How Do We Find Our Identity in Christ?


As odd as it sounds, the narrative identity of believers in Christ is tied up with the life story of Jesus Christ, which itself echoes the experience of God’s people in the Old Testament.

With respect to the question of personal identity, if we wonder who we are, Jesus Christ is the one and only perfect human being. In one sense, there are only two basic identities in the world. In the book of Genesis, Adam, the first human being, is the prototype of us all, created in God’s image but flawed and marred by sin. Jesus Christ is the second Adam, the one who gets it right, and the prototype and forerunner of all who put their trust in him.

With Jesus, we see what new humanity looks like. As Oliver O’Donovan puts it, “The new man Christ is the pattern to which we may conform ourselves.”[1] But it’s not just a matter of imitating him. In the Gospels, there is a call to follow Jesus literally. But the New Testament letters, written after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, never talk about following Jesus. “Following” is inadequate language to describe Christ’s impact on our identity. The apostles prefer to describe people as being “in Christ” rather than following him.

The language of being “in Christ” is among the most puzzling in the New Testament. While it can mean that we belong to Christ, on occasions it means something more. Paul can use the notion of being “in Christ” to indicate that we actually participate in Christ’s very identity: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). And the goal of Paul’s pastoral ministry is to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28).

Andrew Cameron has explored the idea of finding your identity “in Christ”:

Whoever we think ourselves to be, Jesus’ humanity encompasses and “decodes” everyone’s diversity, all journeys, and every vocation. To be truly human involves knowing him and participating with him. Somehow, to participate “in Christ” is to begin a new voyage of discovery. We do not lose our past stories, yet we increasingly understand our selves in reference to Jesus Christ.[2]

The new self we are to put on is Jesus Christ, who represents God’s new humanity. It is not that we thereby lose our individuality. But who we are is brought to completion in him.

The defining moment of the lives of those living the life story of Jesus Christ is his death on a cross. The direction of our lives is set by that defining moment. Living authentically, then, becomes the task of living in accordance with your new identity and regularly performing your signature move. According to Colossians 3, we died and rose to new life in union with Christ (3:1–4). That is our “moment of truth,” the memory of which defines us forever. It changes everything for us. And we would not be who we are were it not for Christ’s death and resurrection.

And the signature move that grows out of that identity is the act of love. Our conduct is to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving, all of which grow out of “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (3:14). Just as our identity as children of God was forged through an act of amazing love, so too we are to live lives of costly, selfless, others-centered love.

It is not that other identity markers and what you do with your life are of no consequence for your personal identity if you are a believer in Christ. Your race, gender, family, occupation, marital status, and so on are important, but they are not all-important.

Obviously, life events and experiences can have a lasting impact on your identity and conduct. But at the most profound level, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, what sets the course for your life and keeps it on track is your identification with Christ and imitation of him and being known and loved by God as his child. Putting on that identity will determine the sort of man or woman, worker, friend, neighbor, father or mother, son or daughter that you will become.

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Editor’s note: This article is taken from How to Find Yourself by Brian Rosner, ©2022. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[1] Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics (Leicester: Apollos, 1994), 143.

[2] Andrew Cameron, Joined-up life: A Christian Account of How Ethics Works (Nottingham, England: IVP, 2011), 114.

Brian Rosner

Brian Rosner (PhD, Cambridge) is principal of Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. Rosner is the author or editor of over a dozen books, including Known by God and How to Find Yourself.

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