So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
There is something strange in Ephesians 4:17. In this verse, Paul tells those who will hear his letter read in a Christian gathering that they “must no longer live as the Gentiles do.” Given that Paul is Jewish, we might think that he was writing primarily to Jews. But, in fact, we know from other verses in Ephesians, such as 2:12 and 3:1, that the recipients of this letter were, for the most part, Gentiles, that is, non-Jews. This explains the “no longer” phrase. The recipients are to think “no longer” as Gentiles because that’s how they once thought. Now they are different.
But wait a minute! Aren’t these people still Gentiles? They aren’t Jews. Doesn’t that mean, by default, that they are Gentiles? The answer is yes and no. If you divide the world simply into Jews and Gentiles, then, yes, the recipients are Gentiles. But, and this is key, because of Christ, they aren’t merely Gentiles any more. They are something different, something new. Now, even more than Gentiles, they are “in Christ,” as Paul would say. We would say they are Christians most of all, and this changes everything.
Let’s see how this applies to our lives today. If I were to ask you who you are, how would you answer? You might start with your regional identity (I’m a Texan) or your occupation (I’m a manager). You might tell me your political affiliation (I’m a Libertarian) or ethnic background (I’m Italian). You’d probably mention your role in your family (I’m a wife and mother) or perhaps the fact that you’re single. If we met far away from home, you’d probably identify yourself by your nationality (Soy de México) or with reference to the major city where you live (I’m a New Yorker.)
From the perspective of Ephesians, you might think of yourself in the ways I’ve just described, and this would be true to an extent. But there is a deeper truth that defines you, deeper even than job or nationality or family. Once you have received God’s grace through Christ, your fundamental identity changes. You are newly created by God through Christ to be someone altogether new. So, though you will still adopt the many labels assigned by your ordinary life, you will still be a Texan or a manager or a mother and so on, your core identity will be defined by your relationship with God through Christ. You will be a saint, set apart by God for him and his purposes. You will be a beloved son or daughter of God the Father and therefore a brother or sister in God’s family. You will be a follower of Jesus Christ, one whose life is characterized most of all by your relationship with your Savior, Lord, teacher, model, and friend. And this will make a world of difference in how you live as a Texan or a manager or a mother or you name it.
Something to Think About:
So, prior to reading this reflection, if you were asked who you are, how would you have answered?
To what extent does your relationship with God through Christ define who you are, really? Do you see yourself as a Christian most of all? If so, why? If not, why not?
What other identities compete for first place when it comes to your identity?
Something to Do:
Take a few minutes to jot down all the identities that matter to you. Which of these has the most power to shape how you live each day? Ask the Lord to help you live this day with a clear sense of who you are in Christ.
Gracious God, thank you for choosing me as your own. Thank you for making me your beloved child, your servant, your co-worker in your productive, redemptive, and restorative work. Thank you that I am a Christian, one who has been brought into relationship with you through Christ.
As you know, Lord, there is so much in this world that seeks to define me, to tell me who I am. Help me, I pray, to know myself most of all as you know me. Help me to be the person you have created and re-created me to be. May my identity in you take precedence over all others. Amen.