Our individual identity is something very precious to each of us. Unfortunately, in our culture we find that often people don’t know who they are. So they try counseling and alternative lifestyles. They change hair and clothing styles. Tattoos and body piercings are also attempts to create an identity.
Jackie’s favorite channel on TV (which she rarely watches) is the TLC channel. In a way, Trading Spaces, her favorite show, is about identity. Makeover shows are reminders that we often want a different identity, and I understand there is even one called Body Works about plastic surgery.
In Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 2, Prince Hal is a character with an identity crisis. Through most of the play, he is a playboy rogue who spends his days drinking with the likes of Sir John Falstaff. He cares nothing for his identity as the future king of England. But by the end of the play, and especially in Henry V, we find a man ready to assert his identity as king and lead his nation to glory.
Over time, Prince Hal grows up to be King Henry.
The apostle Paul, in the 6th Chapter of Romans, suggests that many Christians also have an identity crisis. We act as if we are slaves to sin, when the reality is that our identity is found in our union with Jesus Christ. We act as if we’re no different than anybody else in the world. More specifically, Paul says that our identity is found in Christ in 2 ways: we’re united with Him in His Crucifixion, and we’re united with Him in His Resurrection.
First, we are identified, given our identity, with Christ in His Crucifixion. Gob back and read Romans 6:3, 6, 8, and you’ll discover that you are baptized, crucified, and dead with Christ.
There are 2 sides to our being crucified with Christ: first, we have been crucified with Christ (past and passive), and second, we ourselves are to put to death the sin in our lives (present and active).
We have been crucified with Christ, if we are united to Him in baptism, for our baptism unites us with Christ. For “we have been planted together in the likeness of His death” (literally “grown together,” verse 5). We are like living tissue that has been grafted onto the life of another tree – and that tree is Christ! We are so closely united with Him, that what is true for Him becomes true for us. His life and identity become ours.
Therefore, we die with Jesus Christ. We are one with Him because as He was crucified and put to death, so our old man has been crucified with Christ on the Cross. Paul teaches in verse 6 that your old man (being your old self in Adam, the one enslaved to sin) is crucified with Christ. If you’re a Christian, your old identity is done away with, your old identity of Adam, sin, and death.
So your old identity has been killed so that you are no longer who you were: a slave to sin. But you’ve been given a new identity, which is Jesus Christ. Though God has been at work in killing your old man, you aren’t supposed to remain passive in your life in Christ. One of my father’s favorite verses when I was growing up in Christ in the Erlandson household was Philippians 2:12-13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.”
There are 2 sides to the life of a Christian, to the life of one united with Christ. There is the work of God, who has united you with His Son and has conquered sin and death in you. But Paul also speaks of your work, and so he tells you to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” You must “make good” on your baptism. You are the one who must actively obey God and thereby appropriate the promises of God.
You are to actively put to death – to crucify – your flesh. Reckon, or consider, yourselves dead to sin, and do not let sin reign in your life (verse 11-12). You put your sinful nature to death by denying your self. This is the process called mortification. “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
Crucifying yourself means putting to death the old man in you, the flesh, the sinful nature. Your ID is that you are a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, someone baptized into Jesus Christ. You are one who crucifies himself, if you want to be a Christian. Therefore, through the Holy Spirit, God has given you the ability to follow Him in denying yourself, as He did.
But how do we do this? Many objections ally themselves against this most fundamental of Christian endeavors. The key, I believe, is to start small. Start small, and if you are faithful, God will bless you with the ability to manage more.
Let me issue you a simple, daily challenge as a practical way to begin denying yourself: as a way to crucify the sinful nature:
What if every little humiliation of each day: all of the city traffic; the times you are wronged each day; the little things that go wrong that so easily frustrate you; the burnt toast and spoilt milk . . . meant by God and used by you as a means of crucifying your sinful nature?
What if the physical ailments each of you has: the stiff joints that ache; the weak muscles that drop things; the forgetful mind that seems to turn against itself; the body whose energy and life force have been robbed from it . . . were God’s way of getting your attention each day?
What if instead of muttering under your breath, or holding it all in until you explode, or whatever your favorite venting technique is . . .you accepted it as God’s appointed means for training you to deny yourself and seek Him?
Imagine: every day God has built in to your day dozens of chances to crucify yourself and offer yourself up to God as living sacrifice!
I know some of your sufferings, and I would never wish them upon the people I love. But God desires to use them for good in your life – if you will see them as a way to suffer with Jesus Christ, who suffered for you.
Learn to see your sufferings, your failings, your weaknesses, as a reminder to crucify what is sinful in you – and to remember the promise of the Resurrection. For by such small sacrifices of self you will crucify yourself and remember your identity as one united to Jesus Christ.
You need to start today. Choose one thing in your life that bugs you all the time – and use it as a way to deny yourself the right to be mad or to grumble – and as a way to turn to God.
And then, when you have taken this small step, begin to look for signs of the Resurrection all around you in your life. For if you have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly you also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection (verse 5). You didn’t think that your Lord, after having been raised Himself, would leave you on the Cross, did you?
This is the pattern our Lord Himself laid down for Himself: death, and then resurrection. Why should we expect anything less for ourselves, if we are truly united with Him? You have not been united with Christ and resurrected with Him, however, to serve ourselves but to live for God. If you’re just going to keep living for yourself, then why bother dying to self in the first place and putting on Christ?!
You are made and are being made like Christ in all things. You were buried and raised with Him (verse 4) so that you also, like Christ, should walk in newness of life. You were made to live so that you would live in and for Him (verse 8), for Jesus Christ died so that He might live unto God (verse 10).
It’s time for Prince Hal to grow up and act like King Henry. It’s time for you, too, to grow up, into the likeness of Christ. And so set your face like flint to meet your crucifixion today, the crucifixion that comes to you in a thousand small ways today. Embrace the Cross, His Cross, as it is incarnated into the sufferings and sorrows prepared for you today, so that you might also participate in the Resurrection.
For if you are united to Him in His death, you shall surely be united to Him in His resurrection and life.
Prayer: Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- What are the sufferings you are likely to experience today? What are the disappointments that you are likely to experience today? Go into the day armed to use these experiences as the instruments of the crucifixion of your old man.
- As you experience suffering and disappointment today and use it as a means of uniting yourself to Christ’s death, pay attention. In what ways is God already showing you His resurrection?
Resolution: I resolve to prepare to meet the suffering and disappointment in my life today as a means of crucifying myself, that I might be raised with Christ.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson