“I feel like I’m being pulled in a million different directions.” That could describe how you feel at work, how your free time feels, what a family gathering is like for you, what all of life feels like for you right now. Where are you going in life? Who are you? Sometimes it’s hard to say. Do you even know how many different pieces there are to your life? Maybe life is a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with 17 pieces missing.
Being whole, being yourself, being real, being authentic is so unusual that you can do anything from downloading apps to diving into multilevel marketing schemes that promise to help you find yourself. Knowing yourself and being yourself are so rare that people will put their entire lives on hold, selling most of what they own, ending long-term relationships of all kinds, quitting their jobs, to go somewhere else — anywhere else — and find themselves. Can we blame them? Wouldn’t we also like to know who we are? Maybe we envy people with the daring to get rid of so much to find something so good, so real, so true as knowing yourself for who you are.
You can find yourself. It’s doable. Only death is required. At death, your identity is finally set, unmoving, no longer shifting. When you’re that still, you can finally take the measure of yourself. As long as you’re still in motion, who you are shifts a little or a lot each day, and finding yourself will always be just out of reach.
Baptism and death
Death can come later, or it can come immediately. If it comes later, you’ll have to wait until the EMT realizes he can’t do anything to help you. There’s too much damage, and you won’t make it. If there’s time, then you can wonder whether what you did was worth it and if you spent your time the way you should have and the way you planned to spend it. Don’t wait until then. Death can come immediately. Baptism is death. It’s also a church ritual involving posed pictures and sometimes the presence of family members who haven’t been in church in a long time. That’s fine, too, but Baptism is really about death in Christ’s death and life in Christ’s life. That’s great news. You can sell all your stuff and buy a van and drive across the country. That sounds great, and you can still do it. But you won’t find yourself that way. You can slave away at the job you hate for many more years. If you want to, go for it. But you won’t find happiness in doing it. The only way you’ll find the end of the road in the search for who you are and what you’re about is through being baptized into the death of Jesus.
When you’re baptized, born from above by water and the Spirit of God, you can stop looking for yourself. You have already been found dead with Christ and alive in Christ. There’s no other you to look for; you belong to Christ. When you’re doing great at work, to live is Christ. When you get laid off but first they make you train your replacement, to live is Christ. When you’re on cloud nine, to live is Christ. When the whole world is against you, to live is Christ. When the EMT realizes he can’t do anything to help you, to die is gain. When you get the diagnosis that you dreaded, to die is gain. When your spouse closes your eyes for the last time, to die is gain. Not you, but Christ living in you is what you found in Baptism and what you always have.
You’re not looking for wholeness, for being real, for being authentic. You have all that in Christ. You’re not searching for yourself; there, you’ll only find sin. You found out the real cost of your sin when you died in Baptism, and you found out the real love God has for you when you rose in Baptism. All you’ll ever amount to is being alive in Christ, and that’s all you’ll ever need.
Staying whole in Christ
So stay whole. This involves a lot more than just you, but you’re involved. Practically everything you watch, read and take in is aimed to pull you away from Christ and back down into yourself. Push back against that in any way you can. Sin doesn’t aim to disgust you. It aims to enchant you. Satan doesn’t shoot to take over the worst aspects of your thinking or your personality so that you can easily get rid of him. He shoots for the best things about you and wants to hijack them for his purposes. Remember that the only answer to the question of your identity is that you belong to Christ. If you start basing your thinking, your feeling, your decision-making, your behavior or anything else on something other than Christ and what He tells you in His Word, you’re going to start fragmenting your life, splintering your personality, flying apart again in a million different directions.
You aren’t alone in this struggle. It’s not possible to be alone in Christ. When you were baptized into Him, you were baptized into everyone else who is His. We all belong to Him. He is proud to be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom. 8:29). It’s a big family, and you’re in it. Facebook and Google do not profile you and put stuff in front of your eyes based on your Christian identity. That may not be how you were taught to think of yourself in school, but it’s true. You belong to an enormous family of believers, and that family needs to stay together more than ever.
You’re not the only one in danger of splitting into a million little pieces. Any of us could fly apart in a million different directions. All kinds of divisions could pull apart Christ’s Body. Is Christ divided? Of course, He isn’t. Is Satan nonetheless trying to divide Christ’s Body? Of course, he is. Heresy is when something is taught within Christ’s Body, the church, that goes too far or not far enough, that overstates or understates what God’s Word states. Heresy divides. Truth unites. The Spirit we all have received in Baptism is the Spirit of truth. In Baptism, we are all united. By heresy, we are divided.
Heresy divides, and living as though we do not need each other also divides. Like a married couple growing apart through lack of time together, a church that no longer speaks to one another can’t stay whole. We may not be saying anything false to one another, as a married couple may not be arguing constantly. But when we live lives totally separated from one another with totally different standards for how to live and what to do, it’s like we’re already divorced, already moved out, the papers already signed and the property already divided. If members of the body live lives totally different from one another, how could we ever expect to stay whole?
Over the next two articles in our series, we’ll look at how heresy divides and how life choices divide. We’ll examine what matters and what doesn’t. But we always start from Baptism. That’s where we started, and that’s where we’ll finish. There we died, and there we live. All of us. Not just some of us that can remember our Baptisms, and not just some of us that were baptized in the baptismal gown our family has used for generations. All of us, already whole, already together, already bound up with one another in Jesus, already dead through His death, already alive through His life. Stay what you are, Christian. Stay what you are, church of Christ. You have already been found, not by yourself but by Him. You already have somewhere to belong, and it’s not in the consumer demographic that Google put you in. It’s with Jesus and with His people. That’s you.