In Case You Have Forgotten, Your Identity Is In Christ

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 30, 2:1-2, 3:21-23

These past two weeks I have been in St. Louis for my continuing education classes.  While in St. Louis, several of my other classmates and I decided to take in a St. Louis Cardinals game.  So, we ventured out. 

At the game I decided to get a hamburger and fries.  While standing in line I started visited with a gal in her mid to late 70’s.  I asked her how the Cardinals were doing.  She responded, “Well, we haven’t been doing too well lately.  We’ve lost several games that we should’ve had.”  Notice how she answered the question.  She said, we haven’t…”  As I continued to visit with her, she shared with me about the players and

talked about them as if they were her own grandchildren.  In response to her sharing I said, “It sounds to me that you are a die-hard fan.”  She smiled and said, “Yes,

I am.  Can I show you something?”  I said, “Yes.”  She then rolled up her right pant leg and showed me a red cardinal tattoo that she got when she turned 70.  It was really cute to see! 

There was no doubt about it that this gal’s identity was wrapped up in the St. Louis Cardinals.  She talked about the Cardinals in the third person plural, “we.”  She had a tattoo which was a mark of loyalty.  When asked how the Cardinals were doing, she exhibited a sense of depression, almost remorse over the lost games.  She was grafted into the Cardinals narrative, story if you will.  Her family reference, her loyalty and her emotions were joined to the Cardinals.  Her identity was certainly found in, with and under the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Club.  Biblically speaking we could say that she was a disciple, a follower, of the Cardinals.  Even though she was a cute grandmother, she was a diehard fan who was there for the team.  Behind her cuteness though, I am certain that there was a bold woman who would stand up to any other baseball team or fan confessing, "The Cardinals are the best team in baseball!"   

During the time of Paul and especially in the city of Corinth students would ascribe and identify themselves with certain secular teachers.  It wasn’t uncommon for students to select a Sophist.  A Sophist was basically a teacher who used philosophy and rhetoric to help instruct his students, so that they might learn and grow in order to acquire their full potential.  People became disciples of these Sophist Teachers. 

Well, what would happen is that students would develop a loyalty to their teachers.  It makes sense for them to do so.  For a student to devote his energy, time, money and intellect to a teacher, he would obviously develop loyalty.  We could essentially say that the student’s identity was wrapped up in his teacher and what he studied.  He was essentially a disciple of his teacher.

Today, as we contemplate the issue of identity I would like to ask you, 

“Where is your identity found? Who are you? Where is your loyalty?  What are you a disciple of?”  
Let me give you a hand in answering these questions with several easy answers.  Obviously most of you here today would classify yourselves as a human.  I hope! J  Secondly, we would say that we are American humans.  We live in the United States which makes us Americans.  Now, this is where we might see some division in our midst.  In other words, our identity may begin to look different than those next to us when we begin asking questions like the following: “What state were you born in?  Are you male or female?  Are you young or old?  Etc…”   Inevitably what can happen is that we get wrapped up into our own individualistic stories that define our own individualistic identity and thus differences emerge.  

My friends, the need for an identity is so very important for each of us.  To know who we are and to know our story is so extremely important.  I recently watched a movie where a woman was in a car accident and lost her memory, forgot who she was.  She forgot that she was married; she forgot her passions and who she was. The effects of this were devastating upon her and her loved ones. 

In our selected passages today, conflict had erupted in the church of Corinth.  The culture (i.e. ethos) of the world began to rule the Corinthian Church and thus destroying the essence of the church’s identity.  More specifically, the tactics, attitudes and competitive identity within the Corinthian culture began to ruin true Christian fellowship in the church. 

As I have already shared with you, the culture of Corinth was one in which students would follow certain teachers.  However, the atmosphere of the day was one in which there was tremendous competition between teachers, much like the playful competition between students of the Bozeman Bobcats and the Missoula Grizzles.  There was competition between the teachers where they would shout and literally, “verbally abuse,” each other in front of the crowds in order to gain a competitive edge over each other.  To make things worse the students only intensified the competition.  You have heard me quote the African proverb before that when the, “teacher walks and peas, that the student runs and peas.”  Well, it was certainly the case in Corinth.  For example, students came into contact with competitive teachers and listened to each and every word.  When the enemy teacher would mess up some wording, "BAM!," the students would jump all over him.  In fact it is reported that a student ridiculed an opposing teacher so bad that the students of the opposing teacher had their slave thrash the critical vocal student, and they actually killed him.

