I wonder if we believers give enough thought to our identity in Christ. Though we cognitively assent to our justification by grace alone in Christ alone, I wonder if that truth has taken up residence in our hearts. Our fears often get the best of us. We are burdened by the judgments of others, threatened by their words. Our own thoughts may accuse us as well, telling us that we are somehow less than others, so we try to hide. Even if we claim to be Christian, we imagine God shaking His head in disappointment at how messed up we are.
The belief that we are not enough affects how we view ourselves and how we relate with others. Because we don't feel the freedom of justification, we respond in relationally distancing ways. Some of us are conflict avoiders. When interpersonal difficulties and conflict arise, we seek escape, preferring to sidestep--and even flee--any relational discomfort. Others of us are fighters. When we face criticism or strife, we fight back with anger, sarcasm, or blame-casting. In both cases, fight or flight, we look for ways to justify ourselves and our responses.
Christians have another option open to them. We are not limited to fight and flight; we have the option of living out our freedom in Christ. Romans 8:1 reminds us that for those who are in Christ, there is no more condemnation. We are fully approved by God and nothing can take that away. Because of our union with Christ, the Father is able to look at us and say, "That's my boy. That's my girl. I am so pleased with that one." Because of Jesus's finished work, we no longer have to avoid conflict with others. We don't have to resort to sarcasm, or anger, or attack, or deception even when we are being treated poorly. We don't have to respond to haughtiness with anger; nor do we have to respond to anger with haughtiness. We can live with true other-centeredness because we have already been set free in Christ--radically free.
The apostle Paul knew this freedom. He told the Corinthians, "It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I don't even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me" (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). How was he able to take comfort in the fact that it was God who judged him? Because he knew that the judgment had already taken place and that Jesus bore the entire penalty for his sins and failures. In other words, he was free--gloriously free.
What would our relationships look like if our identity in Christ truly took hold of us? Perhaps we would show a sacred curiosity about others, entering their suffering and their celebration without feeling threatened. Perhaps we could serve others with our words and our works without grumbling about their apparent lack of appreciation. Perhaps we would address conflict humbly and directly without fear of retribution because we know who we are. Perhaps we wouldn't feel the need to justify ourselves based on our education, our possessions, our appearance, or anything else because we are already fully justified in Christ. Perhaps we would not feel the need to make too much or too little of ourselves. We could simply rest in the knowledge that we are Christ's.
Live as people who are free. -1 Peter 2:16
If you are interested in exploring this concept more deeply, consider Tim Keller's brief, but excellent, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness.