Identity in Christ and in the World
From the Editor:
A Missionary’s Identity–Sent to be Transformed
In April 1855, Hudson Taylor and his friend John Burdon sailed up the Yangtse River on an evangelistic journey that took them to the city of Tongzhau (now Nantong). Along the way, they heard cries of “black devils”—not because of their skin or hair color but because of their foreign clothes.1 Foreign clothes, foreign speech, and foreign ways were found to be an unnecessary distraction to the gospel. Though Taylor had previously donned Chinese garb while preaching, not long after this trip he determined to adopt the local fashion permanently. Despite the disapproval of many expat missionaries, he regularly wore Chinese clothing from August 1855.
Hudson Taylor became well known for identifying with the people to whom he brought the gospel. The same is true for the members of the China Inland Mission that he would found a decade later. Learning language and culture is an essential part of becoming “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22, all quotations from ESV). But as the cover photo of this issue illustrates, clothes don’t necessarily make the man. Fashions change. Cultures evolve. Religious practices transform. The status of foreigners in a country fluctuates. For all these reasons, missionaries find themselves continually assessing and reassessing their personal identity.
The question, “Who am I?” impacts us all in significant, though often different, ways. This is because we are psychological, social/cultural, and theological beings who are shaped in diverse ways as we develop in different contexts and relationships.
Theologically, our identity is grounded in our relationship with God since we were created in his image and have been “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). As God’s image-bearers, our role is to rule over creation as stewards who follow the rule of God. Unfortunately, this image was sullied when we fell after the pattern of the first Adam, “the man of dust” (1 Cor 15:49), and sin ruined our God-designed relationships. Though this tarnished identity will ever be part of us, when Jesus renews us spiritually and gives us eternal life, our identity is gradually moulded into the image of the second Adam.
Much of our identity is shaped by our social and cultural relationships as members of families and institutions, language and ethnic groups, classes and nationalities. As these relationships shape me over time, there is a sense in which I am not the person I was before. Even so, my present identity is inextricably tied to who I was in the past and who I will be in the future. Not even my status as a new creation in Christ erases all of my old identity. While I am new in essence, the “old man” simply won’t go away. And since my identity is in process, people will view me differently. Those who have known me for a long time will remember my old identity, while new acquaintances will only know me for what I have become. It is therefore vital that I learn to recognize myself as one who, no matter what my background, is being shaped into the image of Jesus. Only as I do this will I be able to fulfil the role God has given to me as a member of his family and ambassador of his kingdom.
This is true regarding my work as
a missionary. Though people at “home” and “on the field” will view me differently, I need to know who I am in Christ and how that affects my current role and relationships. Toward this end, this issue of Mission Round Table begins with some articles that set identity in the context of relationship, particularly our all-important relationship with Christ.
- Mission as Bearing Witness to an Identity given by Christ – Peter Rowan
- A Christian’s Identity in Christ: How should we Understand our Identity as Missionaries? – S.Z.
- Identity with Integrity: An Issue Jesus Faced – Richard S.
- Identity within a Missional Business – Nora Hughes
- Batman and the Quest for Holistic Identity – James R.
- My Identity as an Asian Christian Serving within the Mission of God – Andersius Namsi
- Who am I? Mary Jeanne Buttrey
- So that’s what they call it now! Getting Water to the Thirsty – David Pickard