The Christian’s True Identity: What It Means to Be in Christ, by Jonathan Landry Cruse. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2019, x + 155 pages, $14.00, paper.
To be human is to reckon with the matter of one’s identity. People have always had to answer the question, “Who am I?” But in our day, this seems more complicated than ever. Proponents of identity politics claim that a person is defined by the racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and sexuality groups in which the person locates his or her identity. It is not surprising that this has contributed to the increasing fragmentation of our society. What is surprising, and troubling, is that a number of Christians are embracing the tenets of identity politics and seeking to apply them to life in the church.
We can be thankful that Pastor Jonathan Landry Cruse has written a book that sheds biblical light upon this situation. In The Christian’s True Identity, he essentially unpacks what is expressed in the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, where the Christian confesses that his only comfort rests upon the assurance that “I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.” As Christians, our identity is not rooted in our race, our ethnicity, or our gender. It is certainly not located in the struggles that we experience with sin and temptation. Instead, our identity is grounded upon the glorious reality of being “in Christ.”
In ten chapters, Cruse explores various aspects of our union with Christ. While other books have been written on the subject of union with Christ, several features make this one stand out. In addition to being solidly grounded in the Reformed confessional tradition, it is compellingly written and accessible to ordinary Christians. Each chapter explains the Bible’s teaching in a faithful and clear manner that connects with the world in which we live. This is reflective of the fact that the book is based upon material that was first delivered in the pulpit.
The opening chapter shows how the teaching of Scripture confronts the misguided yet popular assumption that true liberty means having the right to define your own conception of existence and identity. As Cruse explains, believers in Christ have “an identity that the world cannot offer and with which the world cannot compete. Nothing but an identity founded in Christ is sustainable through all the changes of life and will satisfy even into eternity” (15).
The book’s treatment of the doctrine of election is especially noteworthy for how it focuses our attention upon the fact that our election is in Christ. Cruse writes, “God was thinking of us not in and of ourselves, and certainly not in and of our sin, but truly in and of His Son. We are in His Son in the sense that we were the people given to His Son” (28). This is what makes election a source of immense comfort instead of a subject that generates incurable anxiety. As John Calvin put it,
If we are chosen in Christ, we shall find no assurance of election in ourselves; nor even in God the Father, considered alone, abstractly from the Son. Christ, therefore, is the mirror, in which it behooves us to contemplate our election; and here we may do it with safety.
Cruse relates justification and sanctification to union with Christ in a manner that avoids common pitfalls, such as rejecting the logical and theological priority of justification to sanctification, or making our justification dependent on our sanctification. His exposition of sanctification emphasizes how our growth in grace is the working out of the new identity and standing with God that we already possess by virtue of our union with Christ. The book concludes with chapters dealing with how our union with Christ delivers us from the world, the flesh, the devil, and death, and how the outward and ordinary means of grace function to deepen our communion with Christ.
This book would be an excellent resource for an adult Sunday school class or book study. It could also be used in ministry to high schoolers or college students, many of whom may be especially vulnerable to our culture’s false assumptions and assertions about identity. Study questions are included at the end of each chapter.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, LCC, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.24.5.
Andy Wilson is a minister serving as the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Laconia, New Hampshire. Ordained Servant Online, February 2020.