Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God… (1 Timothy 1:1)
It is common for people to define themselves by things that are important to them, that they are proud of, or that have shaped them. For this reason, it is not unusual for them to define themselves in terms of nationality, race, training and occupation, gender, marital status, and so on. They often find it natural and necessary, and even commendable, to characterize their whole lives by these categories. Those who have undergone notable or even traumatic experiences might also allow these things to shape their identity and outlook. So there are those who define themselves as cancer survivors, or holocaust survivors, or survivors of rape, abuse, and so on.
This is unacceptable to the Christian faith. Problems occur when people define themselves by these human categories, and then allow them to frame the way they perceive the world and relate to others. For example, a person who mainly defines himself by his race might even refuse to become a Christian. I have heard of a Chinese woman who refused to believe in Christ because the Son of God in his human nature was not Chinese. Truth was secondary to her, but race was paramount. Of course, even the Jews had an analogous problem. Although Jesus was a Jew in his human nature, they were reluctant to accept someone from Nazareth. Then, there was a Chinese pastor who tried to prove that the Chinese are in fact of Jewish blood. If this sounds ridiculous, then so is “Messianic” Christianity, and so is “Black” Christianity. We know that they are poor Christians the moment they identify themselves by these terms. The rebuke that Jesus gave Peter applies to them – they have in mind not the things of God, but the things of men.
We must not sympathize with this way of thinking. Christ is to be so central in our self-definition that he should overpower and overshadow all human categories and concerns. We may be aware of these human factors, but they should become relatively insignificant in how we define ourselves. If Christ is Lord in your mind, and if he is all in all, how can your relation with him be defined by your race, your gender, or your education?
If anyone had reason to boast about the things of the flesh, Paul did. But he said that he regarded all his human credentials as rubbish, even as dung, so that he may gain Christ. He was not a Jew who happened to be a Christian, but he was a Christian who happened to be a Jew. He was not a scholar who also believed in Christ, but as a believer in Christ, he happened to be a scholar as well. His intellect did not lend credibility to the Christian faith, but it was his Christian identity that made his intellect credible. He did not define his Christian faith relative to some human factor, such as his pedigree, or education, or occupation; rather, he defined himself and everything about himself in relation to Christ and his place in Christ’s kingdom. And he viewed everything in the world from that perspective. This is another way of saying that a Christ-centered self-definition and a truly Christian worldview go together.
Are you an American? Wonderful, but consider it rubbish so that you may gain Christ. If you are a Christian at all, you are a Christian who happens to be an American, and not the other way around. You are first a citizen of heaven. Are you black? That is fine, but forget about it. If you are a Christian, you are a new creation in Christ, a unique race of God’s chosen ones. “Wait,” you say, “should I not take pride in my race?” Of course not. Who told you this nonsense? The world taught you this, not the Bible. If you must be proud that you are black, and if you must make a point of stressing this, then do not complain when others express their pride that they are white instead of black like you. Then, of course, the result is division rather than unity in Christ. What is your occupation? Are you a psychologist? Good, but do not think that psychology can explain everything, and do not read the Bible with a psychologist’s mindset. Rather, judge psychology with a Christian’s mindset. Christ is to be the central reference point for all our thinking and behavior. Race, gender, and class make no difference, but only a new creation in Christ Jesus.
You may complain that it is impossible to approach anything, including the Christian faith, without bringing to it our own backgrounds and presuppositions. This is true. But if you are a Christian, then you are a new creation in Christ – you have a new background. And if you are a Christian, then the Bible commands you to renew your mind – get a new set of presuppositions. Reorient your thinking, and enthrone Christ in your mind as the reference point by which you define yourself and everything else. Then, you will find it impossible to approach anything apart from your Christian background and presuppositions. Only then can you be assured that you have a firm grasp on your identity as a Christian.