Identity and Semantics

In a message about identity I heard lately, I found a major problem in our usage of words that stands in the way of further development. Please let me know whether I am too picky.

We traditionally tend to define identity with our belonging to a tribe. Be that “a child of God,” “saved,” or “I am a follower of Christ”. All these are true for every single person that fulfils a set of criteria, but does not set anybody apart within that tribe.

Let us look at identity in the natural sense. We use a passport to prove our identity. Granted, the passport of all US citizens looks the same and therefore proves that this person belongs to that tribe. But the more interesting and important part are the features that set this person apart from all other US citizens such that we are capable of identifying the individual.

My identity with God of course is me being his child, his creation. That is the outside of the passport, and we have been talking about that for the last 2000 years. Luther made us aware that we all are allowed to personally use this passport, and Azusa Street and Wales have made it clear that there is an inside to this passport, finally understanding the individual gracings and therefore psychology and personality of everybody.

And still we only talk about our identity as a feature of belonging, not a feature of individuation.

We have beautifully established, again with the preliminary works of Luther and Zwingli, that there is nothing we have to do to be saved. We have never been separated from God but in our own understanding, and in Jesus, God gave us an example of how to live a life in the consciousness that we are one with the father, reflecting him no matter the consequences and thus fulfilling our purpose by living our individual identity.

If now everybody belongs to the tribe, we can abolish words like “saved” and return to the original meaning of zozo, which is to be made whole.

That renders the outside of the passport almost meaningless. Why make the belonging to a tribe the major feature if everybody does belong to that tribe? To focus on the unifying elements of identity will still be important, because we have to grasp that we are part of the all inclusive tribe, and that is a major discussion that is ongoing and has not proliferated the body of Christ yet, as most still search for what separates us instead.

But within churches that have accepted inclusivity, we can, ought, and should start to focus on the individuating inside of the passport, especially when talking about identity and grace.

When everybody is included no matter their lifestyle, actions and decisions, that is true grace. Apart from that, grace now is decoupled from the notion of being saved, keeping that salvation, and our place in heaven.

Grace now becomes a function of living our full potential and growing up. It becomes the fuel to our individuation. This is why Paul derived the word for spiritual gifts, charismata, from grace, charis. The charismata are one way we differentiate ourselves from others. Look at the gifts of the Spirit as spiritual talents and strengths, the gifts of Jesus as functions, and the gifts of the Father as personality traits and natural talents and strengths, and we have individuation at its best.

But why are we still focussing on the external, unifying characteristics of grace and identity? Because we still have not understood the concept of identity to its fullest under the new revelation.

OK, we are all saved. Salvation takes on a new meaning of becoming whole and mature. Thus, there is no duality of saved versus lost, but of those conscious of their salvation and those that are not. Those conscious of it just have access to tools like grace to mature in a more goal-oriented fashion.

We also have come to know that evil is not personified in Satan, but that the limits of good and evil run through the heart of every person. It is the fight of our desire to mirror and reflect God and our egoistic desire not to.

Psychology has named the two faculties self and ego. Self is what God created us to be, while ego is the survival strategy and persona we designed around it both because we did not want to reflect him and because we live in a world of troubles, or what we call a fallen world, full of the belief that we are separated from God.

As we externalized God because of our perceived separation, we needed to externalize evil as well, and thus, Satan was born. Does he exist? Of course, we give him existence and keep him alive as a cultural mindset.

But once we break through to the knowledge of self and ego, we have to change our view drastically.

In the old understanding, we become children of God the moment we accept Christ into our lives. We therefore were not prior to that moment. Now, some believe that we were as children, but coming of age into the age of responsibility (bar mitzvah), we lose our citizenship and take on another identity. Some do not give children that benefit and believe in original sin.

In that view, man is fallen and evil, needs forgiveness, and becomes a new creation once he accepts Christ.

