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A Theological & Functional Study of the Whole
Christology Studyprinter-friendly pdf version
Identity Crisis, Sanctified Identity
Jesus’ Sanctified Identity
The Nature of Discipleship
While the embodied Jesus was distinctly Jewish, and his predominant surrounding context was Jewish Galilee and Judea, the person Jesus presented (who and what) and how he interacted at the various levels of social discourse were a function of a minority identity, not the dominant Jewish identity. That is, Jesus functioned in a qualitatively different way than prevailing Judaism, yet he was fully compatible with OT faith and the teaching of Scripture—not as a religious code but as a relational process with God. He was uniquely both part of and apart from the religious mainstream; the latter was reflected in conflicts with certain religious leaders and by tension with would-be followers, as discussed previously.
One advantage of his minority identity was to clearly distinguish his significance from the prevailing majority—including from the broader context pervaded with Greco-Roman influence. A major disadvantage, however, was to be marginalized (viz. considered less, or even ignored if not intrusive) by the majority or dominant sector. This disadvantage is problematic at best for his followers and can precipitate an identity crisis, that is, if his followers are not experiencing the truth of who, what and how they are. Yet, the experiential truth of his followers’ identity is a relational outcome of embracing Jesus in his identity, the clarity and depth of which become a christological contingency. In other words, the specific identity of who Jesus is (or perceived to be), by nature of their involvement, will be definitive for who his followers are or become.
The key, and thus the contingency, is who Jesus is. If who Jesus is
defines the basis for our identity as his followers, then Jesus by
necessity is both the hermeneutical key and the functional key.
This, of course, makes our life and practice in discipleship
contingent on our working Christology—specifically whether or not it
involves the embodied whole of Jesus.
The consequence of Jesus’ minority identity is one issue all his followers must address (cf. the consequential characteristic of the last beatitude, Mt 5:10). At the same time, Jesus’ full identity is an interrelated issue inseparable from the minority issue, not only conjoined to it but antecedent to it. Thus, both issues must be addressed for the functional clarity of his followers’ identity as well as for the experiential depth of this identity necessary to mitigate an identity crisis.
In a complete Christology, the person presented by Jesus is a function of his whole person—nothing less and no substitutes, thus irreducible in the nature of his incarnation involvement; and Jesus’ whole person is a function of relationship in the trinitarian relational context and process—also nothing less and no substitutes, thus nonnegotiable to the terms of any other context and process. In this complete Christology the whole gospel of God’s thematic relational action of grace emerges for the experiential truth of Jesus’ full soteriology (saved both from and to), the significance of which is only for relationship together.
An identity crisis begins to emerge when the truth (or identity) of Jesus we follow is incomplete of his whole person—for example, focused on his disembodied teachings or example. This crisis develops when the Jesus as Truth we embrace is not his whole person in relationship together; whatever we then experience is some substitute for his person in a context and process simulating the context and process of intimate relationship as family together. The consequential lack of depth leads to a lack of clarity, that is, not necessarily a lack of clarity of what the object of faith is but a lack of clarity of the significance of Jesus’ whole person. Any lack of clarity of who Jesus is also reflects a lack of understanding of what faith involves. These lacks are a relational consequence of functioning in relationship with Jesus without relational significance. Therefore, identity crisis for his followers is a direct function of reductionist relationship, first with Jesus then together with each other.
The development of this relational process to an identity crisis can be observed in his early disciples. After multiple occasions of witnessing Jesus healing various diseases and cast out demons, his disciples had a dramatic experience of Jesus disarming a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mk 4:35-41). Their collective response was “Who is this?” Their question is to be compared and contrasted to Jesus’ query of them later about his identity (Mt 16:15). Both queried the identity of Jesus. Yet, Jesus focused on a relational epistemic process for a deeper epistemology (cf. Mt 16:17) in contrast to an apparent conventional epistemic process the disciples utilized. Their actions suggest a dependence on reason. Rather than pursue this question with Jesus and God’s self-revelation, the disciples pondered it among themselves. This was a consistent pattern by them, which cannot be adequately explained by sociocultural practice or by the tradition of rabbinic students because how Jesus was with them radically altered both of those constraints. Yet, in numerous situations they either failed to understand what Jesus meant or what was happening to him, and each time they refrained from engaging him in the relational epistemic process (see Mk 8:14-16, Jn 4:32-33, Mk 9:32, Lk 18:34, Jn 12:16, cf. Lk 24:12). Each of these interactions was an opportunity for the disciples to further grasp the identity of who Jesus is, but they failed to pursue deeply their initial query: “Who is this?”
The relational consequence is predictable, though unexpected for his original followers who went through three intensive years with Jesus. Perhaps they assumed they knew Jesus based on their observations and reasoning during this period; yet, their actions consistently made evident a gap in their Christology and a limit to their faith. This was an identity crisis in the making since the identity of the Jesus they followed was incomplete of his whole person. Despite how vulnerable Jesus made his whole person accessible to them, they were consistently predisposed by the limits of their perceptual-interpretive framework which essentially tried to constrain who, what and how Jesus was. Despite how vulnerably involved Jesus was with them in relationship, they did not reciprocate but remained measured in their relational involvement. While they submitted themselves somewhat vulnerably to follow Jesus in a perceived program, mission or lifestyle, they did not submit their whole persons to be relationally vulnerable to his whole person for intimate relationship. In this qualitative relational process they remained effectively at a relational distance.
Surprisingly, for the early disciples, this suggests their lack of understanding both of what is primary in discipleship and of what faith involves. Even after three intensive years with Jesus, the reality was that their Christology was incomplete. Their lacks and identity crisis were clearly demonstrated in two interactions just prior to his crucifixion and after his resurrection, which were discussed previously and need to be revisited.
