30 Jul One In Adam, One In Christ
The issue of “Identity” is of incredible significance. The way we understand this issue informs and shapes our purpose, worldview, ethics, relationships and so much more. In contemporary society, many voices compete for precedence in thinking about this question. Our culture has not remained silent on this issue; instead it offers positions and theories that continue to gain popularity–even in the church. However, Christians have not been left without a word from the LORD on this issue: the Bible gives an authoritative position––one that seeks to define identity by that which unites us rather than that which divides. While the voice of the culture is prominent and persuasive––the Christian is called to pursue maturity in Christ through the understanding of His Word, so that they may not be pulled in by the undertow of false doctrine, cultural ideologies, and unrighteous deception (Ephesians 4:14-16). We do well to seek understanding the Bible on this point. In all that it speaks to, it is profitable for us and leads to greater fruit (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
What the Bible teaches with regards to identity can be summed up under two categories:
1. One in Adam
All of mankind is the progeny of the first parents––Adam and Eve. All cultures, ethnicities, and nationalities find their origin in Adam. This creational reality of our union together in Adam is what the Bible expands on to establish our identity as God’s creatures.
a. Sharing in bearing God’s image
At the dawn of history God breathed into the dust He had gathered, out of which He created Adam in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28). Adam and Eve then likewise produced offspring after their likeness and image (Genesis 5:3). All of humanity then inherited the image of God. To be an image bearer of God goes beyond the capacity of man to reason, make ethical decisions, and worship––all which makes humanity distinct from the rest of God’s creation. The image of God is the essence and the primary reality of mankind. All other distinctions––height, skin colour, body type––are all secondary to this. One of the significant implications of our inalienable identity as those created in the Divine image is that all people (men, women, and children) possess equal dignity, value, and significance as human beings. Our treatment of co-image bearers must be guided in light of this truth. Even the physical and psychological limitations we face as human beings as a result of the Fall in no way diminishes the image God in us. It is the image of God in man that grounds God’s commands concerning our treatment of one another (Genesis 9:6, James 3:9). Therefore, racism, classism, ableism, sexism, and ageism are categorically opposed to God’s good design and intention––and so ought to be resisted by all people as the evils they are.
b. Sharing in heritage
All mankind shares in bearing the image of God because all people are connected in their lineage back to Adam and Eve. This offers a secondary truth with regards to our shared identity: All people belong to one family. Cultural and ethnic distinctions are real, good, and of value––this diversity displays for us the goodness of God in a myriad of ways that wouldn’t be possible in a mono-ethnic, mono-cultural world (Ephesians 3:10). However, these distinctions are a by-product of the spread of humanity over the face of the earth. The Biblical narrative is clear that unity was the design and intent of God for us. But sin and pride led to the judgement of God in the dispersing of all people into different languages (Genesis 11:1-9). As a result of this “disunity”, humanity begins to spread throughout the earth in large part across ethnic lines marked by their own cultures and languages, eventually forming into nations, some of which survive today (Genesis 10:5). Though treasures from our diverse cultures and ethnicities will be celebrated in heaven, our heritage goes beyond this to our unity as one human family.
c. Sharing in fallenness and individual culpability
All of Adam’s progeny inherit not only the essence of Divine image bearing, but also his fallen condition––original guilt (the liability to suffer eternal punishment) and original corruption (man’s natural tendency towards sin) (Romans 5:12). Our shared fallenness has produced devastating consequences––alienation from and enmity with God, enslavement of our wills, and broken relationships with one another. This is no more or no less true of any particular group over another. Every individual is equally capable of tremendous acts of hatred, oppression and injustice against others––and because each individual is equally made in the image of God, each person is accountable to God for their actions as independent moral agents. People will be judged for their actions and the sins that they themselves have committed, not for the actions and sins of a broader group (Hebrews 9:7)––we can be shaped by the wider culture around us and the groups we may belong to, but our own hearts produce the sin we commit (James 1:14-15). All of mankind shares in fallenness and culpability.
d. Sharing in desperate need
Each person is fallen and responsible for their sin before God. The just penalty for our sin is eternal death (Romans 6:23, 3:23). No individual, culture, ethnicity, or group finds exemption from this divine judgement. All of humanity finds themselves as enemies of God (Romans 8:7), and in the same desperate situation. Understanding this reality ought to dismantle any sense of superiority that any individual or group feels over others. Apart from the grace of God, every person is in the exact same position of need before God.
Our creational reality through our oneness with Adam establishes our significance as image bearers and our heritage as one human family––yet as a result of the fall also joins us with his fallen nature and desperate situation. But the good news of the Christian faith is that God did not leave us to ourselves in this position. In abounding loving-kindness, the Word made flesh came for us. Though the Christian continues to share a common identity in our image bearing and heritage, they are primarily identified by their union with Christ by faith. Which brings us to the second category.
