Christians, Identity, and the Church
There are a lot of debates these days about identity - debates about political identity, ethnic identity, racial identity, sexual identity, gender identity, and the list goes on.
Lines are drawn in the sand, sides are taken, flags are raised, and walls are built. People rally to and around their preferred identity group with no room for dialogue or compromise. It’s either “you’re with me” or “against me!”
Just recently, President Biden gave a speech in which he essentially gave the American people a choice—to either identify with his group or the other group because “the very soul of our Nation is at stake.”
This kind of collectivism and tribalism is wreaking havoc. It’s dangerous, divisive, and destructive, and the saddest part is that Professing Believers are drinking the Kool Aid. Many believers are seduced by the siren call to identify with some worldly group.
This tendency of many believers, either out of ignorance or disobedience, betrays the reality that Christians are already identified with the only group that ultimately matters: The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ! Christians desperately need to be reminded about their true identity in Christ and how the framework of that identity is lived out in Jesus’ Church.
Jesus & Identity
As Jesus rested with His disciples at Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16:13-20), a question of identity arose. Jesus asked the most crucial identity question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v. 13). We discover that the correct answer to Jesus’ question leads to belonging to Christ’s global and eternal enterprise. Or, to put it another way, one’s identity is ultimately determined by one’s understanding of Jesus’ identity. And for every sinner who answers Jesus’ question correctly, he/she immediately is joined not only to Jesus but also to Jesus’ New Covenant Community, which is the Church (Matt. 16:16-18).
This is the identity that ultimately matters, for Jesus’ Church is the only institution on the planet that He promised to build. It’s supernatural, indestructible, and eternal. It is the Bride for whom He died (Eph. 5:25). It is the Body of which He is the Head (Eph. 1:22-23). And it is the flock for whom He is the Shepherd (Jn. 10:11-16). Why would any Christian want to identify with any other group above what Christ has made them a member of? Our union with Christ and other believers in the Church makes us unique and is the only banner under which we should ever march.
Jesus’ whole mission was to gather to Himself a people for Himself who would reflect His glory to the praise of His heavenly Father (Jn. 17). Upon confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matt. 16:16), sinners from every tribe and tongue and ethnic group and nation are brought into a new community with a new identity that makes us all One in Christ (Gal. 3:28).
Jesus & His Church
The church includes every person who has repented of their sin and trusted in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection for forgiveness and eternal life. And as members of this universal Church, Jesus expects every believer to be vitally connected to a local gathering to make visible the invisible. Eighty percent of the usage of the word “church” in the New Testament refers to specific local churches. This means that God’s people are meant to live out their faith in the context of a local church.
The local church is the centerpiece and hub of God’s redemptive activity through Christ and the Spirit in this world. It is where and from which Jesus is sovereignly working in Omnipotent saving and sanctifying power. This is why it is so essential for every Christian to understand the doctrine of the local church. Here is a brief definition of precisely what a local church is:
A local church is a group of professing followers of Jesus Christ who covenant together to regularly gather for corporate worship under the leadership of qualified elders for the proclamation of the gospel, growth in discipleship, and world evangelization to the glory of God.
In other words, a local church is an identified group of Christians, in conscious community with each other, under the authority of the gospel, mediated through pastors for worship, discipleship & worldwide evangelism for the praise and glory of God.
Consider now with me several reasons why you should be a member of a biblical local church.
- Membership clarifies the difference between believers and unbelievers (1 Jn. 2:19).
- Membership causes the visible Church to better reflect the invisible Church (Acts 11:20-24)
- Membership gives your discipleship accountability (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 1-13; 2 Thess. 3:6-15).
- Membership places every believer regularly under God’s ordained means of grace (Acts 2:41-42).
- Membership is commanded by Jesus Christ’s word (Heb. 10:19-25).
The true Christian who desires to be pleasing to the Lord ought to make local church membership a priority. Our identity in Christ warrants it, our dependence on Christ necessitates it, our love for Christ demands it, and the promise of Christ should compel it:
“And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven, I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:17-18).