In Jesus’ discourse in the upper room on the eve of his crucifixion, he made this remarkable assertion to his disciples: “If you had known [ginosko] me, you would have known [oida] my Father also; from now on you know [ginosko] him, and have seen [horao] him” (Jn 14:7, NASB). This was about the reality of a deeper epistemology, which is not about the mere transmission of knowledge but also what is experienced in relationship together. Yet, the reality of their experience, and thus this deeper epistemology, was qualified by Jesus’ use of the Greek indicative mood and perfect tense for the above verbs, which is informative for all his followers. With the indicative mood, Jesus was either making a simple statement of fact or pointing to an assumed reality. The perfect tense accentuates the fact of the disciples understanding (ginosko, oida) and stresses the outcome (horao) for them of God’s self-revelation in Jesus. The exact state or existing condition of the disciples depends on how Jesus used the indicative mood.
I suggest Jesus was both making a simple statement of fact about his ontology (the whole of God with the Father) and thus his full identity (who, what and how he was), as well as pointing to an assumed reality for his disciples. This reality was only assumed because there is a relational contingency involving a reciprocal dynamic (cf. the contingency characteristic of the sixth beatitude, Mt 5:8). The disciples had to vulnerably engage Jesus’ whole person in the relational epistemic process necessary to know him; and they had to be intimately involved with him in his full identity in the relational progression necessary to experience the Father. Until this reciprocal relational process is ongoingly engaged, this reality can only be assumed. In other words, his followers may have knowledge about Jesus without knowing him. The latter is the deeper epistemology grasped only in the experience of relationship together; more importantly, without knowing Jesus in intimate relationship there is no actual perception (horao) and realization (oida) of the Father in the experience (ginosko) of relationship together as his very own.
Where can the disciples be located in this reciprocal relational process? When Philip spoke for the disciples, “show us the Father” (14:8), he demonstrated that they didn’t really know Jesus (though they had much knowledge about him)—much to Jesus’ deep disappointment (v.9). “Who is this?” still had not been determined among them, and would remain so until it was resolved not by further observing the events of the next few days, but in relationship. An identity crisis had emerged. Yet, it should be apparent that this was less a theological issue of Christology and more a functional issue of faith, which Jesus alluded to on the Sea of Galilee (Mk 4:40). That is, this is the ongoing relational response and involvement of trust—not blind faith or unwarranted trust but reciprocity with the vulnerable Jesus in full identity and complete Christology. This is the priority, primacy and nature of discipleship (Jn 12:26)—“the pure in heart” who “hunger and thirst for the relational righteousness of God” (the contingency and growth characteristics of identity maturation, Mt 5: 6,8)
As this identity crisis developed in the hours and days ahead, the functional issue of faith was more evident, though always conjoined with the theological issue of Christology in a reflexive relational dynamic. The post-resurrection scenario on the road to Emmaus demonstrated both the disciples’ crisis and that their discipleship was headed in the wrong direction (Lk 24:13-35). This represented much more than excursive action.
What this signified for all the disciples is the identity of the Jesus they followed was uncertain. Who is this?” still prevailed, with their focus shifted to events suggesting a further query “How can this happen?” (v.21). Yet, for the early disciples the two queries would be directly interrelated and a direct result of an incomplete Christology for failing to engage Jesus in the relational epistemic process. Conjointly, and most important, their actions clearly made evident a relational gap in their faith (vv.25-26).
As discussed previously, Jesus’ confrontation of the disciples with “how slow of heart to believe” meant to be reluctant, unresponsive, that is, to relationally trust Jesus and take him at his word. This involved the trust of submitting their whole persons vulnerably to Jesus’ whole person vulnerably involved with them for intimate relationship together as family. By the nature of discipleship, this necessitated the trust of their ongoing relational involvement with Jesus in the relational progression to the Father for life together as the whole of God’s family. The disciples’ lack of clarity of who Jesus is reflected their lack of understanding the depth of what faith involves as his followers.
Any aspect of identity crisis as followers of Jesus is correlated to their function in relationship with Jesus and its relational significance. In his full identity Jesus is the hermeneutical and functional keys to the whole of God (notably the Father) and for constituting the relationships necessary to be whole together as family. In this relational process, on the one hand, the full identity of who Jesus is constitutes the experiential truth of his followers’ identity, which is the basis to mitigate an identity crisis. On the other, embracing Jesus in his full identity will always involve not only being associated with a minority identity but also being constituted in it. The incarnation principle of nothing less and no substitutes does not give his followers latitude to be selective.
The ongoing tension between having a minority identity and other prevailing (and competing) identities in the surrounding context is problematic but not necessarily a crisis issue. The ongoing relational dynamic between Jesus’ minority identity and his full identity functions for the qualitative distinction of what I define as Jesus’ sanctified identity. It is the experiential truth of his sanctified identity which constitutes his followers in the deepest satisfaction signifying makarios from their identity formation in the beatitudes—that is, the blessed who intimately participate in the whole of God’s life (cf. Jesus’ prayer, Jn 17:13).
To lack this makarios, in whatever situation or circumstance,
is to struggle in the relational condition “to be apart” from the
whole of God. Thus, for Jesus’ followers, identity crisis is
juxtaposed with sanctified identity, which is inherent to a complete
When Jesus said in his formative family prayer “I sanctify myself” (Jn 17:19), this was not about sanctifying his ontology but about sanctifying his identity to function clearly in the whole of his ontology. Since Jesus’ ontology was always holy (hagios), this was mainly in order that his followers’ ontology and identity may be sanctified (hagiazo) in the truth of his full identity (as Jesus prayed). Moreover, since Jesus’ embodied identity did not function in a vacuum, it is vital to grasp his sanctified identity for the experiential truth of our identity to be in his likeness and our ontology to be in the image of the whole of God (as Jesus further prayed).
