Christian identity comes as a gift from God to those whom He chooses.
Identity as a Christian in no way depends on any factor of our intrinsic human nature, nor on our position in society, nor on our economic status, nor on our behavior, in fact not on anything in our being and not on any action we are capable of doing. The astounding truth is that Christian identity depends entirely on God’s grace – what He did and is doing for His fallen people.
Christian identity, or lack of it, is the most important fact about any person. God says that if a person wishes to spend eternity with Him, they must be holy as He is holy. We are not holy, and we know it. What is to be done? Scripture says there is nothing we can of ourselves do. God must intervene! We must be “SAVED.” Next question: “Saved from what?”
Saved from What?
Many things come to mind: Saved from sin, from God’s wrath, from eternal damnation, etc. Indeed we do need to be saved from all those things. But that is not the root problem which condemns us to God’s righteous punishment? God’s answer is that we must be “saved from our corrupt nature.”
Our Lord Jesus said that, unless we die to our corrupt self and become “new” in Him, we cannot enter His kingdom. We must be saved from ourselves, dying to self, giving up our old identity as a sinner in rebellion against God, and gaining a new identity in Christ. G.K. Chesterton understood. A London newspaper ran a headline asking, “what is wrong with the world?” He sent a reply with the terse but accurate statement “I am.” The comic-strip author Walt Kelly also understood. In a Pogo strip, Pogo says, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” That is the truth!
How can We be Saved from Ourselves
Christ says we must die to our corrupt self and become alive in Him. That is something we cannot do through self-effort. But God in His grace does for us that which we cannot ourselves do, regenerating us, giving us new life in Christ.
Our new identity is “in Christ.” The Holy Spirit is sent to indwell every regenerated person. The Holy Spirit supplies all that is necessary to live the new life. The Apostle Peter councils great danger in neglecting to make manifest the new life God gives through regeneration. Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, provides truth to enlighten and encourage us.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brother, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”2 Peter 1:3-11
When God regenerates, He grants (as a completed event) everything our new identity needs for life and godliness. He does so through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. Reading the 2 Peter passage, I couldn’t help thinking, if I HAVE BEEN GRANTED everything needed for godliness, why do I continue to sin?
Having received God’s gracious provision, why is living a godly life so difficult? I think the answer can be found in thinking about spiritual DNA in a manner analogous to physical DNA. When God gives physical life, a single cell is formed at conception. That cell contains DNA which determines development from one cell into a full-grown adult. Latent in the DNA are all details necessary to control development into a mature adult. The one cell develops into the myriad of different kinds of cells of a person, and the necessary coordination between cells is manifested. Nourishment, exercise, and time step by step enable latent characteristics to be made manifest.
I think it is that way with spiritual rebirth. In regeneration, God gives new spiritual DNA which contains in latent form everything needed for life and godliness. Spiritual nourishment and time enable latent elements necessary for spiritual life and godliness to be made manifest. Maturing means making manifest more latent elements received at spiritual rebirth.
As Peter says, for that very reason (i.e., because we have been given the gift of faith, been born again into the family of God as a new creature, and been given, latent within us, everything we need for life and godliness) it is our obligation to make every effort to make manifest that latent provision of God. In this effort, the indwelling Holy Spirit supports and enables us. We are to “walk in step with the Spirit”, cooperating with Him, never grieving or quenching His work. God’s grace both enables and demands effort from us (Ph. 2:12-13).
Supplement Faith with 7 Attributes
Peter says to diligently make manifest 7 latent attributes which are to be added to God’s gift of enabling faith. Each attribute grows out of practice of the previous attributes. There is no short cut. Each added attribute is making manifest something latent in the spiritual DNA.
Faith: This is the initial salvation gift from God. By God’s grace through His gift of faith we are born again. Faith makes the Christian life possible and provides impetus for growth. To continue toward maturity, add:
Virtue (excellence): Virtue (excellence) means the proper fulfillment of a “things” nature. For the “born again,” proper fulfillment of their new nature is to become Christlike. We strive to be Christlike as the Holy Spirit works to transform us. As we do, we become aware of our lack of knowledge. To continue toward maturity, add:
Knowledge: Add both intellectual and moral knowledge, but especially practical wisdom. Practical wisdom enables us to clearly differentiate between good and evil, to choose the good, and flee from the evil. Practical wisdom means a constant living participation in truth. Increasing practical wisdom and the experience of striving in faith to become Christlike will lead us into awareness that we cannot continue to mature without adding:
Self-control (self-discipline): Self-control requires exercising the will to actually do what we know to be right. We must control our passions and not be controlled by them. As we become adept at self-control, we realize that while discipline is adequate under most circumstances, when adversity strikes, to continue to mature, we must add:
Steadfastness (of character): Steadfastness of character (or perseverance) is the sustained ability to not give in to sin or to give up in troublesome circumstances. Steadfastness of character leads us to be particularly aware of God and people and their rightful relationships with us. To continue to mature, we need to add:
Godliness (reverence and piety): Godliness produces reverence toward God and respect toward other people. Godliness causes us to seek right relationship with both God and people, seeking to do the will of God as we seek the welfare of others. We realize the specialness of God’s family. To continue to mature, we need to add:
Brotherly Affection: Brotherly affection (kindness) is particular love for those in God’s family, no matter how different they may be from us. Love for the brethren entails bearing one another’s burdens. It means guarding our Spirit-given unity from destruction by gossip, prejudice, and narrowness. At his point we are ready to add:
“Agape” Love: The proper fulfillment of the other six qualities, “agape” is a deliberate desire for the highest good for the one loved. It is manifested in sacrificial action like God’s love for us (Jn 3:16).
Everyone begins at the bottom of the ladder with the gift of “saving faith.” They progress step by step to “agape love.” Who is it we are to love with “agape” love. From Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the answer is Everyone!
Peter says that if we possess faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love in increasing measure, we will be kept from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who does not work at making manifest these attributes is nearsighted and blind and has forgotten he has been cleansed from his past sins. Confirm the gift of salvation by living consistent with your new identity.