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The book of Ephesians is often called the “queen of the epistles.” It is like a Reader's Digest condensed version of the whole story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation. In one short book, the apostle Paul teaches in glorious detail what Christ's death on the cross accomplished for us, the seriousness of our need as sinners that caused God to do this, and the ways this gospel changes us practically.
Paul presents in Ephesians a great manual on “gospel-centered” living. He uses the phrases with Christ, in Christ, through Christ, with Him, in Him, and through Him over 30 times in Ephesians' six short chapters. The gospel, we see, has not just given us access to God through Christ, but it has also included us in Christ. It has sealed us in Him—a phrase that would sound blasphemous if the Bible did not say it first.
"In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise" (Eph. 1:13, NASB).
Our inclusion into Christ changes everything. It gives us a brand new identity—righteous, virtuous and powerful—because it is His identity.
Our identity is our sense of self. It is the thing that gives us continuity in how we interact with others despite changes in our circumstances. We often identify ourselves by lesser things than how God identifies us. Some of us identify ourselves by our career, our relationship status, or our children.
I have been a middle school, high school and college math teacher, jobs in which I found a great deal of personal fulfillment. Now I am a wife and mother. On the side, I am an author. Depending on the season of life, I have looked to each role to feel good about myself, to identify myself positively. But those are just roles I steward for a season. They are not my ultimate identity.
Even being the daughter of a family firmly rooted for generations in the low country of South Carolina does not ultimately define me. Jesus Christ, along with all His name invokes, defines me both here on earth and for eternity in heaven. He is my identity because I am in Him.
Practically speaking, when I mix up my roles at any given stage of life with my ultimate identity, I end up in idolatry. At the stage of life I am now as wife, mom, and author, my husband and children cannot be my identity. I cannot pin all of my hopes for the future on their personal successes. It is not fair to them, and it keeps me from placing my hope for the future in God’s hands. They become my idols when I do that.
I also cannot place my hopes for feeling good about myself on the books I write. It did not take long after publishing my first book to receive criticism from a reviewer. I figured out quickly that I would be undone if I allowed the way my books were received to make me feel good or bad about myself. Instead, God calls me to be a good steward of my roles of wife, mom, and author, not an idolater who looks to her husband, children, or books (or whatever stewardship God has given at the time) for her sense of personal achievement.
The problem with idols is not that they will not affirm us and satisfy us in the way that we long. The problem is they cannot. It is not in their power. We devastate relationships in our lives when we look to certain people to meet needs in us God never intended them to meet.
A spouse, friend, or child may try for a season to fill those needs and make us happy, but at some point, they will become so discouraged by the utter depth of our need and our inability to be satisfied with anything they do that they will push us away, perhaps even severing the relationship completely.
Jesus alone is our ultimate source of identity. But what exactly does it mean for us to find our identity in Christ? The Bible uses several word pictures which I find helpful to communicate the details of our relationship with Christ. The Word paints believers at multiple places in Scripture as, first, Christ's cherished bride.
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