“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27-28)
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
We hear a lot these days concerning our identity in Christ, as well we should (see http://theawakenedchristianman.org/2017/12/22/identity-crisis/). We go through life after conversion thinking we are “sinners saved by grace” when, in truth, that was a moment in time and never meant to be a lasting identity. What God tells those who truly follow Him about who they are is so much more! Yes, we were, on our day of conversion, sinners saved by grace. However, God gives us opportunities to mature far, far beyond what is merely the starting line of the faith. Anyone who has been a Christian for any period of time and has yet to see the boundless possibilities of who they are in Christ is probably closer defined as a “babe partaking of milk rather than being accustomed to the Word of righteousness” (Heb. 5). The discussion here is concerned with are we striving, above all else, to move beyond personal identity to become functional members of the considerably greater identity, Christ’s body. We certainly cannot do that carrying the ball and chain of a former identity of sinner. Nor will we get there, even if we understand our individual identity, if we do not understand and earnestly seek out Christian community.
Wherever we go, whatever we do, and in no matter what circumstance we find ourselves our “constant” is identity. Places can change, people can change, and circumstances can change but we are our identity. If we embrace the proper identity, which is how God sees us if we truly strive to follow Him, that is a good thing. However, if we don’t have an identity, carry a false one, or we are not certain of it we become spiritual and social Chamaeleon’s. In a manner of speaking, we become codependent on the identities around us. Where we go, who we meet and what we do in the moment dictates our identity as we try to fit in. People with no identity tend to compartmentalize where they are and what they are doing to try to establish one, and that causes them to take on different characteristics and personalities depending upon their circumstance. At our job we may be one person because we think that’s the identity people at work expect us to have, while at home we’re something else entirely for the same reason. At our school we may carry one identity, while at events we carry others. We become insecure crowd followers, easily swayed by other’s opinions in the hopes we might find ourselves, rather than people who are secure in who they are who typically lead others.
Many Christians struggle with this phenomenon, being one person at church and everywhere else another. What is the biggest criticism of Christians from those outside the church, if not that we are a bunch of hypocrites who speak and act one way at religious events, and speak and act differently everywhere else? We claim something is important above all else, and then sacrifice that very truth when it becomes inconvenient or uncomfortable. I propose we do this because church has become a place, a building and an event, we “go to” and not a lifestyle that represents our identity! Think about how often you hear Christians say, “We’re going to church.” Now consider how often you hear it said our identity is the body of Christ?
Even most who have their individual identities in Christ correct don’t have a true church identity because the model of Christianity they’ve experienced here in America for the past century or so has never shown them a true model of biblical church. We vainly try to make this Sunday appearance at our temples work as what the Bible calls the Ekkleesia, when the biblical model has little in common with it. “We are the church” is not our identity because we don’t know what the church is supposed to look like, or how we are to fit in. Many of us can’t be blamed for ignorance if we’ve never been exposed to truth. I blame the shepherds, not the sheep, promoting the counterfeit for the current state of affairs because they should know better. I believe Jesus felt as I do, and that’s why He had pity for “the lost sheep of the House of Israel He came for, while at the same time constantly battling their leaders.
The Scriptures do not merely suggest we are a part of a body greater than ourselves. They say unequivocally we are! Much the same as our individual identity is “We are new creatures in Christ, sons of God, etc.” not “We can be…we should be,” so also Paul proclaims our collective identity to be “We are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” Peter proclaims, “We are a priesthood, a race, a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession.” Proverbs 11 tells us among many counselors there is victory and alone we fall, and Ecclesiastes 4 gives us many good reasons “two are better than one.” Jesus sent out His disciples two by two, and then gathered them back into the community to be renewed afterward. The Bible is replete with references to it not being a good thing to be alone, beginning with the creation of man and woman in the first place.
In his treatise on how church gatherings should be structured [see http://marketplacesaints.net/the-ekkleesia-of-community], Paul speaks of each person bringing something from the Lord to contribute to the body “so that all may learn and all may be exhorted.” He goes to great lengths, in his letters to the Corinthians defining what the body is to look like, to drive home the point we are part of something greater, a body of differently and uniquely-gifted people who cannot possibly be all we can be on our own, but who need the gifts of others blended with ours to be a witness to the world of what love, and who God, truly is. That requires engagement, not passivity as our weekend temple meetings promote. That gently forces us to learn to live and function together as a body. We cannot participate in the Ekkleesia of God and remain unchanged, as is so easily done by millions after weekend church gatherings today. Within the confines of Christian community our gifts are to be developed and then deployed, and only there according to the Scriptures. That will mean transformation!
