In our modern world of big name brands, instantly recognizable movie stars, and the overall popularity of the “famous” vibe, everyone is hungry for an admired identity. Yet, are we willing – as Christians – to drop all of our worldly identities we so cherish, and adopt and protect the one identity that is more important than life itself?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-17, then join me for a discussion of its important themes!
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
What is a Christian?
What do we mean by the word Christian? It is a word that often gets thrown around in many circles, without anyone really stopping to think about its origin, worth, or true Biblical meaning. After all, many in the decidedly secular realm have claimed to be “Christian” – Sports stars, music legends, and political giants. Yet, the haze around its definition is not just a modern problem. Christian author C.S. Lewis addressed this issue over seventy years ago in his book, Mere Christianity.
He compares the word “gentleman” with the word “Christian”, and writes that “gentleman” used to be a merely objective word; based only on facts such as wealth and family. Used in context, it was neither an insult or a compliment, for it did not include the speakers opinion at all. But, time has morphed its definition.
“Gentleman” is now a subjective word that refers mainly to one’s behavior. Unfortunately, its definition is sufficiently diluted because of this, and is utterly worthless as a word. This is because the word depends merely on the speaker’s opinion. A man is a gentleman only in the eyes of the speaker, for the word gentleman is no longer based on objective facts.
The word “Christian” is experiencing the same decay. As Lewis states,
Now if once we allow people to start spiritualizing and refining, or as they might say “deepening”, the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the Spirit of Christ … And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to be a very useful word.
Therefore, C.S. Lewis concludes that we must “stick to the original, obvious meaning”. What is that? Well, the term “Christian” was first used in Acts 11:26, describing the disciples at Antioch.
So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.
Taking the name of Christ
The verb in that last sentence, Chrematizo, means literally “to take the name of”. Thus, the original definition of Christian was anyone who agreed to accept the name of Christ. Yet, in those times accepting the name of Christ was by no means a popular or admired identity. Admitting that you followed Christ often resulted in refusal, mocking, and even death. This is perhaps why the definition is so different today.
In the 21st century, claiming to be Christian rarely entails any of the suffering that original Christians endured. In fact, most Christians receive a plethora of youth groups, churches, and conventions to choose from upon accepting Christ. These amenities are not necessarily bad, but one must realize that they are not the final goal.
Unfortunately, they make it more difficult to discern those who would adopt the name of Christ – even if that meant death – from those who are merely along for the adrenaline rush. Would you be among those that would accept Christ’s identity, even if that meant abandoning acceptance from the popular crowd?
1 Corinthians 1:4-9
The Power Behind Your Christian Identity
Even though embracing Christ’s teachings may result in hardships, the power and fulfillment we receive from that identity is incomprehensible.
Most people do not realize the power behind a Christian identity. Many instead choose to identify as ” an optimist”, or ” a church-goer”, or “open-minded”. Although popular, these identities do nothing to conquer human nature. Ever since the beginning of time, the “knowledge is power” motto has flourished. People believe that just because they recognize their problems, or even talk it out with others, they can prevent them from ruining their lives. But, in spiritual battles of the soul, knowledge is not power. Our human sin can only be suppressed by a more powerful spirit: Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 is especially relevant to this issue:
For in Him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Isn’t it encouraging to know that with your Christian identity you don’t lack any spiritual gift? These gifts are incredibly powerful, because, unlike other gifts such as playing an instrument, speaking, or winning a game, these gifts can combat our deepest rooted struggles and sins. Besides, it is not your own power that sustains you, but God who “will keep you strong to the end”, because He is faithful.
1 Corinthians 1: 10-17
The Importance of Dropping All Other Identities (and why they are hurting your REAL identity)
Everyone identifies with some minor identity, whether it be a dancer, or a cheerleader, or a book nerd, or a geek, or a swimmer, or a Hobbit fan. This is a fundamental part of being human. Have you ever stopped to think about WHY we all yearn for an identity?
It is interesting to note that every single one of these mini “identities” exist outside of ourselves, and are given value by an external group. What I mean is, we all want to be identified with a popular fad, person, or thing. It gives us worth. Another reason we strive to develop an identity it gives us a sense of who we are and what makes us different from everyone else. We want to identify with something that is popular enough to give us worth, but rare enough to make us different.
The problem with this scenario is that these are all false identities. Their worth is prescribed by culture, not God. Furthermore, it hinders our Christian walk. Here are two reasons why we should avoid identifying with anything or anyone other than Christ:
1.It tempts us to substitute our faith for that mistaken identity
C.S. Lewis’ novel The Screwtape Letters addresses this concern in chapter 25. For those of you who are not familiar with Screwtape Letters, they are a set of imagined correspondences between the devil Screwtape and his pupil and nephew Wormwood, from the devil’s perspective. On the thread of false identities, Screwtape advises Wormwood,
What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know – Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some fashion with a Christian coloring.
This is a very insightful look at why we shouldn’t submit to the temptation to be a “Christian And…”, although it may be more popular.
2. It may cause others to stumble in their walk
This is one of the main conflicts we see in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. In the church, everyone had a different identity. Some preferred to identify with Apollos, some with Peter, some with Paul, and still others with Christ. This resulted in needless arguments, that only worked to divide the church in her beliefs.
At the root of their quarrels was no theological issue, just merely preferences that were far less important than their real identity. This leads Paul to ask,
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? […] For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross be emptied of its power.
When we identify ourselves with other identities, we are diminishing and restricting Christ’s power. We are limiting the power that we can experience when we yearn for human admiration over God’s approval. If we are too cowardly to abandon all identities in order to be called merely Christians, we can never experience the thrill of not lacking any spiritual gift.
Besides, did J.R.R. Tolkien die for you? What did dance ever sacrifice for you? What about books? Did they ever die for you?
And yet, we daily give them our affections by identifying with them before we identify with God. Jesus Christ DID die for you, and for that he deserves our hearts, souls, and lives. We should be willing to abandon our mistaken identities to claim the one that really matters: the name of Christ.
Are you ready to say that you aren’t a “Christian And…” , but are merely Christian? What types of Christians have you observed?