The Believer’s Identity

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If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

Credit card identity theft is one of the great crimes of the twenty-first century. Many have suffered from its cruel effects. Similarly, the first-century believers living in the city of Colossae faced a crisis with spiritual identity theft. Certain erroneous teachers had come into the church and, through their message, were attempting to rob the believers of their identity in Christ.

Here was the scenario:

False teachers had come to the church with this basic message: The Gospel they had received from Epaphras (1:7) was sufficient to save them, but it was insufficient to spiritually mature them. In other words, they could not reach their complete spiritual potential on the basis of the simple gospel message they had received. These teachers promised that their message would give the Colossian church the experience of a fuller spiritual life and greater freedom over their sinful natures. Their primary emphasis was a combination of seeking mystical experiences (perhaps with angels) to know God greater and of keeping religious rules and regulations, along with a strict, ascetic lifestyle to free themselves from the evil desires of their own sinful hearts.

The problem, however, is that their message was an aberration of the truth. These emphases do not result in greater knowledge and freedom but greater ignorance and bondage. In this letter to believers he had never met, Paul emphatically asserts that the Gospel they had received was an all-sufficient message of Jesus Christ, an all-sufficient Savior. Believers are absolutely and unequivocally complete in Christ alone. So Paul’s challenge was to not allow these spiritual identity thieves to rob the Colossians of who they were as men and women in Christ.

Colossians 3 is one of the finest statements in the whole of the Bible concerning the believer’s identity being in Jesus Christ. In the first four verses Paul explains our identity in Christ from three perspectives: past, present and future.

Our Past Identity in Christ

Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

First, Paul points back to the past when we died and were raised with Christ. In what way has the believer died with Christ? He becomes so much a part of Christ and His death that the believer actually dies, not physically but spiritually, with Christ. Paul explains this in the previous chapter by saying we were “buried with Him in baptism” (2:12). He also declares this in Romans 6:3–4: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death.”

Our guilt is buried with Christ! Furthermore, believers have died to the elemental spiritual forces of this world.

Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world … (Col. 2:20)

The false teachers were trying to kidnap the believers. Their message gave an appearance of new wisdom. In reality, their teaching was not new or wise. It was the same man-made, works-based religious message throughout the ages — of both Jews and Gentiles — that focuses on what a person has to perform in order to experience a spiritual life. Their message does not lead a believer into spiritual freedom but into spiritual bondage. In the end this teaching actually severs believers from the “Head,” Jesus Christ. On the contrary, through Christ’s death believers have died to these worldly religious principles.

But there is more. Our past identity in Christ involves not only death but life. We have risen to a living relationship with the Son of God.

If ye then be risen with Christ … (Col. 3:1)

Every believer receives a new life and becomes a new creation.

And you … hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses. (Col. 2:13)

Ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. (Col. 2:12)

We have been disconnected from the old world order and connected to a new heavenly order — the kingdom of God. We now share in the power of the risen life of their King! It is no wonder Paul urgently prayed for the Ephesians to understand the immensity of their privilege in possessing Christ’s power.

And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places. (Eph. 1:19–20)

Christ is your new life source. This is who you are. This is your identity. Don’t let anyone rob you of this!

Our Present Identity in Christ

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Secondly, God reveals that believers are identified with Christ in the present. The current identity of God’s people is hidden with Christ. The verb for hidden (from which we get our English word cryptic) means encrypted or embedded. Believers’ identity and status with God is virtually unseen by the world.

We are like Christ. Jesus was crucified in public view, but when He rose from the dead only His disciples saw Him. Afterward, He ascended into heaven, sat down at the Father’s right hand, and rules from a position of power and preeminence. He is the Head over all things, and everything has been placed under His feet. However, the world does not and cannot see this because they are blinded to Jesus.

Likewise, we are also hidden from the world’s eyes. This is dramatically illustrated in Joseph, who was despised and rejected by his brothers and sold into slavery. In time, he was exalted to the king’s right hand and given power over the nation. When his brothers came to him seeking to buy food, his identity was hidden from them until he revealed himself at the opportune time. This is the current state of all believers. The world doesn’t understand what has happened in us through salvation, nor can they perceive what is going to happen to us.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

Therefore, we are presently waiting with confident anticipation that the day will come when heaven will open, Christ will return, and we will be seen for who we are in Christ. This is our hope!

Our lives are secure with Christ (Col. 3:3). People may think we are just ordinary people with a delusive dream, but our eternal life is actually as secure as the existence of God Himself.

Our Future Identity in Christ

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.

Finally, Paul explains that believers are identified with Christ in the future. When Jesus returns, the whole world will be captivated by His glory. They will recognize that He is Lord. They will bow before Him and confess Him for who He is. They will also see believers for who we are and will suddenly perceive the power that energized our lives and the values that motivated us. In the present, we suffer with Him. In the future, we will share in His glory.

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

Our association with Christ for eternity could not be closer. We will “appear with him” (Col. 3:4).


As we studied in the last chapter, the essence of Christianity is Christ Himself. He “is our life” (Col. 3:4).

  • Consider His person — “he is the head of the body, the church,” (1:18)
  • Consider His performance — He triumphed over sin and all evil powers (2:11–15)
  • Consider God’s promises about Him — “ye also appear with him in glory” (3:4)
  • Consider our position in Him — “your life is hid with Christ in God” (3:3)

Living the Christian life has everything to do with Scripture’s declarations about Christ and our identity with Him.

In Colossians Jesus is the answer, whether the issue is spiritual wisdom, church leadership, reconciliation, our standing before a holy God, focus in ministry, the weight of transgressions, demonic power, victory over sexual temptation, sinful communication patterns, disunity and selfishness, open doors for ministry. Jesus is the answer, and we are fully identified with Him. We cannot look for satisfaction in stuff or groups or experiences or achievements. They easily rob us of who we truly are. Our identity is Jesus Christ.


This post is from Seeking Things Above: A Study in Colossians by Steve Pettit. Copyright 2016 by Bob Jones University.

This post is part of the study designed to correspond with the 2021 Spring Chapel Series. Watch the chapel message below:

Join us for chapel via live webcast at 11 a.m. every Monday.


Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.