An intriguing testimony
The magazine article entitled ‘Beyond belief’ begins: ‘I suppose I first realised my orientation when I was about five years old. I didn’t fully understand it at that age, but I knew that something was different.’ The reader might expect soon to learn of some embarrassing sexual bias of the writer, only to get a pleasant jolt twenty-five lines later when told: ‘My name is David [Smyth] and my orientation is Jesus…’
Seven pages further on in that New Year issue of IDEA magazine another David (Dave Landrum) tells us that ‘Identity is a funny thing,’ listing: ‘I’m a father, a brother, a friend, English’ among the onion-like ‘layers’ of his ‘identities’. But, he asks, ‘What’s the irreducible core?’
Does all this imply that ‘orientation’ is just another name for ‘identity’?
Christ was Paul’s orientation and his identity
The apostle Paul confessed his orientation thus: ‘For me to live is Christ’ (Philippians 1:21). He wrote elsewhere of his identity, ‘his irreducible core’ in similar terms: ‘I am what I am by the grace of God’ (1 Corinthians 15:10). And he detailed the core of his identity in a statement (Galatians 2:20) that seems at first glance as though he is riding a spiritual roller-coaster. Firstly, he speaks of his dramatic Damascus Road arrest by the risen and ascended Jesus: ‘I have been crucified with Christ’. So, did he then give up his identity? His next sentence seems to indicate that this was the case: ‘It is no longer I who live …’ – he’s ‘toast’, a goner, a has-been, a non-entity; ‘but’, he adds, ‘Christ … lives in me’. Does he mean the ‘me’ who was crucified? Had Saul of Tarsus been so despicable that he had to be annihilated? When he reaches the end of his next sentence we learn that ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me’, indicating that Paul-in-his-identity (‘me’) is very precious to God as a habitation for Jesus!
An ego crossed out
The key could be under the doormat at the start of Paul’s statements: in his Greek text he began with ego. It’s the Greek way of emphasising that it was Paul-in-particular who was crucified and died with Christ at Calvary – ‘ego’ is an emphatic pronoun. However, in the context of Paul’s two-sentence statement we could paraphrase it as: ‘[My ego] has been crucified’ and ‘it is no longer [my ego] who live[s].’ However, ‘I[now] live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me.’ Paul-as-a-person was loved by Jesus while he was still persecuting his church.
In my childhood I knew that ‘conversion’ to Christ and ‘new birth’ by God’s Spirit gave me a changed life. But later I came to realise that it is so because it is also an exchanged life – his life for mine at Calvary, and his life in mine as part of his ‘new creation’.