What is Jesus’ sanctified identity? As the embodiment of the holy God, Jesus’ identity functioned in congruence with the origin or source of his ontology. Earlier in his formative family prayer, he indicated the source of his ontology as “I myself am not of the world” (vv.14,16). “Of” (ek) means (here in the negative) out of which his identity is derived and to which he belongs. Yet, this only points to Jesus’ full identity. In his prayer he also defined his function as “in the world” (v.13, cf. Jn 13:1). “In” (en) means to remain in place, or in the surrounding context, while “out of” the context to which he belongs, thus pointing to his minority identity. It is the dynamic interaction of Jesus’ full identity with his minority identity that is necessary for the significance of his sanctified identity. They are conjoined, and if separated our understanding of who, what and how Jesus is is diminished.
The conventional perception of the holy is something sacred thus set apart or separate from ordinary things. This is not incorrect since hagios denotes separated from ordinary or common usage. Yet, this tends to limit our understanding of sanctified and to predispose us either to separatist practice or to unattainable practice for function in the world. Jesus’ minority identity was not as a separatist but functioned in the surrounding context of the world, that is, in the common’s context (koinos). His minority identity, however, was a minority not because it was quantitatively unique or different but rather due to his qualitative distinction from the common’s function—always while in the common’s context. The qualitative distinction of his minority identity could only function as an outcome of the dynamic interaction with his full identity.
As Jesus prayed, without the function of his full identity there is no truth and function of his minority identity; and without the functional truth of his minority identity there is no experiential truth of his full identity. This interaction is a function of relationship, not doctrine or ethics, a function of a relational process not a missional paradigm. Sanctified identity is the relational outcome of this ongoing relational dynamic, the function of which is the ontology of the whole and holy God embodied in Jesus and extended in his followers by the Spirit.
We need to understand further the sanctified identity Jesus embodied in sanctified life and practice. The functional posture “in the world” of his minority identity is beyond mere ethics and is more than merely mission. This functional posture emerges from the relational posture “not of the world” of his full identity enacted “as you sent me into the world” (v.18). “Into” (eis) denotes motion into the common’s context as a conjoint function of the ek-eis dynamic (“out of”-“into” motion), which both signifies the primary relational context of Jesus’ identity with the Father and constitutes the primacy of the relational process between him and his Father.
This relational posture of Jesus defined what, who and how he was. Just as his followers in the common context would, Jesus experienced the ongoing tension to conform to a religious and sociocultural identity, which then would define and shape him. For example, he encountered strong pressure to meet messianic expectations, to practice a reduced variation of Judaism (since the rebuilding of the temple, Second Temple Judaism), to adhere to the existing social structures and norms, all of which would have limited or reduced what, who, and how he was. While part of Jesus’ full identity involved being Messiah, Savior and King, he was not defined by a title, a role or by what he did. What constituted his identity was the function of relationship as the whole of God—in the Gospel narratives, notably with the Father.
In the midst of pressure and tension from the surrounding context, Jesus neither hid where he was from nor submerged his identity with the Father. The first glimpse of tension about the source of his identity occurred at age twelve with his parents (“your father”-“my Father,” Lk 2:48-49)—apparently inaugurating the public function of his full identity. Later, when challenged in his honor and the source of his teachings, he clearly defined the Father as his source (Jn 7:16,28-29). When asked where his father was, he responded qualitatively to their quantitative question (Jn 8:19); after they asked “Who are you?,” Jesus claimed his identity only with the Father (8:25-29). Moreover, Jesus not only claimed his identity but also his ontology together with the Father (Jn 10:30-38).
In his formative family prayer, Jesus repeatedly discussed being sent by the Father and its direct implications (Jn 17:3,8,18,21,23,25). This made evident the relational context and process for his sanctified identity and its relational posture. Jesus’ sanctified identity was his sanctified life and practice fully submitted to the Father, that is, set apart (hagiazo) for the whole and holy God. This was who, what and how Jesus was, obedient in the incarnation involvement principle of nothing less and no substitutes signifying the whole of God. Whatever he did, said or taught was due to, from and about the Father (Jn 5:19,30; 7:16-18; 8:28-29; 12:49-50; 14:10,24, cf. Dt 18:18). His only function was to relationally respond to his Father in love and fulfill his desires (Jn 4:34; 8:55; 14:31). The dominant focus of Jesus’ identity—notably in the Gospel of John—was on his dynamic function as Son (not as a static title) in ongoing intimate relational involvement with the Father. Thus, his identity was fully set apart for and submitted to the Father; and furthermore his ontology cannot be separated from the Father without reduction of the whole of God. This was the basis for his claim to his disciples that to see him is to see the Father (Jn 14:9), that to know him is to know the Father (14:7).
The qualitative distinction of Jesus’ sanctified identity, fully set apart for and submitted to the Father, was made evident at his baptism in a type of “commencement ceremony” (Mt 3:13-17). In the process of baptism, Jesus identified with and shared in the lives of those to whom the Father sent him, and Jesus’ identity converges with the relational righteousness of God (v.15) and the ontology of the whole of God (vv.16-17). Thus the Father openly disclosed his love and delight for his Son (v.17). This ongoing relational process of intimate involvement together defined who, what and how Jesus was in the world. From commencement at his baptism, the formation of Jesus’ sanctified identity (the relational dynamic between his minority identity and his full identity) can be understood to be “formally embodied” at his transfiguration (Mt 17:12). This appeared to be when his ontology as the whole of God was fully vulnerable, and why the Father said to his followers: “Listen to him!” (v.5).
