-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

[ Home ] [ Originals ] [ Words of Ones Wiser ] [ Odds and Ends ]

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where Do We Find Our Identity?

There are two sides of the identity struggle. It is often a comfort to find our identity in Christ where we are weak; It is often uncomfortable when we are told to abandon our identity where we are "strong".

Lets hear what Paul has to say about this:
"Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh-- though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained." (Phil. 3:2-16)

I think that we, especially as Lutherans, are fairly comfortable receiving our identity in Christ as far as our vertical relationship coram Deo, before God, but not neccisarily coram mundo, before the world. But Jesus does not only justify our vertical life but also our horizontal life.

I think subconciously we might accept that we cannot justify ourselves before God, but that we can before the world; and this is where we find, as Robert Kolb would say, our "identity, security, and meaning." I can't help but think what my life would be like should I be deprived of all those things that, in the world's mind, makes me of value to society. I can't help but think that I would be thrown into absolute despair.

We can only experience this complete reliance on Christ that Paul expresses through a putting to death and a resurrection. Let's hear what Luther has to say:

"Human righteousness…seeks first of all to remove and to change the sins and keep man intact; this is why it is not righteousness but hypocrisy. Hence as long as there is life in man and as long as he is not taken by renewing grace to be changed, no efforts of his can prevent him from being subject to sin and the law." Lectures on Romans, trans. Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), 194.

Until we completely abandon our "own worth," both before God and the world can there be new life. Man cannot remain "intact," as Luther puts it. We need to despair not only of our downfalls and shortcomings, but also our talents and abilities. We were not created because what we do is of "value" to God or the world, but because God loves us. As Luther writes in his Heidelberg Disputation: "The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it."

Though we might not realize it, trying to justify ourselves coram mundo, before the world, is ultimately trying to justify ourselves coram Deo, before God. The reason for this is that we are trying to justify our existence; that we have a right to be here. The fact is life, in its entirety can only be a gift from God.

For this reason we must not be tempted to veiw our talents and abilities as justifications before the world. For, what we really are deserving is death. We don't even deserve the world, fallen though it may be. Rather the world itself is the field through which Christ was to redeem creation to himself, to restore our lives as completely dependent on him; it exists because of him.

It is for this reason that Paul can count it all as loss. It is through Christ's death and resurrection, in which we participate through faith, that our lives receive their meaning. As Paul tells us: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20)

No comments: