Saturday, January 11, 2014

Finding Our Identity in Christ

Last week, I warned against being defined by your sexual orientation or history. This raises a central issue, going far beyond sexual orientation: how do we define ourselves? We live in a world with a wealth of competing identities, and it's easy to define ourselves by something incidental, or at least, something non-central. For example, are you a Republican (or whatever) who happens to be Catholic, or a Catholic who happens to be a Republican? For that matter, are you an American who happens to be Catholic, or a Catholic who happens to be an American? When Catholicism sits uneasily with your political party, or the national ethos or zeitgeist, what wins out? What description best captures who you really are?

Wolf Traut, The Baptism of Christ with Donor Portrait
of a Kneeling Cistercian Monk
(1517)
This question of identity runs throughout the New Testament, as people try to figure out what to make of Jesus of Nazareth. How should we understand who He is? The Father gives the definitive answer in His Baptism: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17; see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). The Father repeats this assessment of the Son at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). So even with Jesus Christ, His identity is founded in being the Son of the Father.

The devil sets out immediately after the Baptism of Christ, seeking to undermine Jesus' identity. We see this clearly in the temptations in the desert. The devil's opening challenge is: “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3). At the top of the Temple in Jerusalem, he continues this theme: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here” (Luke 4:9). This isn't about bread or miracles. It's about the Son's trust in the Father, and His trust in His own Sonship. Will Jesus try to save Himself? Or will He trust that He is the Son of God, and will be taken care of by the Father?

Obviously, Satan fails to get Christ to lose confidence in the Father, or to lose confidence in His Sonship. But Satan continues to pester Him, right up until the Cross, where the onlookers sneer, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40), a sentiment echoed by the chief priests and elders: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:43).

But Christ resolutely holds to His identity as the Son of the Father. This is a model for us, “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). This is the identity that should be central, and the identity that we should cling to.

There's a slightly different way of approaching this, by considering a different point in the Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20. We generally consider this passage for its implications for the papacy, since it's here that Christ declares that He will build His Church upon Peter. But that blessing arises out of an important discussion on the identity of Christ. When Christ asks, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15), Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16). This answer is inspired, literally (Christ says as much in Mt. 16:17). And it should be a model for us, since we have been baptized into Christ (Galatians 3:27). If that's the case, then if I ask, “But who do you say that you are?” you should answer confidently: “I am a Christian, a child of the living God.”

That's your most central identity, because that's who God made you to be.

5 comments:

  1. If that's the case, then if I ask, “But who do you say that you are?” you should answer confidently: “I am a Christian, a child of the living God.” That's your most central identity, because that's who God made you to be.

    Love it.

    ~ Country Girl's Daybook
    Recently posted: Get your backpacks ready... Some essentials for the March for Life: http://bit.ly/1gmOgym

    ReplyDelete
  2. Pope Benedict XV told us to call our own selves Christian Catholics.

    I am a Christian who follows Jesus in the Church He established

    ReplyDelete
  3. 22. The success of every society of men, for whatever purpose it is formed, is bound up with the harmony of the members in the interests of the common cause. Hence We must devote Our earnest endeavours to appease dissension and strife, of whatever character, amongst Catholics, and to prevent new dissensions arising, so that there may be unity of ideas and of action amongst all. The enemies of God and of the Church are perfectly well aware that any internal quarrel amongst Catholics is a real victory for them. Hence it is their usual practice when they see Catholics strongly united, to endeavour by cleverly sowing the seeds of discord, to break up that union. And would that the result had not frequently justified their hopes, to the great detriment of the interests of religion! Hence, therefore, whenever legitimate authority has once given a clear command, let no one transgress that command, because it does not happen to commend itself to him; but let each one subject his own opinion to the authority of him who is his superior, and obey him as a matter of conscience. Again, let no private individual, whether in books or in the press, or in public speeches, take upon himself the position of an authoritative teacher in the Church. All know to whom the teaching authority of the Church has been given by God: he, then, possesses a perfect right to speak as he wishes and when he thinks it opportune. The duty of others is to hearken to him reverently when he speaks and to carry out what he says.

    23. As regards matters in which without harm to faith or discipline-in the absence of any authoritative intervention of the Apostolic See- there is room for divergent opinions, it is clearly the right of everyone to express and defend his own opinion. But in such discussions no expressions should be used which might constitute serious breaches of charity; let each one freely defend his own opinion, but let it be done with due moderation, so that no one should consider himself entitled to affix on those who merely do not agree with his ideas the stigma of disloyalty to faith or to discipline.

    24. It is, moreover, Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as "profane novelties of words," out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: "This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved" (Athanas. Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim "Christian is my name and Catholic my surname," only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sorry. I forgot to add link

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xv/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xv_enc_01111914_ad-beatissimi-apostolorum_en.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. Any good books you recommend on strengthening that identity on being a son of God?

    ReplyDelete