“Listen to him [as my Son]” has functional significance only in the context and process of relationship together. The relational significance of Son goes beyond listening to Jesus as Messiah, Savior, King, prophet, rabbi or servant. “Listen to my Son,” who became vulnerably embodied to be relationally involved, because the Son’s sanctified life and practice functioned to constitute his followers in the relational progression for their sanctified life and practice to function also fully submitted to the Father and set apart for the whole and holy God in the world.
This was the relational nature and functional significance of Jesus’
sanctified identity. This was the qualitative distinction necessary
to vulnerably disclose the whole of God and God’s thematic
relational action of grace to the world—Jesus, the hermeneutical
key. Therefore, his sanctified identity is definitive for the
relational nature and functional significance of all who follow
him—Jesus, the functional key as well. Conjointly, sanctified
identity is the definitive function both (1) for the experiential
truth his followers need in their life and practice, and (2) for the
authentic basis necessary to enact their discipleship in the
world—for which Jesus prayed (Jn 17:17-19).
Since who, what and how Jesus is embodied the whole of God and fulfilled God’s thematic relational response only for relationship together, following the whole of Jesus involves the function of only this relationship together. Just as Jesus’ identity was rooted in, conjoined and relationally involved with, and responsive to the Father, this is how the identity of his followers must (dei, by its nature, not out of obligation or compulsion) be both in life together and in the world. This involves more than identification and association with Jesus, and goes beyond involvement with what he did and taught as involvement merely in ethics and mission. Discipleship necessitates congruence of his followers’ whole person with the relational posture of Jesus’ full identity and the functional posture of his minority identity (see his words in Mt 10:24-25, Lk 6:40, Jn 17:18); and he chastened the individual ambition of his followers to construct their own identity (Jn 7:18; 13:16). This congruence is necessary for Jesus followers to have the clarity of his minority identity and the depth of his full identity for the function of the qualitative distinction, and thus significance, of the whole and holy God.
This relational process might have been somewhat confusing for the early disciples when Jesus appeared to make experiencing his and the Father’s love contingent on obeying his commands: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (expressed in the Greek subjunctive mood indicating contingency, Jn 15:10, cf. v.14). Or when Jesus transposed obeying his teaching/commands apparently to prove their love for him: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching” (subjunctive mood, Jn 14:23, cf. vv.21,24). These can easily be construed as contingencies from Jesus, and thus reduced to obligatory or compulsory behavior focused on what his followers need to do, not the relationship with Jesus. Yet, this would misinterpret Jesus’ purpose by taking his words out of the context and process of the whole, notably the whole of his sanctified life and practice. “Listen to my Son” only has functional significance, and thus understanding, in the context and process of relationship together. Being heard, seen or read in this context and process of the whole of Jesus, his words are not conditional statements but relational statements. And it is crucial for the nature of discipleship that his followers grasp this distinction.
In his own relationship with the Father, Jesus clearly disclosed: he only spoke the words which the Father commanded him to say (Jn12:49-50, cf. 8:28; 14:24); moreover, he functioned in the common’s context for the purpose (hina) to let the world know that he loved the Father and in this manner (houtos) did just as (kathos) the Father commanded him (Jn 14:31); and having obeyed his Father’s commands he ongoingly dwelled (meno) in his Father’s love (Jn 15:10), just as (kathos, indicating congruence) the Father always loves him (in the Greek aorist form indicating without any time or manner of the action, Jn 15:9).
Jesus’ last disclosure of his relationship with the Father is critical for our understanding of his earlier statements. Obedience was not a contingency to remain (meno) in the Father’s love, as if to suggest there was or could be a time when Jesus did not dwell in the Father’s love—the ontological and relational mystery of the crucifixion notwithstanding (cf. Mk 15:34). In the dynamics of their relationship, Jesus’ last disclosure made evident that the Father’s love (agape) preceded his obedience. The nature of their relationship is the intimate relational involvement of agape; it is not defined by doing the Father’s teaching (Jn 8:28), commands (Jn 12:49) or example (Jn 5:19). Merely engaging the relationship with this limited practice of obedience is reductionism. And Jesus conjoined his relationship with the Father to his above statements in order to demonstrate the congruence (“just as,” kathos) necessary for his followers to experience intimate relationship with him in likeness (Jn 15:10), and furthermore, the congruence necessary to experience the whole of God together as family in the intimate relational involvement of family love (Jn 14:23). This was not about contingency but relationship.
What then is the function of obedience in this relational process which goes beyond reductionism and contingency statements to the significance of Jesus’ relational statements? In Jesus’ sanctified identity he was fully submitted to the Father and set apart for the whole and holy God in the world. Part of his purpose was to make clearly evident to the world his love for the Father (Jn 14:31). This can even be considered a priority over showing God’s love for the world, contrary to particular ethical and missional efforts which effectively reduce God’s love merely to what he and/or Christians do, however good and beneficial. For Jesus, in other words, he didn’t come to be a conveyor of information about God or a dispenser of his good deeds but to vulnerably disclose the whole of God. This God was not in a vacuum, nor merely transcendent. In the incarnation, Jesus embodied God vulnerably present and involved: the functional significance of which is only by and for relationship, the nature of which is the intimate involvement of agape.
