Monday, September 14, 2009

Practical Theology for Women - Pt 5

Identity in Christ (chapter 9-10, mostly 10)

Wendy raises a really pertinent issue for many women when she begins her 10th chapter by raising the issue of what it means to find our identity in Christ. Using her own life, she comments that it isn’t fair to her husband or to her children to idolise them, as well as having the obviously negative impact of turning her trust away from God. Many of us will know the temptation of defining who we are by our parents, husbands, children, grandchildren, job, ministry and so forth. So, as Wendy asks, what can be done? I think the answer to that lies in where Wendy has located the question: in the heart of the discussion of what Jesus has done and does for us and how he is the centre of our lives.

Being saved is not just an added extra. I’m not a wife, mother, sister, daughter, sister-in-law and also a follower of Jesus, as though that last one is just an item in a set. I’m a follower of Jesus. And he has given me certain opportunities and relationships. All these are gifts from my Lord as well as the context for the good works he has prepared for me in advance to demonstrate his workmanship in my life. I’m not accidentally a wife, or a wife because I happen to have such excellent qualities. Jesus rules my life and he has put me in this, and other, relationships and this is where I serve him. The point is, that as Wendy says, to move beyond idolatry here, we need to focus on the fact that we are followers of Jesus first and foremost and remember who he is and what he has done for us.

One of the key things to understand is that when we come to Christ we are ‘in Christ’. As Wendy puts it, ‘If you belong to God, then you and Christ are supernaturally connected’. This concept is difficult to understand, but in essence it means that we are joined to Christ by faith through the work of the Spirit and cannot be separated from him. Wendy unpacks this using some of the Bible’s analogies to help us get our heads around this difficult concept. The image of Jesus as the vine and us as the branches; Jesus as the head and the church as the body; and in chapter 9, of the church as the bride and the Lord Jesus as the bridegroom. These analogies help us understand the nature of the relationship. Each of these analogies adds something to our understanding in a different way: so, the bridegroom acts on behalf of the bride and elevates our status by bringing us into his house; the vine is the source of the branches, nourishing them and supplying life, and the head rules and empowers the body, just as Christ commands and empowers the church. It is, as Wendy notes, a ‘very intimate union’.

Wendy emphasises throughout this chapter the need to meditate and remember who we are in Christ. She mourns the Christians she sees living lives that look remarkably non-Christian in that Jesus seems not to be central to their thinking and behaviour. So, she calls on us to draw our attention to Christ and put him and his concerns at the centre of our thinking. This exhortation is in line with many of the NT epistles, which summon us to bring our thinking and our behaviour in line with who we are in Christ. And this takes effort. We don’t just accidentally take every thought captive to Christ, but we need to practice this, putting into place ways to remind ourselves to do this and repenting when we fall short. In this way we co-operate with God’s Spirit as he transforms us to live lives which glorify the Lord Jesus and reflect his priorities in our lives.

I found Wendy’s call to remember and meditate helpful, however I would have appreciated a stronger acknowledgement that we are united to Christ by faith, not by consciously thinking about him. Wendy certainly refers to the reality of our union with Christ and its permanence, so I think this is a case where an important step has been assumed. When we remember that this very intimate supernatural connection is a reality and is rock solid, having been accomplished by Jesus’ death for us and the Spirit’s work in uniting us with Christ, then the call to meditate on who Jesus is and what he has done helps feed our faith. This in turn leads to our lives being more in line with Jesus’ rule of our lives through his Word. Thus we live in ways which reflect our identity in Christ. Without the explicit inclusion of faith in the relationship between our union with Christ and our meditating upon Christ and his work, some readers might start to think that our union is only as strong as our conscious attempts to put Christ at the centre. So, we’ll start to shift from being sure that God has done the work of saving us and we are secure, to starting to think that this depends on us and our meditation on Christ. It’s clear that’s not where Wendy is going, but if you are discussing this in a book club outside of the blogsphere, you might want to make the extra step explicit.

So, let’s remember who we are: united to Christ, brought into God’s close family. And let’s co-operate with God‘s Spirit and consciously remember this in our everday lives and so flee idolatry. This will enable us to wholeheartedly follow and serve Jesus Christ for his glory.

1. In what ways does idolatry ‘bite’ you? What strategies have you used to try and notice this and repent of it?

2. How would you answer the question, ‘How does having an intimate, supernatural connection with Jesus make life different for you’?

3. Find out more about Jesus. Using Wendy’s material (in chapter 9 particularly) as a starting point or a model, choose something about Jesus that you’d like to more about, or take a book of the Bible and work out what it says specifically about Jesus (I Peter is a good one). So, you could choose a couple of Scriptures which talk about Jesus being the Shepherd and find out more about what that means, or the Great High Priest and so forth. This works particularly well if you have a friend to speak with about this: having to summarise what you’ve learned and explain what it means to you is quite helpful.

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