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I watched some of the Youtube recordings of lectures given by Sinclair Ferguson and I am now uncertain which one it was in which he stated that in Colossians we see that 'we are given a new identity'. So I cannot now refer to it but I remember the wording distinctly.

However, just searching under the words indicates that is is a concept common in what might be considered evangelical Christianity today.

But I am personally unfamiliar with this concept, myself, and can think of nowhere in scripture where wording like this, as such, is used.

I know that the Son of man states, Revelation 2:17, that 'to him that overcometh ... I will give ... a white stone and in the stone a new name written ...' but that does not - exactly - say that the new name is the person's new name. And a new name is not, necessarily, the same as a new 'identity'.

Jesus gave Simon a new name (Peter) but that did not change his identity and he was thereafter known as 'Simon', 'Simon Peter'or 'Peter'.

The names written upon persons in Revelation 3:12 are the name of God, the name of the city of God and the new name of the Son of man : not their own name, new or otherwise.

Paul says 'I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me', Galatians 2:20, but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, in union with the spirit of the believer, is not anything to do with an alteration to identity. It is a union of spirit, in which union (of Holy Spirit) Christ himself dwells within.

I am therefore left somewhat mystified by the expression 'given a new identity' and would like to ask if anyone can further enlighten me either from Sinclair Ferguson's other utterances or from reformed theology generally, what is meant by the expression and what texts are brought forward in order to support the concept.

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  • When I was a new believer in the 1980's, the idea of a new identity was frequently taught, both in Intervarsity Christian Fellowship meetings in college, and in my Baptist church (ABC). It was among the most difficult ideas to understand and accept but also one of the most fruitful. Aug 13 '20 at 14:18
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I'm not aware of the specific lectures you are referring to, but I have listened to / read a fair amount of his work. I imagine Sinclair Ferguson would be thinking along these lines:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The point is that coming to Christ is the most significant thing that can happen to someone - Jesus likens it to being "born again" (John 3:3).

This is how Paul describes the Christian life:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

It's significant enough that we can talk about an "old self" and a "new self". Of course the word 'identity' isn't used - that's a more modern construct - but I think the concept is there.

I should add that it's not being given a new identity doesn't mean a totally new identity in the sense that it's alien to us: rather, it's the restoration of an identity which sin had distorted and defiled. In Christ we become the people who God designed us to be.

Without wishing to put words in Dr Ferguson's mouth, I think he is probably meaning something like that!

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Colossians 2:9-23 speaks of Christians being buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins...” (Colossians 2:13).

Colossians 3:1-4: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

According to Colossians we are “made alive with Christ,” we “have been raised with Christ” and our “life is now hidden with Christ in God”. It says nothing about being given a new identity.

Charles Spurgeon speaks of the new nature and the new heart, of being a new creature in Christ Jesus. In Sermon 1455 he preaches on the necessity of being born again (John 3:7) and speaks of a new nature, a new life, a new experience, a new world and a new force. No mention of a new identity.

I did find an article published on an evangelical web site about “Our Identity in Christ”. Here is a partial quote:

Our identity in Christ is first and foremost one of newness. We are new creations in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Identity is defined as “the collective aspect of the set of characteristics by which a thing is definitively recognizable or known,” so our new identity in Christ should be recognizable both to ourselves and to others. If we are “in Christ,” that should be evident, just as being “in the world” is equally evident. A further definition of identity is “the quality or condition of being the same as something else.” In the case of our identity in Christ, our lives should indicate that we are the same as Christ. The name “Christians” means literally “followers of Christ.” One of the greatest blessings about our identity in Christ is the grace we’re given in order to grow into the spiritual maturity that truly reflects our new identity: “...he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Our lives in light of our identity in Christ are filled with a heavenly Father, a large, loving family, and the understanding that we are citizens of another kingdom and not of this earth. https://www.gotquestions.org/identity-in-Christ.html

The idea that Christians are “given a new identity in Christ” seems to be fairly new and may be popular in some evangelical circles. However, I have searched in vain through reputable Reformed sources for any reference to Christians being given a new identity. And I’m not prepared to trawl through YouTube videos searching for a needle in a haystack (spiritually speaking).

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  • Excellent research. Many thanks. This is actually what I was expecting. +1.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 12 '20 at 17:39
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    I don't think there is any needle there. Just straw.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 12 '20 at 18:50
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We each have many identities (or aspects to our identity). In Christ, in the Gospel, we are given new identities, and our old ones are transformed. I'm sure you're familiar with all of these, just maybe not under the category of "identity", so I'll just give a brief overview.

One of the most important new identities we are given is that of the Adopted Child of God. Many verses speak of our adoption, including Ephesians 1:5 and Galatians 4:1-7.

One of the other new identities we are given is being Citizens of Heaven, from Philippians 3:20. We don't stop being citizens of the UK, or China, or Nigeria, etc. when we become Christians, but we are given a new heavenly citizenship that transforms how we think of ourselves as political citizens of our countries in this life.

Other identities change. We are still sinners, but we are redeemed and forgiven sinners. Some people's public identity is forever changed after one particular sin: the adulterer, the murderer, the sex offender, the cowardly traitor. These too can have their shame lifted as they realise their new identity in Christ, the forgiven sinner who is loved by God.

Other people feel a great significance in their sexual or gender identity. Sometimes these identities can cause us great distress, other times they are sources of great pride. Family is also another important aspect of many people's identities; some people have wonderful loving families, others deeply hurtful and dysfunctional families, and some may have no known family at all. In Christ we can experience peace with these aspects of our identity; they are not the entirety of who we are, and our identity as the people of God shapes and governs these other identities.

We find identity in our careers, our skills and passions, our accomplishments. Christ gives us new Gospel priorities and new Gospel purposes, to tell the world about him, to share God's overflowing love with the people of this world. When Christians give up profitable and prestigious careers to minister to drug addicts, people living in slums, people with dangerous contagious diseases, this shows that they have taken on a new identity, that of Christ's coworkers, who were willing to change the direction their life was heading in because they met Jesus.

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  • The word 'identity' does not occur in my bible (KJV) and it does not appear to occur in any other that I have managed to access. What Greek word would I look at to see the concept occurring in the original language ?
    – Nigel J
    Aug 11 '20 at 16:41
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    @NigelJ I'm not sure the concept was there in the Greek NT. But it doesn't need to be. Identity is an important concept for many people today, and I think it's legitimate for Christians to bring all these Biblical ideas together to say "look, here's how your identity is transformed in Christ." Phill's answer looking at the old and new self is probably the closest the Biblical language gets to it.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 11 '20 at 23:00

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