Jesus’ obedience neither highlighted what he did (notably sacrifice) nor functioned for a self-serving result (viz. the Father’s approval and love)—which often is a hidden agenda of his followers’ obedience. Since the process of relationship involves reciprocal participation necessitating relational work by each participant, Jesus’ obedience was his relational work of submitting his whole person to be intimately involved with the Father in agape. This underlies the incarnation involvement principle of nothing less and no substitutes, and counters any reductionism. The functional significance of obedience in agape is relational participation in God’s life, the intimate involvement of which for Jesus both highlighted the Father in his desires and functioned for the whole of God’s thematic action in response to the human condition.
This relational-functional posture of his sanctified life and practice was the only obedience that has relational significance to the Father. This is why the Father wants all of Jesus’ followers to “Listen to my Son,” so they also will be constituted in sanctified life and practice and congruent with his sanctified identity—that is, their whole person fully submitted to the Father and set apart for the whole and holy God in the intimate relational involvement necessary to experience the whole of God together as family in family love. This is the relational nature and functional significance of discipleship, apart from which discipleship has no relational significance to Jesus and the Father.
In his paradigm for serving (discussed previously in Jn 12:26), Jesus made this relationship the antecedent for serving him and the priority for discipleship. Conventional practices of discipleship tend to reverse his paradigm, or substitute acts of service and obedience for the relationship. Even agape, which constitutes its relational process, often gets lost in this paradigm, and thus misunderstood in the relationship, by being reduced to merely what we do (notably acts of sacrifice). This becomes a reduction not only of agape but also of Jesus and his sanctified life and practice—namely reducing the function of his whole person, both with the Father (as we discussed, e.g., in Jn 14:31) and with his followers (as we discussed, e.g., in Jn 13:1ff). In his paradigm, Jesus made definitive for following him: “where I am, my servant also will be.” Where we find his whole person (ego eimi) involved both context and function. Jesus’ whole person was always relationally involved in the lives of other persons—within the Trinity, among his followers and with those in the surrounding context. This is “where” Jesus was, and no amount of service by his followers can substitute for this relational involvement. His context was only relationship and his function was always relational work.
Yet, reductionism redefines Jesus’ identity essentially as further into the common function and promotes a prevailing alternative of discipleship. This has led to two competing approaches to discipleship. On the one hand, there is a reduced Jesus with an incomplete Christology and, on the other, there is the ontology of Jesus’ whole person in a complete Christology. Thus, discipleship today has become in function essentially a choice: either conformity to what Jesus did or taught (however selectively negotiated), or the relational process of congruence with who, what, and how Jesus was (nothing less and no substitutes, thus irreducible and nonnegotiable).
Jesus said the most distinguishing characteristic of his disciples—which those in the surrounding context will recognize as relationally belonging to him—is their agape for one another (Jn 13:35). That is, this engagement of love will be recognizable as his if it is congruent (kathos) with how he loved them (v.34). Yet, contrary to a prevailing perception, love is not merely about the quantity of something we do (or even feel), nor merely about the quality. Agape is what we experience in relationship first from Jesus (the relational work of God’s grace), and thus what we ongoingly share together in the intimate involvement of relationship, not in activities or occupying space together. In other words, agape is how we are to be involved with God, each other and with others. This involvement is a function of relationship and is understood only in a relational context and process; it is not understood from Jesus’ disembodied teachings, nor signified by following a code of ethics or behavioral formula.
This involvement was first the relational reality experienced from Jesus in his vulnerable involvement with his disciples, and it is the experiential truth of Jesus’ ongoing involvement with all his followers. Without experiencing his involvement of agape in ongoing intimate relationship, his followers have no functional basis for congruence with Jesus’ whole person. They can only generate “love” by what they do, not by relational involvement based on their own relational experience. This is why servant models and sacrificial modes are inadequate for the function of agape. And this is a critical reason it is important to define Jesus’ love not merely by what he did on the cross. These are the quantitative reductions of love which diminish the qualitative distinction of Jesus’ sanctified identity and minimalize the whole of God’s relational work of grace.
Moreover, love is not some substance Jesus gives us and thus we possess it and can dispense it; love is also not something Jesus does as an example and thus we can do. Agape is relational involvement, the relational context and process of which is engaged by those who have this relational experience. Agape is what his followers ongoingly share together in intimate relationship; and through obedience they submit their whole person to him for this relationship. Just as for Jesus with the Father, obedience for his followers is their ongoing functional posture with him submitted to the Father, and agape is their ongoing relational function and experience in relationship together signifying the whole of God’s family—thus distinguishing his disciples.
Jesus used the metaphor of the vine and the branches to describe this relational process (Jn 15:1-17, the context for his relational statement earlier). We tend to perceive this metaphor as a static structural arrangement that is necessary for quantitative results (“fruit”). This one-way framework shifts the focus from the dynamic process of intimate relationship together that Jesus is describing. Three times he mentioned the need “to remain” in each other (vv.4,5,7). “Remain” (meno) means to dwell, abide, and when applied to another person it denotes relational involvement. With meno, Jesus defined the reciprocal effort involved in the relationship necessitating relational work by each participant. Jesus dwells in his followers with his ongoing agape relational involvement, as he defined about the relational work of the vine’s extension (v.9). But conjoined to his relational work is “Now remain in my love.” In other words, in the reciprocal function of relationship together, “the vine” (the whole of God) neither does all the relational work nor do “the branches,” but his followers have their necessary reciprocal part in the relationship—which is not really about “fruit” as commonly perceived. Our relational work includes obedience, that is, the relational act of submission by our whole person to be agape involved with “the vine”—thus having ongoing congruence with the relational posture of his full identity and the functional posture of his minority identity.
