[Listen to post here.]
~ ~ ~
We will continue now to explore what may be the biggest word in the New Testament: “IN”. So far we have considered the words,“intimacy“ and “incorporation“ as they relate to the Church being “IN” CHRIST. We will now consider a third word in relation to it, “identity”.
Baptized into Christ
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28
“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” Colossians 3:11
“So from now on I regard now one from a worldly point of view, though I once viewed Christ this way, I do so no longer. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. All things are of God…” 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
What a tremendous thing has happened to us through our baptism into Christ. Everything that marked and identified our former life has been superseded by a new reality and identity. Racial, religious, social, gender, and cultural distinctions have been swallowed up by one, new, all-encompassing, transcendent identity, CHRIST!
Baptized Into the Name of Christ
Our baptism into Christ not only identifies us with His Person in His life, death, burial and resurrection, it also identifies us with His Name, His Identity. In the book of Acts, Luke alternately uses two Greek words when speaking of the believers being “baptized in the name of Jesus”, “en” and “eis”. “En” means, “in”, “by” and/or “through”. This speaks of our being baptized in, by and through the authority of the Name of Jesus. “Eis”, however, means “into”. We have not only been baptized in, by and through the authority of the Name of Jesus, we have also been baptized into the Name of Jesus as that in which we have become immersed. To be baptized into Christ is to be immersed into both His Person and His Name, for He and his Name are one. If we have been clothed with Christ, then we have been clothed with His Name, His Identity. If we have been filled with Christ, then we have been filled with His Name, His Identity. We are immersed in and saturated with His Name, the Name above every name, as our “new creation” Identity. “CHRIST is all…” Paul says.
Loosing Our Worldly Labels
In the illustrative story that started off these meditations on the preposition “IN”, I wrote about the remnants of a beach party, in particular some empty liquor bottles, that were carried out to sea by the rising tide and crashing waves of the ocean. It ended..
“As the sun continues to rise, the debris slowly makes its way out past the crashing surf to where it is picked up by a rip tide that carries it swiftly out into the swelling, wide open ocean. In the chop of the rip tide, the bottles continue to fill with water until, one by one, they plunge beneath the surface and silently glide down into the depths. On their journey downward, the labels adhered to them, having been soaked and saturated in the salty seawater, loosen and gracefully slip off. Now the bottles come to rest in the depths of the ocean as simple, glass containers, filled with, and forever a part of, the vast, wide ocean that surrounds them.”
This is a picture of our baptism into Christ and into His Name. We were once like these emptied, abandoned, liquor bottles. We bore the labels of the world we belonged to, and were identified by that which once filled us. As the Sun rose, however, the tide of God’s grace moved closer and closer until waves of mercy swept in, picked us up and carried us off into the expanse of God’s great wide Ocean. We were filled to the brim with the living water that surrounded us and we plunged into the depths of Jesus Christ. As a result, the adhered labels of our former life loosened and washed away. Now we are simply innocent, unlabeled vessels, identified solely by the “Ocean” in which we have come to rest and with which we are now filled. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. We are His, and we are called by His Name.
Loosing our Religious Labels
After being baptized into Christ and into His Name, however, many believers, ironically, put off one set of labels only to take on another, a religious set. Although these religious labels may seem reasonable, innocent and even spiritual, they are, in reality, just as carnal and worldly as the labels we once wore as unbelievers. Scripture gives us a clear example of this. In the church of Corinth there were various sects that were springing up among the believers. Some were saying, “I am of Paul”, others, “I am of Apollos”, still others, I am of Cephas (Peter).” They were taking on the labels and identities of the various workers that they felt special kinship with and allegiance towards whom God had sent to help establish the church. Paul addresses this matter as the first order of business in his first epistle to them. He says,
“For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:11-13)
A chapter and a half later, after dealing with the root causes of these divisions, he elaborates further on this matter of taking sectarian identities,
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?” (1 Cor. 3:1-4)
Clearly, once we have been baptized into Christ and into His Name, we are not to take another name to identify ourselves and distinguish ourselves from others in the Body who are, likewise, “in Christ.” Our confession ought to be in line with the reality of our baptism into Christ and into His Name. His identity has superseded all others and His Name is above every name. That is why Paul says to those who are confessing, “I am of Paul”, “Were you baptized in (“eis” = “into”) my name?” The obvious answer is “No!” So why should they be identifying themselves by the name “Paul”, instead of “Christ” into whose Name they have been baptized?
In reality, we have here the beginnings of “denominationalism.” The root of the word “denomination” is “nominate”, which means “to name”, and the prefix “de-“, in this case, implies intensification. To “denominate” something, therefore, is to increase the naming of, or the names associated with, a particular thing. This is usually done for the purpose of clarifying distinctions within it. (Think denominations of money.) When this is applied to the Church, however, the result is the breaking down of the Church into factions and sects distinguishing themselves from each other by lesser things and lesser names than Christ.
The taking of such sectarian labels is clearly condemned by Paul as “carnal”. It is no innocent or light matter, and is, in its effect, tantamount to dividing Christ, as Paul says, “Is Christ divided?” If this was a problem in the fledgling Church of Paul’s day, how much more in the Church of today, two thousand religious years later?! How many thousands of other names that denominate and separate us have been crammed onto the list started back then of “Paul”, “Apollos”, and “Cephas”? Looking at the Church today it would appear that we are helplessly addicted to this “carnal” practice. It also appears that we have all but ripped the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians out of our Bibles and thrown them away. We have almost universally ignored Paul’s rebuke, correction and teaching, and carried on shamelessly perpetrating the same carnality that was first evidenced among the Corinthian church. We have not only included additional men of God to the list such as, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Menno (Simons), and the like, we have included theological positions, church government forms, spiritual emphases, and trendy religious phrases to the list. So, maybe it is time to go back to the words of the great apostle, Paul, and let his voice once again thunder with the authority of heaven :
IS CHRIST DIVIDED???
WAS _________CRUCIFIED FOR YOU???
WERE YOU BAPTIZED INTO THE NAME OF ___________???
If the answers to those questions are still, “NO, NO, NO”, then it is time that we confess our carnality, confess our disobedience to God and His Word, confess our dividing of Christ, and confess our idolatry of taking lesser names than the Name into which we have been baptized. Just as our baptism into Christ, and into His Name, delivers us from the worldly labels of our former life, so our baptism into Christ, and into His Name, delivers us from the sectarian, religious labels of our current life. It is time as the Church, collectively, and for all of us as members of it, individually, to allow the work of Christ to fully do its work in us that we may become a unified, Christ-exalting, Christ-centered Church, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. May God give us grace to confess “Christ”, and “Christ” alone, as our one, true identity, for we are “IN” HIM, and “CHRIST is ALL”!