I once taught at a college where the football team was called: the Lakers. The merchandise store had t-shirts that said: “I am a Laker.” When my oldest son was born, the department gave us a gift basket, including a onesie that said: “Future Laker.” Even though only a few people were on the football team, the university community wore their name. It became an identity, a source of pride, a symbol of belonging together.
In the same way, the followers of Jesus also share a name. In the very early days of the church, they were called “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:23; 24:14). But the society around them gave them a different name. In the city of Antioch, the believers became known as “Christians” (Acts 11:26)—”those Christ people.” It was not meant as a positive name; more like mockery, as in: “You are one of these people who always talk about Christ, Christ, Christ.” But the name stuck, and followers of Jesus have worn the label proudly: I am a Christian. I am, indeed, one of those Christ-people. Being Christian is my core identity.
In the catechism, we take a brief break from the Apostles’ Creed. Now that we know that “Christ” means the “Anointed One”, q&a 32 asks: so why are you called a Christian? Because it wants to teach us to connect personally with the title of Jesus. His identity is: the Christ. Our identity is connected to his: we are Christians.
The Lord’s anointed ones
1. Members of Christ
2. Sharing in his anointing
3. Active in his Kingdom
Members of Christ
Why are you called a Christian? More specifically, what connection is there exactly between Jesus Christ and you, that you apply his title to yourself? What do you have in common?
The catechism says: I am a member of Christ by faith. A short sentence, but with two powerful ideas. First, the idea of membership; second, the role of faith as the connector between me and Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to be a member of Jesus Christ? In an earlier lesson (LD 7) we talked about the imagery of Jesus as the vine and us as the branches. Just as the branch of a plant must be connected to the stem, so we must be connected to Jesus Christ in order to receive his life. We must “remain in him”, as Jesus himself said (John 15:4).
When the apostle Paul wrote to the early churches, he often used similar language: we are “in Christ”. Paul used several other pictures to make this point. For instance, he says that if Jesus Christ is like a person, we are like the body parts of that person. “Body part”—that is what the word “member” really means. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Cor. 12:27)
What a powerful picture! Your body parts are not just attached to you; they are part of you, they belong to you, and without them you are not complete. In a similar way, Christian believers belong to Jesus Christ, we are “in Christ”.
Being a member of Christ is also very practical. Just as you use your body parts to do things—walking, holding, looking, hearing, speaking—so our Lord Jesus acts through us. Just as your body parts are very different—arms, legs, ears, eyes—so believers have different tasks to do. After saying that we are individually members of Christ, Paul continues: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” (1 Cor. 12:28) We are all different. But we are all members, “body parts”, as it were of Jesus, designed to act on his behalf.
And we are members of Christ by faith. In LD 7 we discussed faith in more detail. It is trust in God, not only that what he says is the truth, but that he loves you and cares for you. It is also entrusting yourself to God, not only accepting what he says, but giving yourself over to him. This makes faith a very real and intimate relationship; and it is a relationship empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the way of faith, he connects us to Jesus, so intimately that we may be sure that we are indeed “members of Christ”.
Sharing in his anointing
In the previous lesson we discussed the meaning of the title “Christ”. Jesus Christ is the Anointed One, appointed by God to do his ultimate work in the world. God’s very own Spirit was poured out over him to give him the authority and power to complete this task. He is our chief Prophet and Teacher, our only High Priest, and our eternal King.
But because we belong to Jesus, are part of him like members of his body, that anointing applies to us as well. Not that we are little Christs; not that we have separate tasks in the world; but we share in his anointing. Because God ordained our Lord Jesus to do his work in this world, we too are ordained to do that work. Because the Holy Spirit was poured out to equip Jesus Christ for his work, we too are equipped by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus himself said it this way to his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22) What Jesus received at his baptism, he passed on to his followers, and he still passes it on to all of us who believe.
Christians are therefore people who have been commissioned by the Lord, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out on them. You see this most clearly in the earliest history of the church. In Acts 1, Jesus told his disciples: “You are my witnesses”—just as the ancient prophets, priests, and kings were witnesses of God, and just as Jesus himself is the great and faithful Witness (Rev. 1:5). In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers, visibly and audibly with fire and wind—just as the Spirit had been poured out on Jesus, visibly and audibly, when he was baptised.
In the Old Testament, there is much emphasis on the people with a special calling from God: Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, and so on. People who clearly had a special task and anointing with the Spirit. But in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is much more generously active. Everyone who believes in Jesus has received the Spirit and is therefore an anointed servant of the Lord.
(That does not mean that everybody has the same task and calling. Some Christian groups make the mistake of denying any special roles in the church. We recognize that even today, some have the special task to preach the gospel, or to be an overseer in the church, and so on. But that does not mean that they have received more anointing and Holy Spirit than others; it means that they have different gifts and callings.)
Active in his Kingdom
What does it practically mean, to be a member of Christ by faith and to share in his anointing?
The general answer is: it means that you live your life as a Christian. You live like a human being who knows and respects his Creator, who knows his salvation and loves his Saviour. You live in the way Jesus Christ shows you, and the Holy Spirit teaches you.
