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FROM the OFFICE of the PRESIDENT of WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Who in the world are we?
That’s a perennial question. It’s not just a fixation of modern Western culture and its many sub-groups and movements. We are always asking this question—in every generatin, in every sphere, in every socio-political climate.
Jesus Christ has an unparalleled answer that has everything to do with being lost and found. For our Lord, identity has less to do with self-assertion and ideological positioning. It’s much simpler than that. Identity has to do with belonging and indwelling. Who you are in this world is a matter of where you are in your relation to God.
Jesus came to bring us our identity by transforming our relation to God. And he did this by finding those who are lost (which is everyone after the fall). The Gospel of Luke brings much attention to this. What was the purpose for Jesus coming to us? Luke tells us that Jesus came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He seeks the lost sheep (15:4), the lost coin (15:9), the lost son (15:24). And being found by Jesus doesn’t just mean our salvation; it means our permanent belonging.
Who you are in this world is a matter of where you are in your relation to God.
The Apostle Paul is keen on telling the church who he is by restating where he is. And the answer is as beautiful as it is mysterious: in Christ. Look at what he says in Philippians 3:8–9. “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Found in Christ. That’s Paul’s identity. And yours. And mine, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. To the world, this makes no sense. But we know it’s the only identity that is true, that tells us where we belong.
And so as we go out to proclaim Christ, in word and deed, to a lost world yearning to find an identity, we are convinced that being found by Christ is the only satisfying answer to the question, Who am I? God gives his grace-bound solution to who we are. The gospel tells us who we are by showing us in whom we are.
Yet, in our tumultuous times, many wonder how we can talk about this in public.
For a host of reasons, civil public discourse is more challenging today. To help us in this regard, in mid October, we participated in a conference called “Desiring Truth: A Civil Discourse on Matters with which Christians Disagree.” Identity and sexuality, both inside and outside the church, was the focus. We captured a few videos to share with you, featuring our own Adjunct Professor and Director of Alumni Relations, Dr. David Owen Filson.
The presentations and discussions examined both where we are now as a culture and how we got here. (If you wish to explore this, please also see chapter 15 of Insider-Outsider.)
Consider here a pertinent thought from J. Gresham Machen: “The relation to God is the all-important thing. It is not a mere means to an end. Everything else is secondary to it” (Things Unseen, p. 9).
“The relation to God is the all-important thing.” That might be Machen’s response to our discussions about identity today. “Why can’t you Christians just leave people alone? Why do you have to bring God into questions of identity?” Because the relation to God is the all-important thing.
The relation to God is the all-important thing because we can only be found, we can only come to know who we truly are, when we are related to God in love through Christ. Here’s how the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck put it. Speaking of believers in Christ, he wrote,
They live in Him as the fish lives in water, the bird in the air, the man in his vocation, the scholar in his study. Together with Him they are crucified, dead, and buried, are raised again, seated at the right hand of God, and glorified. They have put Him on, have assumed His form, and they show in their body both the suffering and the life of Christ, and are perfected (fulfilled) in Him. In short, Christ is all and in all. (The Wonderful Works of God, p. 379)
We will never have rest in answering the perennial question of identity until we understand that our relation to God in Christ is the all-important thing.
Praise the God who seeks and saves the lost. We were all there, once. And Jesus found us. May he find many more through our joyful union with Christ.
In Christ, who alone truly tells us who we are,
Peter A. Lillback, President
P.S. Please consider hearing Westminster’s new podcast that unpacks the life and theology of Richard B. Gaffin Jr., who invested his storied theological career in seeking to understand the believer’s union with Christ. It’s called Word & Spirit: The Life and Ministry of Richard B. Gaffin Jr.