When there is this reciprocal relational involvement, there are distinct relational outcomes experienced in this process. One outcome is to know the whole of God intimately, which Jesus noted is not a servant’s experience but from the relational involvement of a friend (vv.14-15, cf. 17:3,26). A further relational outcome is the experience of agape involvement not only from Jesus but also from the Father as family together (v.9; 14:21,23; 17:26). These experiences are the joy of wholeness directly from the experiential truth of sharing his joy in the relational whole of God (v.11; 17:13). And these relational outcomes underlie the fruit his followers bear. This fruit does not reflect the quantitative results of what we do—in spite of alignment to “the vine.” This fruit is congruent with and witnesses to these relational outcomes of being intimately involved with Jesus in this relational nature and functional significance of discipleship, thus distinguishing his disciples (v.8; 13:34-35).
The relational progression of this significant relational reality makes evident the direct experience of the whole of God’s qualitatively distinct agape involvement; and this is what clearly distinguishes belonging to “the vine.” Fruit, which distinguishes his disciples, is a function of this relationship with Jesus, and thus is significant only as it involves the whole of Jesus, not his disembodied teachings, commands or example. The fruit of the vine, therefore, must by its nature be understood as this agape involvement with other persons in congruence with Jesus’ relational involvement, which he said clearly distinguishes his disciples (Jn 13:35, cf. Mt 7:20). This is the fruit which, Jesus implied, is signified by the intimate relational involvement of friends (Jn 15:15) and necessarily progresses to the depth of relational involvement together to be the whole of God’s family (Jn 17:26). This is the fruit which Jesus constituted (tithemi) his followers to bear and clearly defined as “fruit that will meno” (15:16).
In addition, earlier Jesus used meno to define his authentic (alethes) disciples as those intimately involved (meno rendered “hold to” or “continue”) in “my teaching” (logos, word, discourse, that is, as the essence of his person, not disembodied, Jn 8:31). These are his authentic followers in the relational progression to the Father, who are not servants or even merely friends but relationally belong to the whole of God’s family as sons and daughters (8:32-36). The nature of discipleship is relationship specific to the ontology of Jesus’ whole person. The functional significance of discipleship is the intimate involvement in relationship with Jesus necessary for the relational progression to the Father to become his very own in the whole of God’s family; and furthermore, the experience of this reciprocal agape involvement is the functional basis for his followers own relationships together necessary to be whole in likeness of the Trinity. This relational function together, moreover, is what those in the surrounding context can recognize, have basis to believe and thus even experience the trinitarian relational context of family and the trinitarian relational process of family love, just as Jesus prayed (Jn 17:20-23).
Thus, discipleship is congruence with the relational nature and functional significance of Jesus’ sanctified identity—nothing less and no substitutes, which thus counters reductionism. As the hermeneutical and functional keys, Jesus’ sanctified identity is the definitive function for both: the experiential truth his followers need to function in their life and practice, and the authentic basis necessary to be distinguished as his in the world. Such discipleship necessitates congruence of his followers’ whole person (not defined by what they do) with both the relational posture of Jesus’ full identity and the functional posture of his minority identity.
It is problematic at best when discipleship is reduced by the
construction of a composite identity to substitute for this
congruence, even if unintended or inadvertent. We need to understand
this process of identity construction and its tension with
When Jesus demonstrated to his disciples the depth of his agape involvement by washing their feet, he made this the experiential-relational truth for his followers in order to be congruent with his full identity without constructing a different identity (Jn 13:16). Conjointly, this is not private or separatist congruence with Jesus but further and deeper congruence with Jesus’ minority identity in the surrounding context (both local and global). That is, this is the definitive congruence for a mathetes who is experiencing in his/her identity being redefined (redeemed), transformed and made whole by Jesus; this experience with Jesus is a process of discipleship he defined by the term katartizo (Lk 6:40). Katartizo denotes to prepare to completion or to repair for completion, both of which are involved in the process of following Jesus: to repair (redeem) any brokenness or fragmentation (e.g., from sin of reductionism), to restore and transform (reconcile) the person to wholeness and to the relationships necessary to be whole in congruence with the whole of Jesus and his sanctified life and practice in the world (cf. katartizo in Eph 4:12-13).
The functional truth is: to be just as (kathos and hos) Jesus was necessitates discipleship in the process of katartizo. The functional reality is: the prevailing practice of discipleship does not involve katartizo—and this pervades churches, seminaries and the Christian academy—consequently Christians cannot grow together in the depth of Jesus’ full identity to be clearly distinguished in his minority identity as his authentic disciples, both in the church and the world. Without katartizo, our identity gets shallow or ambiguous, particularly with the influence of the surrounding context. The alternative identity we tend to practice in place of his sanctified identity (intentionally or unintentionally, often by default) is what I call bifocal identity.
Bifocal identity is a process of identity construction in a context in which one is considered (real or perceived) as a minority or part of a subordinate group (even if not a numerical minority). For example, in the United States persons of color have always been minorities; even though they are collectively now the numerical majority, they are still the subordinate group. Minorities are always marginalized. For minority persons to be acceptable in the dominant surrounding context (not accepted into the dominant group) invariably requires assimilation: the practice of dominant values, usually at the cost of relinquishing minority practices. Unless persons of color have essentially denied their minority associations, they negotiate identity construction in a dominant surrounding context with a bifocal process.