It means that you no longer work like a slave of Satan, doing wicked and selfish things, but that your everyday life shows the beautiful purpose for which God created you. It means that your life becomes more and more like that of our Lord himself, based on perfect love for God and for others. It means that, just as Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12), we too are the light of the world that stand out against the dark background of this evil world (Mat. 5:14; Phil. 2:15).
Just as in the previous lesson (q&a 31), the catechism works out the idea of “anointing” using the three keywords of prophet, priest, and king. It highlights that what we do today is similar to Jesus’ task. In fact, it is how we share in Jesus’ task, and how we are part of his ongoing work and mission in the world. The idea that we, as the people of God, are his prophets, priests, and kings, can already be found in the Bible. Just before the Lord proclaimed the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai, he already announced: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex. 19:6) Peter wrote to the church: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you.” (1 Peter 2:9) In the words “royal priesthood” and “proclaim” we clearly hear the three tasks of king, priest, and prophet.
So are you a Christian? Then you are a prophet. Some of us have a special prophetic task, of officially preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. But if you are not a missionary or a minister, you are still a prophet in a basic sense. Your calling is to confess his name. You speak about your Lord. You let others know, in everyday conversation, that you belong to Jesus, that you love him, that you live for him. You worship him openly. Peter said: “Proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Tell your family, your friends, your neighbours how good the Lord is, and how he saves you and gives you a new life.
Are you a Christan? Then you are also a priest. As Protestant Christians, we have no special priests, because our only High Priest Jesus brought the perfect sacrifice. We don’t need to bring offerings for the forgiveness of our sins. But at the same time, priests are also those who come into God’s presence to worship and pray and have fellowship with our God. In that respect, every believer is a priest. Every believer is free to approach the Lord like a child and enjoy his presence. And then we offer our gifts of love to him. Not a sin offering, but a thank offering. Not a sacrificial animal or an offering of food; Paul tells us that we offer ourselves. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Rom. 12:1) Our whole life should be a display of thankfulness to God. As priest, I present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him.
Are you a Christian? Then you are also a king. When God created human beings, he “crowned them with honour and glory, gave him dominion over the works of his hands, and put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:5-6); in other words, we were created to be caretakers of this world, rulers on God’s behalf. As Jesus Christ sets us free from sin, we can once again perform that task. When we live a worshipful life, show love and generosity to others, and care for God’s world, we are doing kingly work.
The catechism thinks of our kingship also in military terms. There is still a spiritual battle going on, King Jesus versus the evil forces of Satan. In Eph. 6, the Bible famously tells us to “put on the armour of God” because we are on the battlefield. Under the protection of King Jesus himself, we as his soldiers fight against sin and the devil. Because our sins are forgiven, we owe no loyalty to the enemy of God, and we can stand up to him with a free and good conscience.
That battle will last our lifetime in these last days on the earth. King Jesus has won the ultimate fight, but the skirmishes continue until he returns to subdue evil for good and renew the whole earth. Then our fight will be done. But our kingly task continues: hereafter we will reign with Christ eternally over all creatures.
It is an honour to be called “Christian”. More than any other label, it describes our identity as people who belong to Jesus Christ. Through faith, we have a most intimate connection with him. We are members of him, we are his body. Whatever belongs to him is also ours.
That includes his special, God-given task in this world for which he was anointed with the Holy Spirit. That anointment is ours as well. And so we live our lives with a clear calling and purpose: to continue the work of Jesus Christ in this world.
Jesus Christ, as our chief Prophet and Teacher, has told us all we need to know about our salvation; now we tell and show it to others. Jesus Christ, as our only High Priest, has brought the ultimate sacrifice of his body to atone for our sins; now we offer our very lives as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Jesus Christ, as our eternal King, has won the victory and protects us in battle; we faithfully stand our ground and oppose sin and evil. And when that task is done, the glory and celebration of heaven will not only be his, but also ours.
- What does the word “member” mean? How does the Bible apply it to us in 1 Cor. 12? What does that mean practically?
- When did the church receive its anointing with the Holy Spirit?
- What is our task as a prophet?
- What is our task as a priest?
- What is our task as a king?
- Were Old Testament believers anointed with the Spirit?
- Are you anointed with the Holy Spirit? How/when?
- Some Reformed theologians have suggested that the three offices in the church (minister, deacon, elder) match the offices of prophet, priest, and king. What do you think of that connection?
Suggested Bible reading schedule
|Monday||Romans 12:1-8. What is our priestly calling? (v. 1) Even though we have the same anointing in Jesus Christ, do we all have the same calling?|
|Tuesday||Exodus 19. In v. 6, the LORD calls the Israelites a “kingdom of priests”. What priestly activities must they all perform in this chapter? How were the Israelites limited in their priesthood, compared to Moses and Aaron? (v. 24)|
|Wednesday||1 Peter 2:1-11. How does Peter describe our prophetic task as Christians?|
|Thursday||Numbers 16. What theological claim did the rebels make in v. 3? To what extent were they correct? What did they get horribly wrong? How does our New Testament situation compare?|
|Friday||Ephesians 6:10-20. What kingly task are we called to perform?|
|Saturday||Matthew 25:14-30. How does this parable illustrate that we “share in Christ’s anointing” in a practical way? What is the reward of the faithful servants? (Do they get to enjoy a vacation?)|