Acts 17:11 Archives

"Who We Are" Teachings: Milk or Meat?

A response by Dean VanDruff to a question about "Seated in the Heavenlies" and "Who We Are in Christ" teachings.

1Tim 1:8 (NIV) We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.
I have heard of this teaching off and on over the years, some good and some very bad indeed.

I must tell you that the few people I know who have embraced this most enthusiastically have had no discernable spiritual growth over the past 10 years. In one guy's case, he has actually retrogressed in shameful areas of his life. Yet he insists and "teaches" everyone (in nearly in the same words as you--and thus my concern) "if we can just remember who we are in Christ, we will live life differently". This is true as a first baby step--to be sure--but can end up being as absurd as a pacifier in the mouth of a teenager or adult if clung to at the expense of the fullness of the Gospel. It is like focusing on teething as a life-cause. Yes, you need teeth, but that is just the start. And yes, we need to know who we are, but this should not take long unless we have a serious spiritual defect; and we must move on to really follow Christ rather than just "thinking about" "who we are". Yet my dead-in-the-water friend still clings to his "telling himself who he is" as a magic formula of sorts, even though he is a spiritual disaster of shameful repute. I am thus going to explicate where this doctrine is edifying, how it fits, and also how if it is over-focused on can become very silly indeed.

Sad to say, hearing the phrases "seated in the heavenlies" or "who we are in Christ" brings a spiritual chill to me much like the phrase "faith teaching" does. We all ought to be faith teachers in the proper sense, but the popular use of the phrase has come to be a red-flag for what is not of the faith at all. And, unfortunately, "seated in the heavenlies" and "who we are" teaching in modern use often have more to do with being seated in spiritual self-deception than what Paul had in mind (Eph 1:20 included, below).

On the good side and proper side of truth and revelation, we are brothers of Christ and as such co-inheritors with Him. We are children of the Father. That is "who we are". Here are a few verses along this line.

1 Jn 2:29-3:3 (Phi) You all know that God is really good. You may be just as sure that the man who leads a really good life is a true child of God. Consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called "children of God"--and that is not just what we are called, but what we ARE... This explains why the world will no more recognize us than it recognized Christ... Here, and now, my dear friends, we ARE God's children. We don't know what we shall become in the future. We only know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is! Everyone who has at heart a hope like this keeps himself pure, as Christ is pure.

1John 5:20 (NIV) We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

2Cor 1:20 (NIV) For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ.

Eph 1:20,2:6 (NIV) Which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms... And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

And so on...

There is much to be said about this on proper and edifying line, especially the difference in expression of between being "in Christ" and "Christ in us", the two of which are spoken of as twin and distinct glories of Salvation.

Being "in God (or Christ, or Him, etc.)" has to do with being chosen, being "of Him", being forgiven, being in His protection / sanctuary / temple / stronghold / refuge / under-His-wing. All of these depictions speak of the same spiritual reality (1Co 2:13), that God has "taken us in". This is a major theme of the Psalms, for example.

On the other hand, "Christ in us (or you)" is the mystery revealed explicitly in the New Covenant. Being "in Christ" bridges all covenants somewhat equally and is thus a more fundamental or elementary revelation. "God in us" has to do with the "new and better" covenant introduced and revealed by Jesus Christ, although its dynamics were present without complete realization for David, Moses, etc.; for they only saw in part what was going on. "Many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." (Mt 13:17) "Christ in us" is thus the glorious manifestation of the fruits and gifts of the Spirit "poured out on all flesh", as fitting with the promises from the old covenant.

For but a few examples of this twin distinction of being "in Him" and Him being "In us", and the new covenant revelation of the latter:

Rom 8:9-10 (NIV) You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you...

1Cor 3:1 (NIV) Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-- mere infants in Christ.

Here we get the hint that the "in Christ" doctrine (as opposed to "Christ in you", more on that later) is foundational, elementary, infantile, milk, a starting point. This underscores its essential importance, to be sure, but also places it in the crib... not the toolbox. Now we will never get to the workman's toolbox if we die for want of pure milk in the crib, and "baby things" are not the least bit unimportant--quite the contrary. It is only that they can only take us so far. So let us get these simple things right, then move on / grow up / mature in Christ / etc.

