Just as the converts in Galatia were struggling to understand how their new faith in Christ affected their identity, so I have heard Chinese Singaporean Christians struggle to define their identity as Christians in response to constant negative references in the media to "Christian/Western values." This equation of Christian values and Western values implies that when Chinese people become Christians, they abandon their Chinese identity and become Westerners. Unfortunately, conversions to the Christian faith are often accompanied by such a change in cultural identity, which seems to be required by strong Western influences both in society and in the church. As a result there is often a painful confusion of identity. "I feel like I'm not really a true Christian unless I give up my Chinese identity and become thoroughly Westernized," one young Chinese Christian man told me. "But I don't understand why I have to adopt so much of the Western culture and deny my own Chinese heritage in order to be a true Christian."
Similar questions have been raised in every age and culture as converts to the Christian faith wrestle to understand their identity as Christians. Even in so-called Christian countries, Christians need to discern the difference between their identity as God's children and the identity offered by the dominant forces of the surrounding culture.
It is helpful in the context of this discussion about the Christian's sense of identity to reflect on Paul's response to the identity crisis faced by the Galatian Christians. They were adrift in a no man's land between the pagan temples and the Jewish synagogues. They belonged to neither. They had abandoned the gods and religious practices of the temples. But they did not attend the Jewish synagogues, nor were they welcome there, even though they read the Jewish Scriptures and believed in a Jewish Messiah. As new Christians without a clear sense of identity, they were easily persuaded that if they acquired a Jewish identity they would belong to the people of God. They were probably reminded that the mother church in Jerusalem was a law-observant Jewish church. So if they really wanted to belong to the true church, they would have to be Jewish. They were in the process of receiving circumcision and the law so that they could belong to the people who claimed to be the true recipients of God's blessing.
In Galatians 3:6-9 we see how Paul defines the identity of the Galatian believers: he compares them to Abraham (v. 6), then he identifies them as children of Abraham on the basis of a common family characteristic (v. 7); he confirms that identification by quoting Scripture (v. 8), and on that basis he includes them in the family blessing (v. 9). Our own sense of identity can be clarified and strengthened as we trace the steps in this identification process.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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