The idea of our identity with Christ is an important topic in my class on spiritual formation. We spend several class sessions looking at Colossians 3:1-17 from a variety of angles and often return to thinking about how our identity with Christ is foundational for our spiritual life and maturity (the students also memorize Colossians 3:1-17 over the course of the semester). The capstone to this section of the class is an assignment helping the students to reflect on their own identity. Here are the instructions.
1. Ken Berding has written an excellent book entitled Walking in the Spirit. The students read a chapter from the book that discusses the question of whether we can defeat sin by looking at Romans 8.
2. Paul uses a variety of metaphors to describe identity with Christ. To help students look at the topic from a different angle, I have them read Romans 13:11-14 and describe how the concept of identity with Christ appears in this text with different metaphors than those used in Colossians 3.
3. The heart of the assignment is a time in prayer. They have already completed an assignment on silence in which they spent two hours in prayer. For this assignment, they only spend an hour, but I give them specific directions on how they are to spend that hour:
1. For fifteen minutes reflect before God on which sins you must identify and put off. The point of this reflection is not to defeat these sins in your own power by “trying harder” (a tendency that we have already discussed in class). For now, just recognize you are a sinner and sit among the weeds. If you become overwhelmed by this exercise, feel free to move on to the next section.
2. For fifteen minutes reflect before God on the identities that you take on. Examples could include good student, bad student, athlete, musician, likeable friend, loner, failure in your parents’ eyes, victim, older sibling, etc. Be careful to be honest with yourself about them. After you have identified several identities, think about what role these identities have in your life. Are these identities mostly positive or negative? Did you choose these identities or were they placed on you? If they were taken away from you, what would be left? Do you switch between identities? If so, why and when do you switch? Are these identities balanced? Have any become an idol? How would you be able to tell if they become an idol?
3. For fifteen minutes reflect before God on how you respond to failure, rejection, shame, and guilt. Do you cover up these aspects? Do these aspects relate to the identities you noted in the previous question? What kind of patterns do you see in your life? Do you try harder? Do you strive to avoid pain? Where are you most scared to fail?
4. For the final fifteen minutes, focus on the cross and who we are in Christ. Review the verses above and reflect on what they mean for your life. What does it mean to be a child of God? How does this relate to my other identities? How does it relate to obedience? How does it relate to guilt? Be open to the fact that you may not rejoice in these thoughts, which is itself helpful to know about our soul.
4. After they spend this time in prayer, they write two paragraphs reflecting on their time in prayer. Many students have commented that this time in prayer was very helpful for their spiritual growth as they reflect on all the other ways they try to find their identity besides in Christ.