2Tim 3:15 (NIV) from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Eph 1:13 (NIV) And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.

Col 3:3 (NIV) For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

... and here is the dynamic relationship...

Eph 3:17 (NIV) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

John 17-22-23 (NIV) [Jesus:] "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me..."

2Cor 13:5 (NIV) Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you--unless, of course, you fail the test?

...and here especially highlighting that the two are distinct:

2Th 1:12 (NIV) We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1John 4:13 (NIV) We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

1John 4:16 (NIV) And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

1John 3:24 (NIV) Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

Make sense?

Again, being "in Him" has to do with being adopted, being sons, etc. This is the same for us as it was for Adam, Moses, David, etc, who were "safe in the shadow of the Most High".

But for us, it is now fully revealed that God never desired to live in a temple made of stone (Ac 7:48,17:24), but rather in us through His Spirit. Now this was also true for David, for Moses, for the prophets, etc., although they did not see it so plainly as we do. Now we know what they longed to see: not that we are "in God" (this much is elementary) but that He is in us!

Col 1:27 (NIV) To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Obviously, these two are closely related as they orbit around each other. Were we not "included in Christ" (forgiveness, protection, sonship, etc.) we would never have the privilege of having His life imputed to us. (Rom 8:10) So they can be thought of as one and the same, and are in a way, but Scripture does speak of them as separate aspects: one a foundational first step and the other taking a lifetime to "work" out.

Phi 2:12-13 (NIV) Therefore, my dear friends... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

But I must return to my dismal personal experience with those touting the "who we are" doctrine as some sort of sacred mantra or operative spiritual key. More properly, this is like a teething issue for baby Christians, not meat fit for the mature.

Here is how I challenged my spiritually retarded friend, whom we will call Bernie to protect the guilty. Bernie thinks everything would be super in life if we just told ourselves all day long "who we are in Christ". In my experience, "forgetting" who I am in Christ might happen a couple of times a year, if that, as a fleeting distraction; but such is hardly a major temptation in my life... or for that matter most anyone else's spiritual life that I am aware of. I know who I am in Christ and I do not "forget" this moment to moment... as if my mind is wobbling out of control like some spinning coin on a table! While I don't think of it every moment of every day, it is the assumption I live with in each moment without much effort at all. It is, to borrow a phrase, "self-evident" in the same way that I "know" my name is Dean. I need not remind myself that my name is Dean continually, and rarely forget it, although it has happened on occasion of being hit in the head or something.

Am I so mature in this, or is this a common experience? And right here is the point: telling myself who I am in Christ--by itself--does not make me righteous, holy, or grow necessarily. For example, I know that God loves me, has adopted me, and has forgiven me... but I still have this incredible propensity to sin, and habits paving the way to repetition. My problem is not that I have forgotten or am not thinking of this 24 hours a day, but rather that "sin is working in me". Knowing "who I am" does not by itself solve this; scripture has a rather direct remedy in the Gospel message of actually following of Jesus Christ to life through death. I must "take up my cross daily" and "follow"! If I don't, but sit around all day telling myself "who I am", then either I am like a baby toddler grasping the finger of his father (a fine and glorious thing in its place, and where this doctrine is fit), or I should be past this. Perhaps this can even be a nervous distraction to avoid really obeying the One called Lord?

Luke 6:46 (NIV) "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"

I asked Bernie to imagine that his oldest daughter found herself forgetting "who she was as his daughter" five minutes after boarding the bus to school. If this were the case, she might have some sort of brain damage and need to not go to school at all, for this is not "normal" in a child's development. But suppose rather someone had convinced her of the silly idea that the way to get ahead in life was to constantly meditate on and keep in view "who she was as Bernie's daughter" (there is a church in town that does just this in the spiritual). Well, if so, she would do rather poorly at socialization, fall behind in her studies, and appear catatonic to most; as this would take up a lot of her mental bandwidth. In fact, she would likely appear retarded if she tried it, and to what benefit? Would Bernie think this a wise strategy for his daughter to adopt? I pointed out that this same dismal pathology is the fruit of Bernie's life and doctrine: after ten years of practicing and believing what he does, he still is captive to debilitating forbidden fear, has lust problems, takes mood-altering prescription drugs, is addicted to smoking, has regressed into heretical doctrines again that he once repented of and publicly renounced, etc., all the while "programming" his mind like some broken record of "who he is in Christ". It ain't working in him any more than such silliness would work in his daughter. Yes, Bernie's daughter might actually forget "who she is" in a moment of temptation, say of sexual temptation with some boy she is in-lust with, and put out-of-mind what her father might think. But is the problem in such a case "forgetting who she is" or is it the strong desire to sin that is the problem, and the "forgetting" just the effect or excuse? For she might even remember whose daughter she is and know full well what Bernie would think about it, and choose to do it anyway. Is this not usually how it plays out for believers who sin? Is it just me, or are we on the wrong track dealing with symptoms rather than causes? Is it that our minds are like sieves that can't remember "who we are", or is it that we want to sin that is the problem?