It may be shocking for us to hear this.  We may find it crazy to believe that they reacted this serious.  However, think about this for a moment.  These students had loyalty toward their teacher.   Their identity was wrapped up in what they were learning and applying.  It was culturally acceptable to show antagonism towards other teachers and students.  The reason being, this was showing loyalty.  This is what a disciple would do and should do.
It is no different for you and me today.  There is a constant need for us to be justified, for us to be right.  Think about it, we become edgy and defensive when what we follow and what we derive our worth from is undercut or discredited.  When our family, friends, school, city, and so forth are criticized, we rise up to defend with loyalty.  When our identity is threatened we fight!

Now, what makes this even more detrimental is when this attitude enters the church.  In the opening parts of 1 Corinthians Paul is addressing the Corinthians that they were acting, walking and living like the world.  They were puffed up, divided into camps, and fighting like the teachers and students of Corinth.  Within the church parishioners were denigrating each other, slamming each other and trying to take the position of authority.  Can you hear the tension, “I belong to Paul.  I belong to Apollos.  Yeah, but ‘I’ belong to ‘Christ.’”  So how is it for you today, for us as a church?

My friends, obviously we are not immune from these types of actions and attitudes.  It seems as if there are thousands of labels in which we can define ourselves.  While labels are helpful for us in order to understand life and the way things work, when it comes to the church there are not 10 labels, nor even 5 but just 1 label.  In other words, it is sinful when we power posture against each other through slander, hate and backbiting.  I think we can all agree with that the previous actions are certainly uncalled for, especially in the church.  However, there is a much deeper issue for us to understand in this text.  The reason why the actions of the Corinthians were so detrimental was that they were essentially denying that they belonged to Jesus.  It was as if they had forgotten their identity, who they were; Christians. 

My friends, our Christian fellowship in the church is around and in Christ.  Christ isn’t fragmented into our own stories.  In other words, we don't divide Christ up and fit him into our personal identities.  Rather we are unified into His story. 

When I look out at all of you I don’t see farmers, ranchers, business men, house wives, students, Montanans, North Dakotans, oil workers, landmen, bankers, secretaries, grandmas, grandpas, Bobcats, Grizzles, etc…  No, I see a church, the church of God located here in Sidney, MT!  I see people who have been called together into Christ.  I see various stories and journeys of life finding their rest and eternal identity in the Christ. 

The problem with all of the labels that Corinth had and the labels/groups that we have for each other is that in the church they don’t apply.  Our identity as Christians is found nowhere else except Christ!  Lest we forget that Christ died for us and gifted us the forgiveness of sins!  What else can make that claim for you?  Your identity, who you are, is a child of God through Jesus Christ.  In Christ, your sins have been forgiven; you are declared righteous, a saint.  This is your identity!  This is where you have worth.  God loved you.  He chose you.  Jesus died for you.  You have been baptized into the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Don't forget who you are my friends!

Furthermore, because our identity is in Christ, there is no division in this church, for we are one, even though in the eyes of the world we are not.  Because our identity, is in Christ we are citizens of the Kingdom of God not darkness.  Because our identity is in Christ, we get to love one another even though we may be different.  Because our identity is in Christ, we don’t have to defend, trump, or compete with each other’s own individualistic identities.    Because we are in Christ, you and I have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm.  This means that there is nothing to compare or compete over, for you lack nothing in Christ and your Christian brother and sister doesn’t either. 

Simply put, the Christ's church is different from the world.  In the world, a person has to find their identity in something of man and thus preserve and defend their identity from all competing identities.  Not for you and not for this church body!  You are not identified by the world nor the things of man, but by Christ.  And then in this identity as a Christian you are freed to love each other in the vocation that God has placed you in.  As a Christian you get to love your family, serve your neighbor in your job and so forth.

You belong to Jesus my friends.  We belong to Christ.  Our identity, worth, and story is found in Christ and Him crucified for us.  We rest and boast in Him together, in community.