We now have to remember that Paul did not have access to the notion of the individual and certainly knew nothing about personality. The Greek had some notion of it in academic circles, but attributed the difference of temperaments to the imbalance of body fluids, thus personality was a mere biological feature.

But even in that old image and interpretation, man becomes a new creation, but we do not believe it. We still focus on the old nature and come up with disciplines we need to follow such that we can decrease and he can increase.

And this introduces a terrible road block for our growth. Focussing on our old nature, identifying with our fallen nature keeps us bound to earth, if you want.

Let’s translate this to our new found vocabulary: if we believe that we have to diminish so that he can flourish in us, that we have to step aside and let God, our worldview becomes this:

We identify with the ego, and we still believe that the good in us is separate from us: Christ in us almost as a homunculus that has to take over. The Christ identity becomes a unifying feature, the new nature a homogenizing characteristic to come up with oneness in the sense of sameness. We have to become Christ-like, with Christ being that separate entity from us. Most even understand Christ as equivalent with Jesus, and thus we try to become like Jesus. To become like a man means to take on his personality.

Gone is all the new revelation by Luther, Zwingli, Azusa Street and Wales.

Paul tells us, and that seems to undergird the view I just painted: “No longer live I but Christ through/in me.”

OK, we have to do some work here. Christ is not Jesus’ family name. Christ was his function as the anointed one, but Paul shows us that we are in Christ. We saw above that all humans, even the whole creation are in Christ. Paul goes on to tell us about Christ: Jesus the head, and we the body. We are Christ. Jesus tells us that we are one with him as he is one with the father. I am.

We can use the psychological terms to illustrate that: our Self, or as Richard Rohr calls it, our True Self is Christ, the anointed mirror reflection of the father we were created to be individually. Why individually? Again, Paul tells us that there is one body, but the members are different. We all reflect another facet of the Father. The Ego is the part that refuses to reflect the Father, and the Superego is the old interpretation that comes up with all the musts, do’s and don’ts to belong.

So Paul tells us: “no longer lives the Ego, but my True Self shines through”. Both Paul and Goethe tell us that, since we have been imprinted for so long by our ego, it is a fight: “Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast.” One draws me to the good, and the other draws me to do evil. We today define those souls as True Self and Ego.

If we now interpret John the Baptist’s word that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) as a recipe to grow into a Christ-like nature, we in the old understanding keep on identifying ourselves with the old nature, the Ego.

To make that clear: if I interpret that verse like this, undergirded with the old interpretation of Paul, I identify with my fallen nature, or what we now call Ego.

As long as I do so, I will battle and struggle. I will need discipline and disciplines to overcome. I will use grace to do what was never mine to do: to kill the Ego, and therefore by extension of what we just said, kill my identity. I must decrease.

It is therefore paramount to identify with the True Self, this beautifully and uniquely made individual in unity, this member of the Christ.

John the Baptist talked about his ministry, his function: his function as the last representative of the old covenant came to an end. He did not give us a recipe on how to lose our identity and blend into the amalgamation of the Christ. Nor did he give us a battle plan to fight the evil with discipline drawing from grace.

Paul tells us that we have the mind of Christ and that we are to change our thinking. In these two words we recognise both the reality of us being Christ in our True Self, and the work we have to do to accept that and re-imprint ourselves with this reality that is not new, just new to us. Just start to think different.

To identify with the ego prevents exactly that. To advice people to use grace to survive in a fallen world, to design disciplines so we can survive and maybe at times even conquer, prevents us from thinking different.

We behave just like the disciples on the boat when Jesus was asleep. We do not recognize that we are. We still want Jesus to do it through grace.

Teaching the old view using the old vocabulary prevents growth and maturity and is an egoistical teaching of the Superego to strengthen the Ego even.

When will we stop to keep our people bound to earth and help them to be what they already are?

Published

By Ralph Rickenbach

Accompanyist | Pastor in Exile | Iconoclast — I am a Gallup certified CliftonStrengths coach and a Spiral Dynamics practitioner.