Heb 6:12 (NIV) ...imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Heb 13:7 (NIV) ...Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

1Cor 4:16 (NIV) Therefore I urge you to imitate me.

I finished my rebuke to Bernie by challenging him to compare his progress over the last 10 years to mine. He has chosen to "tell himself" things, I have chosen to believe in and live out the Gospel. To be sure, I struggled with lust so long that I was sure God was getting sick of hearing me say "forgive me" 1,000 times a day in my mind as I purposed to "take thoughts captive" and had little success, but I had "set my face life flint" and would not be an "unbeliever" concerning the power of God to really heal me and make me a new, pure, like-Him creation. And I can testify that God was faithful and now such thoughts might assail me once or twice a month, if that, and with the spiritual karate of "Christ in me" I can deflect them quickly. Not that I am perfect, I now struggle in other areas of growth, but not by saying elementary things to myself all day. If I was forgetful or had a weakness of mind of "who I was", then this might be good advice to focus on till I got over it, but not much afterwards. Thus, I would feel horrible struggling with sin and NEVER seeing deliverance or help coming from God, as this would mean either God had lied about being able to sanctify me or that I had embraced some false doctrine. And we know that God does not lie.

Titus 2:11-15 (NIV) For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

Yes, we must wait "three days" for resurrection power and life, and in practical experience this might be three seconds, three months, three years, thirty years, or until the physical resurrection, but we press on to receive that which was promised, not sit around "telling ourselves things". Such can well be self delusion if real growth and goodness are not manifesting, and this was a pathology Jesus specifically warned against in no uncertain terms.

Mat 3:7-11 (NIV) "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

Thus my warning concerning this. Yes, there is a rich and foundational truth here, but for those who make it into a "magic formula" it becomes a delusion that I have seen horribly derail at least one man up close, and perhaps a half-dozen others from a distance. So beware of drinking milk when you should be learning to chew meat. You might form an allergy by taking in too much milk <smiles>. If you are really forgetful about "who you are", and this is where you are in your maturity, then go ahead and focus on it; for there is no shame in going back to get foundational things right after a false start or if a crack is discovered. But where this doctrine goes wrong--and why I am raising a red-flag about it--is where such becomes a self-delusion similar to auto-suggestion or hypnosis, a "mere words" of "telling yourself" things. For the gospel is not a matter of just words, but of power: specifically the power of God to really heal and save us. We should thus beware of little gimmicks or "magic formulas" like this that end up being a distraction from real growth in Christ into the deeper things of God. It is OK for a toddler to try to figure out "whose" he is; if a 10 year old is doing this--or needs to be reminded several times a day--we may have serious brain damage in view. Or (shifting from analogy to spiritual reality) delusion which seeks to hold to a form of godliness but denies its power.

As for Bernie, when I confront him on his continued sin, he is sure that his failure is that he has "forgotten who he is in Christ", and he redoubles his efforts to try again with his failed, mental, mere-words, "tell himself" strategy. It ain't working, and won't. He needs to grow up and move on to maturity, but this "doctrine" is his tether to the crib, or worse. Thus, my warning to you.

2Pet 2:18-19 (NIV) For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity--for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.

1John 3:5-10 (NIV) But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God...

1Cor 4:20 (NIV) For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.

1John 2:4-7 (NIV) The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning.

1Tim 4:16 (NIV) Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Acts 17:11 Bible Studies

Acts 17:11 Bible Studies Dialogs and Commentary Home Page
NEXT Dean and Laura VanDruff's Home Page