The Magnetic Draw to Change
Do you know that you have—and are—a new identity in Christ? I mean…do you really know?
To be sure, we all have to deal with our pasts from day to day—in how our pasts drive how we treat one another, how we do and do not respect our loved ones, and how we react to our children. In our character defects, the past plagues us. In our suffering, the past can haunt us. After all, the past is internalized within us. The past—our memories—make us who we have been and who we now are. We and our pasts are one.
Our past is rooted “in Adam.” As the author of Exodus notes, the sins of the parents just continue to be passed down through the generations. But the apostle Paul teaches us something that is both utterly radical and incredulous in the 21st century: that we are so tightly woven into Christ by simple faith that, if you and I were to die tonight, we’d nevertheless be re-created physically someday when Christ comes back. It’s called the resurrection from the dead. Many wrongly believe that the resurrection from the dead means that our spirit goes to heaven after we die—where we live eternally. That’s not what the apostles teach us. Instead, standing on the platform of Jesus’ own physical resurrection, the apostles assert the audacious claim that we—and our physical universe—will be made new. Our resurrected self will be raised bodily without sin and evil, no longer tied to the past, for the universe will have been renovated so that evil no longer exists. The apostle John tells us that in that new universe, there also will be no more crying for there will be no more suffering. Both the apostles Paul and John tell us that in our new universe there will be no more death. The trifecta of evil, suffering, and death will finally be destroyed. That is when Jesus will be crowned King of Kings and Lord of Lords—the One who brings the whole creation back to our Father. What a panoramic vision. That, my dear friends “in Christ,” is our new identity.
Your new identity, and mine, doesn’t have to wait for the final resurrection and the full renovation of our universe however. Symbolized in our baptism, it begins now. That’s why the apostle Paul encourages us to crucify the old nature—our identity rooted in the sins of the past—and put on the new nature. That’s why he calls us to walk in the Spirit, renew our minds, put away childish perspectives of Jesus and the world, and struggle to be transformed from one degree of glory to another into the image of Jesus Christ. He wants us to do that not because God demands it. Not because we’re going to be punished if we don’t. And not because we will spend time in purgatory after we die for the sins we commit now. But because that’s who we now are!
That was the apostle Paul’s appeal to the Christians at the church in Corinth. They had gone backwards to abusing alcohol and incestuous behavior that was considered outrageous by even “pagan” standards of that day. And it was the apostle Peter’s appeal as well to those who acted as if they had forgotten their salvation. Christians then, and we today, were called to no longer consider Christ or ourselves from a human point of view. In fact, nothing in life should be considered from a human point of view anymore, not since Jesus came back to life. That’s why the apostle Paul said we should give thanks in everything…not for everything but in everything. How could we do that—how can we give thanks when we suffer—unless we were to have a radically different take on the game of life.
The game of life in Christ is about love and endurance—and both require character. Character building requires the hard work of crucifying sin and learning the skills to love as exemplified in the fruits of the Spirit. We are called to attain such skills by dealing with both our internalized sin and our circumstantial suffering. That’s what that dear woman whose story of rape I shared in the last article did.
It is this panoramic vision of our new identity that not only draws us forward into the future but also becomes the driving force to beat up on evil within ourselves and our families. It is this futuristic vision that captivates our imaginations and drives our days through tough times, transforming suffering into wisdom and character. Consequently, embarking on the King David Search to face our suffering and trauma; editing the movie within; embracing our emotional pain by sobbing; and forging character by changing the way we treat those around us is all in the service of actualizing our new identity. It is actualizing it in this life…an identity that is already ours in the resurrected Jesus, though hidden with him in the heavenlies.
Besides, what else are you going to do with your time here? Truly, what are the options?
A frenetic, unreflective life?
Drinking? Promiscuity? Drugging? Unresolved anger? Hatred? Insidious bitterness?
Depression as a cover for unshed tears of disillusionment with God? Anxiety as a retreat from our suffering? Acting out our character flaws year after mindless year?
These belong to the old way.
Frank Barbehenn is an expert on integrating psychology with faith. He is the author of Faith of a Father: from Torment to Trust—Forging Our New Identity in Christ. This book has received industry recognitions including being an International Illumination Book Award Winner and an International Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist.
Frank is a licensed psychologist in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and has been in practice for 35 years. He specializes in relationship and trauma therapy. He also trained in theology. He is a Clinical Fellow with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a Fellow with the American Psychotherapy Association.
He is an elder at First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, Pa. and has been on the Permanent Judicial Committee of his Presbytery. He has been a middle school and high school teacher, as well as adjunct faculty in psychology at the college level. He has led seminars, taught Adult Education, year-long discipleship programs, and led church committees.
Frank has been married for forty-three years and is a father of three——Paul, Matt, and Kristen——and the proud grandfather of five (as of this writing): Dylan, Leah, Jacob, Hannah, and Sarah. He loves to sail and play golf, along with launching model rockets with his grandchildren and chasing them around the house as the “Grampy Monster.”
Finally, Frank is the survivor of multiple traumas, including emotional trauma at the hands of his own parents, beginning in infancy.
Sponsored by Frank Barbehenn