A New Identity
John really enjoyed his two pets, a bird and a cat. He loved to let the bird out of the cage while he
was at home but inevitably the cat would move toward the bird and the bird would fly through the
house to get away from the cat, knocking over things and flying into walls. John decided to teach the
bird to run away from the cat rather than fly away. He bought the bird some books on running and
he found the bird an accountability partner to help him make the choice to run instead of the choice
to fly. He devised various rewards and punishments to shame and guilt the bird when he flew and to
praise and reward the bird when he walked. Surprisingly John did see progress and a modicum of
success but overall the bird would still fly away from the cat more often than not.
I know that is a silly story but it reminds me of some people I know who have spent years trying to
change their behavior or the behavior of someone they love. The bird flies because it is a bird.
In order to change the behavior, you would need to change the identity. No amount of study,
accountability, shame, punishment, reward or coaxing is going to keep a bird from flying and the same is true for trying to keep a sinner from sinning. A change of identity is what is needed.
And that is what God has done. He has given us a whole new identity. The message of the new covenant is that “anyone who is in Christ is a new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17). Jesus said it this way, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit” (John 3:6). We must be born again, we must receive a new identity. The new birth is a spiritual birth. Because of the death of Christ which fully paid for sin, the Spirit of God can now come and reside in us, regenerating our dead spirit and bringing it to life. We are no longer identified by our flesh but now by the Spirit that lives within us so that we are called “the children of God” (I John 3:1).
Through this new spiritual identity, we have been given “everything we need for life and godliness” and have the privilege to “participate in the divine nature” (II Peter 1:3-4). The behaviors that we could not overcome in our flesh can be overcome as we choose to accept our new identity by faith and live out of that identity, adding to our faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (II Peter 1:5-7). This puts a whole new perspective on the many commands of the New Testament. These are not strategies to change our behavior but examples of what it looks like to live out of our new spiritual identity by faith!
So the transformation of our lives begins when we receive this gift of a new identity (grace) and then believe it is who we really are (faith), choosing to live it out in our actions, attitudes and words (works). This is choosing life!