So many seek today to be baptized by the Holy Spirit so they might receive many of His gifts, yet Paul says, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and we’re all made to drink of one Spirit.” Being baptized by the Spirit, speaking in tongues, etc. are individual gifts some have, and some don’t (1 Cor. 12). But, once again the greater identity trumps individual ones as the Spirit baptizes us all into the body.
We are not baptized into Christianity or religion, or even the Spirit, to go it alone. We are baptized into the body of Christ to function together! Paul says if we have every gift and power from God, yet are without love, it all adds up to nothing (1 Cor. 13). Without the body tongues are fruitless. Without the body, where we both love and are loved, no gift from God profits us one bit. Part of Paul’s definition of love is “it keeps nothing for itself.” Love, to exist, must give itself away. The Great Commandment expresses God’s most cherished law: to love Him and others and the place to do that is within the body.
Jesus spoke to how and where we would be perfected in Him, to “show the world we are His disciples by the love we have for one another,” when He prayed, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one…that they may be perfected in unity so that the world may know that You sent Me” (John 17). Paul parrots this in 1st Corinthians 14, when he tells what will occur when unbelievers see the Ekkleesia functioning as it should, “But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed. And so, he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” We can understand our individual identities until the proverbial cows come home, but until we come to understand our greater identity, we will not be perfected in love and glorify God in front of an unbelieving world. It is in unity, and only in unity, these vital processes occur.
This is why I say our collective identity is the greater identity, greater than even our individual identity. That said, isn’t it amazing that we all spend so much time and effort concentrating on our individual identities and gifts from God, when in fact Paul says we are to use every gift for one purpose, and that to “edify the body” (6 times in his letters to the Corinthians)? Yes, we should strive to understand our personal identity and gifting in the Lord, but that is only that we might fully understand our place, and how we may contribute, more fully to the body! We seek to understand the lesser only to mature into a functional understanding of the greater! With God it has always been, is now, and always will be about community first (see my series, Community First! http://marketplacesaints.net/community-first-as-the-kingdom-comes).
To repeat, I believe the reason the modern church is so ineffective at having an impact for the kingdom upon society, or the members of its own body for that matter, is precisely due to the fact that after so many decades of living under the false model of temple worship she has lost her identity in favor of a false one! She cannot show “the love her individuals have for one another that reveals to all men they are Jesus’ disciples” because she does not understand her identity as a living, breathing, continual community. As a result, the unbelievers are not “falling on their faces worshipping God, declaring He is certainly among us.” As long as church is looked upon as an event during specific times of the week, at a building, compartmentalized from the rest of life we “go to,” only to “return from,” she will never be able to show that love to the world or individual believers themselves. Rather, we have largely become “a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal,” preaching about love without being able to truly display it. Oh, some her individuals do, but think of that power manifested many times over if she functioned as a true body! But Mike, but Mike, isn’t our job to reach out to the world in love, and aren’t we doing that? That could be debated, but remember, Jesus did not say the world would know us by the love some individuals in the body had for them, as is the current model. He said, “The world would know we were His disciples by the love we [all of us] had for one another!” That demands visible community!
Unfortunately, if we want to experience the true fellowship of the saints and discover our true church identity, we need to do as Jesus did, break the mold, leave our temple worship system in the dust of its broken beginnings in Israel, and go out searching for it. By all means, do seek to understand your identity in Christ, but remember that is the lesser identity and it was never intended to be the endgame. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he said, “But earnestly desire the greater [individual] gifts, and I will show you a still more excellent [corporate] way” (1st Cor. 12)!? Seek to understand your individual identity for the purpose of using that to fit in to, and enhance, the body of Christ. Don’t settle for merely understanding the lesser identity. Pursue it in the interest of edification of the greater identity, which is your place in the body of Christ!
It is to seeing individual believers find or form true Christian community I am forever dedicated. Hope you will “surf” this website while you’re here, and that it will inspire you to look beyond the walls of temples to the Fellowship of Marketplace Saints!