Being a person of color is an interesting experience.
Being a person of color who grew up in three different cultures is an even more interesting.
If I were to define what life honestly felt like until my mid-teens, it would be identity crisis: the condition of being uncertain of one’s feelings about oneself, esp. with regard to character, goals, and origins.
As a Ghanaian born in east London with formative years spent in western Germany, I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. My parents had somewhat traditional values, especially in terms of how our family relationships worked. I was the oldest of four children, which meant I was essentially the third parent, leading by example and holding final responsibility if something happened “on my watch”.
To escape that pressure and burden, I spent the bulk of my time at school – a school of a thousand students, all boys, with a culture all its own. I didn’t really fit in there either. My school was full of “cool people” and I was a Ghanian English nerd who loved to write, who had more teachers as friends than fellow students. Nevertheless, school was less pressure than being at home.
Every day, I would flit between these cultures, keeping Mum and Dad happy when I was home and at church and “kind-of-being-myself” when I was at school. The more that life went on, the more my identity crisis grew. By the time I left secondary school to begin my A-levels (high school) in my late teens, the feeling of having no real identity seriously hit home. I was the loner in class, depressed at home, buried under more class work than ever, with little desire to do anything.
In short, I was alive but I wished I was someone else.
Then I discovered a doctrine. Perhaps, “discovered” is a strong term. I stumbled across a doctrine that Christians before myself have long appreciated and cherished. That doctrine was union with Christ. As has been said before, it is the most important doctrine you’ve probably never heard of, and I am convinced that it is a doctrine that people of color need to grapple with, especially in this season of frenetic discussion and debate in which we find ourselves.
Understanding our union with Christ answers our deepest questions surrounding identity, purpose and destiny.
What is Union with Christ?
Union with Christ is the Biblical truth that, by faith and through the work of the Spirit, we are vitally, mystically and spiritually united to Jesus. This Spirit-born relationship is how, in the words of John Calvin, “we come to enjoy Christ and all His benefits.” (Institutes, 3.1.1)
Put simply, union with Christ is the truth that Christ is in you, and more important, you are in Christ – and so everything He has is yours by faith.
To explain this reality, the Bible employs visuals to help us understand what this means. Scripture also describes the results of our union with Christ in a variety of ways.
Visuals of our union with Christ:
Christ is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:2, 4-5)
We are the temple in which God dwells – both individually (1 Cor 3:16) and corporately (1 Cor 6:16, 19)
Christ is the head and we are the body (1 Cor 12:5, 27; Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18)
Christ is the Church’s husband and we are His bride (Eph 5:24-25, 32; 1 Cor 6:17)
Results of our union with Christ
We are justified in union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9).
We are sanctified through union with Christ (1 Cor. 1:30; John 15:4-5; Eph. 4:16; 2 Cor. 5:17).
We persevere in the life of faith in union with Christ (John 10:27-28; Rom. 8:38-39).
We are even said to die in Christ (Rom. 14:8; 1 Thess. 4:16; Rev. 14:13).
We shall be raised with Christ (1 Cor. 15:22).
We shall be eternally glorified with Christ (Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 4:16-17).
How does union with Christ, then, speak to us as people of colour?
Returning to what was stated in the at the onsest: union with Christ answers questions of identity, purpose and destiny.
A robust understanding of this doctrine will go some way to help us not just personally as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ but also in our interactions with those who are different from us.
Colossians 3:1-4: helps us zero in on the issue of identity.
So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Here Paul makes a number of powerful points in relation to this:
V1. “raised with Christ”. When Christ was raised from the grave, we are also raised with Him.
V3. “you have died…”. Life as you once knew it – for you, by you, through you, decisively ended when you became united to Christ.
V3. “your life is hidden with Christ”. Your life is secure as Christ is in Heaven right now.
V4. “When Christ who is your life…” – Christ not just defines life for us – He is our life!
Union with Christ answers the question of who we are by reminding us that we are no longer dead in sin.
It also reminds us that our identity is not defined by our collective or individual pasts, present circumstances or our need to try harder and do better.
IT’S DEFINED BY CHRIST!
In today’s profoundly charged atmosphere we find, perhaps believers of different ethnicities would be better served by remembering what unites us, instead of what divides us.
Perhaps our tenor would change if we remembered our identity in Christ.
Perhaps we would do well to remember that before we allow our colour and culture to divide us, Christ unites us – not primarily with each other but with Himself.
May God help us to remember our union with Christ.