I have no idea how many books I have read over the years — nor, if I am honest, can I remember all that much of what they contained. But there are a few books, and a few sentences in those books, that have lodged so deeply in my heart and mind that I can honestly say they have shaped my life in ways I can’t begin to describe.
One of those sentences is found in Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s expositions of Ephesians 1, God’s Ultimate Purpose. In those sermons, Lloyd-Jones repeatedly reminded his hearers, and then his readers like me, that “our greatest need is to become who we already are in Christ.” That single sentence changed everything for me as it opened up a whole new world of self-understanding.
The Truth That Anchors Us
The idea that I should be who I already am in Christ laid an entire foundation for my identity and constructed a pathway to security, significance, and satisfaction. It saved me no end of pain and confusion in my walk with the Lord Jesus Christ and has made me passionate to help new Christians discover their real identity in Christ. This desire also spilled over into a small book, Need to Know, which was thirty years in the making.
“Knowing ourselves through the gospel is just about the most practical, most necessary truth there is for flourishing in our messy world.”
When people come to new life in Christ, our first instinct is to teach them to do. To read the Bible, attend church, become part of a small group, give, and so on. And of course, all these things are important. But there is a prior step. If we are to negotiate living for Christ in all the muck of life, if we are to cope with the ups and downs of our emotions, and the whims of circumstance, and the sheer pressure of our human brokenness, then the first step is to make sure that we know who we are as children of God, as those who have been united to the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is the truth that will enable us to get out of bed in the morning and face the delight and despair of our world. This is the truth that will enable us to cope with success and failure without missing a step. This is the truth that will set us up to walk humbly and confidently with Christ through the day, and enable us to reflect on the day that has passed with repentance and faith, and to go to sleep resting in the peace that flows from God’s forgiveness. Knowing ourselves through the gospel is just about the most practical, most necessary truth there is for flourishing in our messy world.
Living as Those Who Know God
The Bible says over and over again that we have been brought to new life in Christ, but are still works in progress — still scarred and influenced by sin, although not controlled by it. We have already been changed — our true selves are now bound up in Christ (Colossians 3:4) — but we still need to be finished. This is why we need to become who we already are. The closing verses of John’s first letter state this truth as powerfully as any part of Scripture:
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:18–20)
“Our identity in Christ is one of those critical truths that, if grasped early in our Christian life, will avert all kinds of problems and issues later on.”
Who are we? John announces to us that as those who have believed the gospel of God, we have been born of God. We are from (or perhaps better, of) God. Quoting Jeremiah 31:34, John says we have been given understanding, which flows from our new covenant hearts and minds, so that we are now people who know God. And because of that, we need to make a break from sin and constantly put it to death.
This means that from the very beginning of our Christian lives, we need to grasp the fact that we are both justified and enduringly sinful, forgiven yet flawed, utterly secure yet left with much work to do, as we press on to that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of us (Philippians 3:12).
Be Who You Already Are
The beautiful, new-covenant, satisfying, gospel-shaped life to which we have been introduced in Christ is the only life worth living. That’s why John adds this note to close his letter: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). There is a clear choice: live with the God of the gospel, realizing that we are new people who are being transformed by the gospel, or opt for the emptiness of idolatry. Knowing who we are in Christ enables us to make that choice day after day for our whole lives.
One of my great concerns is seeing new Christians well-grounded in the gospel. I know that often this is a time-critical process, as from a human perspective, there is a real risk of the seeds being snatched away rather than taking root (Mark 4:4).
Our identity in Christ is one of those critical truths that, if grasped early in our Christian life, will avert all kinds of problems and issues later on. In Christ, we get to know the God of the gospel, Father, Son, and Spirit. He is the God who speaks to us — not least about ourselves. For in the gospel, God tells us that we are already his, secure in Christ, and that having set us free from the power of sin, he is utterly committed to transforming still sinful people like us into the likeness of Jesus. Therefore, we can become who we already are.