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Who are you, really? 

A dozen professionals were being shuttled from the airport to a hotel for a conference. On the ride, one of the passengers made a casual observation. A colleague responded inappropriately with: “I bet you figured that out all by yourself.” The reaction was a disproportionate outburst of anger.

Why did that person react that way?

Your identity

As we explored in the previous post, self-identity is at or near the root of conflict. It may be said that conflict is the clash of identities.

The incident in our introduction was probed by asking some open questions in a safe environment. What was uncovered ran more deeply than two interdependent people with an incompatibility of needs, ideas, beliefs, values, or goals. It was about self-identity. The person who reacted with disproportionate anger perceived herself as an intelligent, hardworking, and respected professional. The comment had challenged that identity in the presence of her peers.

All of us have experienced conflict—situations in which our identity has been challenged— and we probably did not react well. Our trigger was a factor of our identity; perhaps our professional status, gender, politics, or how we like our food cooked.

Can we respond to conflict better?

Your pre-eminent identity marker

In “Identity, a Key to Conflict,” I left you with a few questions. You might want to review those questions to increase the benefit of this post. 

Here’s the main question to ask: “What is the pre-eminent characteristic of self-identity for a Christian?

I propose that it is being “in Christ.” 

We may use different terms, but I cannot conceive of another factor that has greater priority.

What does “in Christ” mean?

“In Christ” 

The phrase “in Christ,” or something similar, occurs more than 160 times in the writings of Paul. Reflect for a moment on Ephesians 1:3-14. “In Christ,” “in him,” and “in the Beloved” appear no fewer than ten times.

In simple terms, “in Christ” is the Christians’ solidarity with the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marianne Micks puts it this way in Our Search for Identity:

... the person who in the first instance bears the image, likeness, character, or glory of God is neither the average male nor the average female. Rather it is Jesus Christ, the risen Lord of the Christian community. It is he who shows us what it really means to be human. It is he who tells us what it really means to be created in the image of God. Those who are related to Christ, who are “in Christ,” come to share that image.

The term “in Christ” is the pre-eminent characteristic of identity for a follower of Jesus.

How does this help?

Embracing and living our identity “in Christ” will change us— including how we respond to conflict.

In our opening illustration, the woman’s pre-eminent factor of identity in that situation was her professional status. If that was destroyed, she believed she was destroyed. As a result, she chose the tool of anger to protect her self-identity.

What if being “in Christ” had been the pre-eminent characteristic for her? Would she have responded to the inappropriate remark the same way or differently?

This is more than a theoretical construct for theological debate. As James K. A. Smith says:

Theology is not some intellectual option to make us ‘smart’ Christians; it is the graced understanding that makes us faithful disciples.

For now, take some time to prayerfully read Ephesians 1:3-14. Identify each of the ten “in Christ” (or the equivalent)  terms and reflect on their significance for your self-identity. For instance, the first occurrence (verse 3) affirms that each follower of Jesus by virtue of being “in Christ” is “blessed with every spiritual blessing.” For me, that is not a call to striving and protecting; it is an invitation to acceptance and gratitude.

In the next post, let’s explore how to embrace your identity “in Christ.”

Let me know if you have a question or comment using this link

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Photo credit: dollen via Visual hunt / CC BY-ND

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