We first meet Paul (known at that time as Saul) at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58). Saul was respected among Hebrews and in Jerusalem. By his own account, he had earnestly obeyed the law and was of noble blood: “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5–6). He went through homes and imprisoned men and women, ravaged the church, and approved of killings and beatings of followers of Jesus. He was the last person anyone would have thought would one day also be a follower of Jesus Christ, let alone one of the greatest missionaries Christianity has ever known. But when God saves, there’s a radical transformation.
Paul’s conversion was quite dramatic. First, a light flashed from heaven, and the voice of the Lord began to speak. Paul went blind, and this independent, fierce leader of persecution needed assistance from his buddies to walk him to Damascus. Once there, he didn’t eat and remained blind for three days until Ananias showed up. Ananias was there only because Jesus had directly commanded him to go to Saul, lay hands on him, and restore his sight. Ananias was scared—and rightly so. Saul was well known and feared by the early church because of his zealous persecution. Nevertheless, Ananias obeyed and went to meet with Saul. When he laid hands upon him, something “like scales” fell from Saul’s eyes, and his vision returned. Immediately Saul was baptized, and immediately after that he began to proclaim Christ in the synagogues (Acts 9:1–22).
Our conversion experiences may not be as dramatic as Paul’s. Okay, they probably aren’t close to being as dramatic. But the results are the exact same. When Paul was converted, his old self was completely gone; he was a new man (Colossians 3:10). John Piper explained it like this in a sermon titled “Class, Culture and Ethnic Identity in Christ”: “In conversion, our old self died and was laid aside with its impulses and drives and values and loves and convictions. And a new self was created by God. This is called in other places ‘the new birth’ or being born again (John 3:13; 1 Peter 1:3).”
With this new birth comes a new identity. We no longer live for ourselves—and we are no longer ourselves. We are a new creation. Paul wrote about this new creation in Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Being identified with Christ means full and free acceptance by God, the ability to approach a holy God, no condemnation, complete forgiveness, righteousness before God, and presentation to God one day as blameless and perfect. Now, that’s amazing grace!
At one time in my life, I would have found my identity either in being a black female or in what others thought about me, upon becoming a Christian and growing in my faith I discovered that my identity was in something radically different and better. My identity is in Christ. When I find my identity in Christ and not in outward appearance, there’s satisfaction. I’m satisfied in Him because He loves me. Elyse Fitzpatrick puts it this way in her book Because He Loves Me: “I don’t need to be concerned with these things at all, because I’ve been given assurances that eclipse all else. I’ve been given the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who is able to save me to the uttermost and who is living, right now, in this very instant, to make intercession for me before his Father (Heb. 7: 25).”
As Christians we have been given the God-Man! Jesus—fully God and fully man—is ours. There isn’t a love that can trump this. When God looks at us, He no longer sees the sin that so ensnared us before salvation; He now sees us clothed in Christ’s righteousness. He looks at us and sees His Son’s perfect obedience. He sees beauty. God sees us in Christ. God sees you in Christ. And it is because of our new identity that we can be united together in Christ.