I am doing a series on Identity Transformation, and using Ephesians 4.17-24 as a launching pad into the conversation. Here the Apostle Paul links identity transformation with the need to “Learn Christ.”
There are a lot of dimensions that go into the formation of identity. Our family of origin, gender, age, education level, economic status, racial-cultural heritage, and vocation only begin to form the list of factors that inform how we identify ourselves.
For those of us that follow Jesus, we believe that faith is the most foundational factor of all. While every factor above is indeed an important dimension to consider, they somehow must first be integrated into our identity as children of God.
But what does that actually look like? It’s one thing to repeat churchy phrases about being children of God. It’s another to be authentically transformed to the point that we live as if that were true.
It is for this very reason that we must begin the journey of Identity Transformation with the Baptism of Jesus Christ. Paul says we are to Learn Christ, and if we are going to learn about “putting off” an old version of our identity and “putting on” our new identity found through faith, then we need to start here.
Some version of the Baptism of Jesus is recorded in all four Gospel accounts. Here is how Matthew described it:
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3.13-17)
I grew up learning about the Bible, so the Baptism of Jesus is something I was familiar with from a young age. And yet, for a number of reasons, I fear that I missed how incredibly important this passage was. In the past I drew only a superficial application from the encounter. I figured that this was Jesus’ way of affirming just how important baptism is for those who follow Christ. If Jesus himself got baptized, then shouldn’t we?
That’s probably true, but now I realize that I didn’t take it nearly far enough. I’ve come to believe that this passage may be the single most important window into where Identity Transformation begins.
One of the reasons this particular encounter is important stems from where it falls in the chronological order of Jesus’ life. The Bible chooses not to tell us much about Jesus before now. We are told a lot about his birth. We are given one glimpse into his boyhood years when he leaves his parents to go to the temple. But we don’t hear anything about him again until this.
That strikes me as particularly significant. We will see Jesus do so much after this – there will be miracles, healings, exorcisms, resurrections, and preaching so good that it drew crowds by the thousands. But as of now, none of that has happened. The identity of Jesus is not going to be defined by those activities. Instead, those activities will flow from the identity of Jesus.
There would be much that would inform the identity of Jesus, just as there is much that informs the identity of each of us. But there was nothing more foundational than these words:
“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
That’s it. Even in human form, Jesus needed to be reminded of who he was.
Jesus needed to have his identity rooted in the love of God.
Jesus needed to hear the blessing of the Father.
Jesus needed to be affirmed for who he was, independent of what he did.
If this is what informed the identity of Jesus Christ, then what could possibly be more important for informing our identity? If these are the words that Jesus needed in human form, then how badly must we also need them?
And if we are hoping to “Learn Christ,” could there be anything more central than this?
Like Jesus, we must find a way to learn and internalize these precious words from God the Father:
“This is my child, whom I love; with her/him I am well pleased.”