Similar to the function of bifocal eyeglasses, a minority person perceives the more provincial, private and intimate aspects of one’s life through the “lower reading lens” of one’s racial-ethnic identity. All other aspects are seen through the “upper general lens” of the dominant identity. While this appears to be a rather simple either-or operation, the actual perceptions often vacillate between lenses, frequently overlap and at times even seem confused. Using the “correct” lens for the “right” purpose requires ongoing adjustment since neither remains constant for a fixed prescription, similar to being fitted for the proper bifocal eyeglasses. This dynamic process of identity construction and presentation is a familiar phenomenon for minority persons, yet not without its identity conflicts and frustrations—specifically about being fragmented and thus not whole, also embedded in an identity not only of being different but considered as less. What is not apparent, however, to most Christians is how the bifocal process is a common phenomenon for Christian identity in the surrounding context.
When Jesus sanctified himself in life and practice, he established the identity necessary for his followers to be constituted fully submitted to the Father and set apart for the whole and holy God in the world. As his followers function in this sanctified identity, they declare their minority identity in the surrounding context. Whatever prevails in that surrounding context is neither who they are (and what defines them) nor whose they are (and what they belong to); and whatever the pressures and influence of that context, Jesus prayed for his followers not to be separated from it (Jn 17:15). The only context of their commission is in the surrounding context (local and global). Yet Jesus understood in his formative prayer that the integrity of their minority identity necessitates congruence with his sanctified identity (17:17-19). Just as the Father sent him into the world is how Jesus sends his followers into the surrounding context. This congruence involves both context and function (cf. earlier discussion on “where we find Jesus” in Jn 12:26). And Jesus’ function was always made evident by his relational involvement, thus necessitating interrelated congruence of his minority identity conjoined with his full identity—the relational dynamic constituting his sanctified identity.
Identity formation and maintenance as his followers can only be functionally realized as a minority. Nevertheless, the function of this minority identity is incomplete as a bifocal identity. His followers cannot negotiate their identity in a dominant context by a bifocal process and still have the distinction as his mathetai. Unless Christians in effect have functionally ceased following Jesus, they have no negotiable option to construct a composite, hybrid or parallel identity with some partial aspect of Jesus’ identity. Just as Jesus addressed his disciples earlier, while a mathetes is certainly not “above” Jesus to construct his/her own identity, mathetai who are growing in discipleship wholeness (katartizo) also are not apart from any aspect of Jesus’ identity to function on their own terms (which would effectively construct their own identity, Lk 6:40).
It is the temptation or tendency of every minority person in a dominant context to: (1) defer to the dominant group and be rendered passive; (2) compromise with the dominant values and be reduced in one’s own significance; (3) be co-opted by the dominant context and lose one’s sense of purpose, and thus value to that context. A bifocal process of identity construction involves any or all of these practices. This is the function of bifocal identity. For the Christian minority in the world, this is what’s at stake.
For Christians to relegate their identity with Jesus to the “lower reading lens” for function in the provincial, private and intimate aspects of their life and practice is to defer to, compromise with and/or be co-opted by the surrounding context. To render the influence of the surrounding context to the “upper general lens” for their function in all other aspects of life and practice is to lose the qualitative distinction unique to Jesus’ followers—and thus, as Jesus prayed, to preclude both their joy shared intimately with the whole of God (Jn 17:13) and their value to the surrounding context (17:21,23). On the other hand, bifocal Christian identity makes evident the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of our identity constructions incongruent with Jesus’ sanctified identity; any such identity is what emerges from reductionism.
If the embodied whole of Jesus is our hermeneutical and functional keys, this perceptual-interpretive framework will “listen to my Son” and result in congruence with the relational nature and functional significance of his sanctified identity. If we listen to the Son, this will change our perceptual-interpretive framework to understand that the Father meant “listening” not only to the words the Son told us but also to his whole person, and thus to how he functioned. His authentic followers walk together conjointly in the relational posture of his full identity and in the functional posture of his minority identity. The only alternative to this qualitative interaction necessary for congruence is some form of reductionism.
Jesus’ sanctified life and practice made evident two vital issues about this identity interaction necessary for his followers, as he prayed: (1) without the relational function of his full identity, there is no truth and function of his minority identity (cf. some ministers with an incomplete Christology, missionaries with a truncated soteriology, or activist Christians with disembodied ethics or morality; also those who experience primarily outward change [metaschematizo] and function merely in role behaviors [hypokrisis]); and (2) without the function of the truth of his minority identity, there is no experiential truth of his full identity (e.g., as those with bifocal identity). This qualitative interaction between identities is an ongoing relational dynamic: the relational outcome of which constitutes the sanctified identity of his followers fully submitted to the Father and set apart for the whole and holy God in the world; and the function of which signifies the ontology of his followers together in the relationships necessary to be whole as his family in likeness of the Trinity.
There is a variation of Christian bifocal identity that needs to be discussed. This involves Christians who present a distinct Christian identity in general public or the dominant surrounding context, while functioning with a different identity in private. Basically, this reverses the bifocal process with a reductionist form of Jesus’ minority identity or full identity used as the “upper general lens,” while an alternative identity is used for the “lower reading lens” in private. This is characteristic notably: of ministers serving in the name of Jesus who construct their own identity in effect as if “above” or even apart from Jesus, thus lacking depth of their identity; of missionaries and evangelists who seek to save the lost in the world, while practicing a personal identity incongruent with what Jesus saved us to, thus lacking depth in their function; of Christian activists who promote the so-called ethics and morality of Jesus in the surrounding context while having no sense of relational involvement with the person of Jesus in their own life and practice, thus lacking clarity of their identity. This reverse bifocal identity is also characteristic generally of those who present a serious Christian identity in public (albeit sincerely or with good intentions) but have no depth to their identity to signify the ontology of their whole person.