2. One in Christ
For the Christian, the question of identity is answered not only in our relation to Adam, but also in our union with Christ (Romans 6:5, Galatians 2:20).
a. Sharing in Gospel participation and inheritance
Jesus Christ is the hope of salvation for all people (Romans 15:8-13). Moreover, he is the exclusive hope of salvation (Ephesians 2:11-12). Because all of humanity shares a common position of desperate need, Jesus Christ provides for all humanity a common salvation in himself (Ephesians 2:14-18). There is one Gospel, one atonement, one salvation––found in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. However, within just a few decades after the ascension of Christ and the advent of Christianity there were those in the church who erroneously proposed a different gospel, one in which different groups of people were under different requirements for reconciliation with God and membership in the church. The Bible gives no room for this kind of teaching (Galatians 1:6-9, Philippians 3:2-3). The offer of the gospel is the same for all of humanity – turning away from sin and turning towards Christ by faith. No individual or group of people are called by the Bible to a different gospel and means of reconciliation with God and others. Additionally, this Gospel further establishes our equality and unity with one another (Galatians 3:28-29). That which the culture at times uses as distinctions that divide (gender, ethnicity, relationships of power), are no longer ultimate next to the foremost reality of the Christian’s union with Christ––and if we are one in Christ, we are all people of promise and heirs of inheritance (Romans 8:17). For the Saints, every spiritual blessing is theirs in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).
b. Sharing in adoption
One of the supernatural events in the work of salvation in the life of the believer is the adoption of formerly rebellious men and women into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5). As God brings into the family those who were once enemies they become children. Every Christian is brought into the same position in the family––we are all given the privilege to be counted as God’s children (John 1:12). God has no grandchildren. The Christian is made the recipient of all the benefits of the gospel by virtue of their union with Christ by faith. Given that all believers stand positionally equal before God, any benefit included in the gospel is commonly shared with all the Saints who are united together in Christ by faith (Ephesians 4:4-6). No Christian lacks Gospel benefits that are afforded to another. We all participate in all of God’s good gifts to us––in various capacities in the present life and fully in eternity. There is no hierarchy nor levels of participation in Christ. Rather, we stand and relate to one another as brothers and sisters, united together because of the work of the Gospel.
c. Sharing in membership
Christians relate to one another not only as brothers and sisters united by faith in the Gospel, but also as one body over which Christ is the head (Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18). The church, particularly through local expressions, is one body and individually members of one another (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The church is not divided along the lines of ethnicity, gender or relationships of power (1 Corinthians 12:13)––but is one body of which each member is indispensable and incredibly valuable. Without destroying the differences that characterize each individual, Christians are more importantly characterized as members of one body. This unity as one body is not something that needs to be achieved, but rather is a gift from Christ, won by his work on the cross, and needs to be protected so as to maintain unity as one body in Christ. The inherent unity of the church is the foundation for the “one another” commands of the New Testament. The work of Jesus has not only reconciled us to God, but also to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22). This positional unity is a treasure to be protected and actively lived out.
d. Sharing in future hope
Union with Christ gives us hope beyond this life. Jesus did not remain in the grave, but rose in power. Those who are joined together with him by faith are promised a resurrection like his (Romans 6:5, 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Peter 1:3-4). Christians eagerly await this certain future reality where freedom from the presence of sin (Hebrews 10:14, Hebrews 12:23, Revelation 21:3-4), true justice (Genesis 18:25, 2 Timothy 4:1, 1 Peter 4:5, Revelation 19:11), and lasting reconciliation between all people (Revelation 5:9-14, 7:9-17) will finally be achieved. By the work of the Spirit in our lives we are presently given tastes of the greater glory of these realities to come––namely in the church (Ephesians 3:10)! The picture we are given of heaven is that of a reversal of the Tower of Babel––rather than being dispersed, nations are gathered (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1), rather than dividing, languages and cultures are united in the worship of God (Revelation 7:9-17). In this life, the Christian will battle sin, endure injustice, and experience disunity––though we are called to actively minimize these evils in this life, we always do so knowing that the fullness of the heavenly realities will only come with the return of Christ and the consummation of his kingdom.
There is much more that the Bible says on this and much has already been written by others in a more exhaustive manner. Our hope for this article is that it has offered an answer to the question of “Identity”. It should come as no surprise to us that the culture’s philosophy of “Identity” which is rooted in what separates us ultimately produces division and disunity. The Bible offers a perspective of hope, one that centres on that which unites us, and gives us a solution to the disunity, injustice, and brokenness in the world through the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.