Our title has in mind two perspectives: Does the world know who the Christian is, and does the Christian himself know who he is? If the person who answers to the Christian name doesn’t really know who he is, neither will the world truly know his identity.
Most people, some more than others, have an interest in their “roots.” The essence of those roots is not found exclusively in one’s biological line of descent. One’s roots may also include culture and creed or defining epics.
Relating to our interest in genuine Christianity, a believer’s spiritual roots are not, of course, biological or historical. They are grounded in the person and faith of Jesus Christ. It is imperative that every believer know his true roots. Roots feed the plant and give it life.
The apostle Paul knew his roots: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). The Apostle was not in doubt as to who he was, neither was the world in question. His roots tied him inextricably to the cross of Christ, and he endured much suffering for the faith as a result.
Paul describes the Christian experience thus, “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:10,11). What a calling, and what a sense of identity!
It must be understood that there is a vast divide between merely knowing about Christ Jesus as compared to His living within one’s heart and life. Only by the latter does Christ manifest Himself through the believer. The life of Christ within establishes a Christian identity, in both perspectives of the title. Paul said, “…God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you” (Col. 1:27).
There were times when the children of Israel forgot their true identity. They were not so conscious of their roots. This left them adrift, except for the remnant that was truehearted. To them God said, “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged” (Isa. 51:1). The Lord was telling them that in that way, they would keep their bearing. There they would understand who they really were. Their calling to be a people separated unto God for a noble purpose would remain clear. God continued, “Look unto Abraham your father (the rock), and unto Sarah that bare you (the pit): for I called him alone…” (v. 2). This word of the Lord to consider our roots is applicable to God’s people today.
The roots and identity of the people of God in the gospel dispensation are in Christ Jesus and the cross through a faith like Abraham’s. In times of trouble and distress, in a day of shifting landscapes, the believer must again and again “look to the rock” whence he is hewn in order to know who he is. The blessed book of Hebrews contains a New Testament parallel to the above verses. We read, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:1,2).
Every person who has ever been saved found salvation by looking to Jesus crucified. There was no other way. The Lord’s sacrifice became a personal matter at that point. There the purpose and calling of life was established; the course was set. Together with this, there is always an identity acquired at Calvary. As time moves along, the maintenance of that Christian identity will require a continual looking unto that Rock from whence one was hewn. Without that focus and the broken and contrite spirit that results, we will lose our true identity and sense of who we are.
The New Testament speaks of being crucified with Christ. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:6). This, too, is an important part, deriving from Calvary, of a Christian’s identity. Without being crucified with Christ, one’s claim of being a Christian will not be plausible. Here is also the specter of deception. When the Lord was crucified, “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14). It is probable, implied by these words, that Jesus, the bleeding sacrifice, would not have been recognized by those closest to Him. When one is crucified with Him, the old man of sin is “destroyed” or is so marred that the individual obtains a new identity. The old former self-life is not recognizable, and he is a new person. He knows it, and the carnal realm knows it.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Such a person has new roots. Consequently, “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isa. 55:13).
From the Editorial, Messenger of Truth, Volume 106, Number 22