by Rob Tims
Deep in the bowels of the library of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is a room full of hardbound copies of doctoral dissertations written by graduates of the institution. It’s an insomniac’s delight, especially the one written by me: “The Relationship Between Perceived Social Support and Egocentrism Among Older Adolescents.” Yet the title does not do it justice (of course the author would say that). Maybe it’s better to say it’s an attempt to understand how who we know speaks into who we are. Who do we spend our time with and how does that affect our identity?
In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul uses three metaphors to describe the identity of Christians in relationship with others.
First, we are a naturalized citizen. “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints” (v. 19a). In its immediate context, this is about Gentiles coming to a faith rooted in Judaism. As it turns out, Christianity is not a western phenomenon. There is great comfort and humility found in understanding the history of our faith and how we’ve been naturalized in.
Second, we are adopted children (19b). OIKEIOS is the Greek word here. It goes beyond mere association. This is about being of the same blood. There is no kind of legal adoption of a child that does not give that child all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of being in that family. Likewise, there is no kind of relationship with God whereby we have only partial benefits. He went all in to make us all in.
Finally, we are a vital church member. This is Paul’s main point in vv. 20-22. As James Boice puts it, “Believers are mortared together with Christ, as God the architect through his workmen, the preachers of the gospel, builds his church.” Few people understand the gravity of what it means to be a member of a church. Too often, we think of our church membership like our gym membership. Sure, we go, but we shouldn’t be known as members. Not so with regard to the church. Yes, we go, and that means something about who we are.
In my dissertation, I was trying to understand and explain was how a teenager might change his view of himself if he had and understood great relationships with other people. The results were telling: teens have a much healthier view of themselves when they have and perceive strong community support (especially from parents and teachers, by the way). The more they understood who they were in relationship to others, the more they understood themselves.
Have you ever considered just how closely your personal identity is tied to your relationship with others? If not, you’re missing out who you really are.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.