All these persons characterize Christians who lack the clarity and depth of identity to go beyond reductionism, and who are not being redefined (redeemed), transformed from the inside out (metamorphoo) and made whole in congruence with Jesus’ sanctified identity. Thus, these bifocal identities are of persons who function in the ontological simulations and epistemological illusions of reductionism, and thus who must account for hypokrisis—the leaven of reductionism, which Jesus made imperative for all his followers “to pay attention to” (prosecho, Lk 12:1).
Yet, what we pay attention to and what we ignore are a direct function of our perceptual-interpretive framework (cf. the early disciples discussed previously in the chapter). Our framework functions as the lens (our “eyes”) through which we perceive Jesus, read the biblical text, see ourselves and others, and view the world. Reductionism presents a formidable challenge to the relational context and process of Jesus’ followers, primarily because we don’t pay focused attention to it, or we ignore its presence and influence. What we perceive of God’s self-revelation and what we interpret about the whole of God are skewed by the influence of reductionism. The validity of our perceptions and interpretations emerge only from the framework which Jesus made evident upon thanking the Father for his revelations to “little children” (discussed previously in Lk 10:21).
This clearly makes evident the need for our perceptual-interpretive framework to be changed—the redemptive change constituted by listening to the Son, submitting to the Father and cooperatively working relationally with the Spirit. This includes the necessary change of our whole person and the relationships necessary to be whole signifying the ongoing relational involvement of our sanctified identity in who, what and how we are with the whole of God. Such redemptive change necessarily involves a complete Christology with a full soteriology and a functional pneumatology, in coherence with an ecclesiology of the whole and a congruent missiology, all of which together cohere in an eschatology progressing to the relational conclusion (not mere event) of the whole of God’s thematic action since creation, thus completing the Trinity’s relational work of grace with the whole of the new creation.
This is the sanctified identity in which Jesus constitutes his
followers—nothing less and no substitutes.
The reality for most Christians, at least in the Western church, is to not pay attention to Jesus’ minority identity or merely to ignore it, while supposedly focused on his main identity. This raises some questions for all of us. What is the main identity of the Jesus we are connected to? And how do we in function connect with our Jesus?
The unavoidable implication of Jesus’ sanctified identity is that he gave us no option or flexibility for an alternative identity. Congruence (kathos and hos) with his sanctified identity leaves no negotiating room for any other identity, either for us or for our identity of him. This challenges the clarity of our relational context with Jesus and his identity we are connected to, and critiques the depth of our relational process for connecting functionally with this Jesus. We, individually and together as church, have to take up this challenge seriously and have to respond to this critique honestly.
Yet, the underlying issue for this challenge and critique is our working Christology, the extent of which determines our relational context and process. In other words, our relational context with Jesus has clarity only to the extent of the identity of Jesus we are connected to; and our relational process of involvement with Jesus can only have the depth to which our Jesus is involved in relationship. These direct correlations result in nothing more, but certainly only define the upper limits of clarity and depth our working Christology could constitute. They likely would be less when our relational response of faith is factored into the reciprocal relational process.
We cannot underestimate the determining factor of our Christology and the implications of anything less than or any substitute for a complete Christology. For example, incomplete Christologies today are the basis for formulating discipleship essentially as the conformity to what Jesus did or taught, while selectively negotiating what aspects it pays attention to or ignores, thus making evident the influence of reductionism. In functional contrast and theological conflict, by the nature of a complete Christology, discipleship constitutes: the relational process of congruence with who, what and how the whole of Jesus is, the extent of which is vulnerable involvement based on his incarnation involvement principle of nothing less and no substitutes, and is thus irreducible by any other context for our clarity and nonnegotiable by any other process for our depth. All his followers are accountable for the relational response only to the whole of Jesus.
Every Christian and church must understand their working Christology. Moreover, every church needs to develop the complete christological literacy of its members and nurture their ongoing involvement with Jesus in the relational nature and functional significance of his sanctified identity. Essentially, for any church or any Christian to get to this level of understanding and practice necessitates change, just as Jesus told his disciples earlier (Mt 18:3). Yet, the underlying issue for this christological understanding and practice is the sin of reductionism, the practice of which the Christian community has not adequately dealt with. Sin as reductionism is our most basic moral issue; and the influence of reductionism as sin has had the most profound affect on our life and practice—making its function in our midst the primary moral problem. These must be fully addressed for the significant change necessary for this degree of clarity of our christological understanding and for this level of depth of our christological practice.
When his early disciples pursued the identity of “who is the greatest” among them, Jesus confronted them with their need for redemptive change (strepho, turn about) from their current function to begin to be (ginomai) congruent (hos) in function with “little children” (Mt 18:3). As discussed earlier about Jesus’ joyful outburst of thanksgiving in Luke 10:21, the function of “little children” was analogous to being freed from reductionism. Since this was necessary for the ongoing relational involvement of his first disciples in God’s family, how necessary is this change for us today?
Yet, this change is not the result of self-determination but rather the relational outcome of submission to Jesus’ whole person. To become congruent in function with “little children,” Jesus needs to redefine our person currently based on what we do and have; and, similar to the first beatitude, he needs to reconstitute the ontology of our person, and the ontology of our persons together as church, wholly based on what we are, and whose we are, without reductionism. This also signifies a shift from our identity constructions to identity formation with him. This redemption from the sin of reductionism frees us to be involved with our whole person in his vulnerable relational context and process, which is necessary for the experiential truth of complete christological understanding and practice in ongoing congruence with the relational nature and functional significance of Jesus’ sanctified identity.
This necessarily involves our understanding and practice of faith. A complete Christology is only half of the relational equation. Our response constituted by our faith is the other half necessary to complete the relationship. What then does faith in Jesus really involve?
After their response to Jesus’ call to “Follow me,” it is difficult to see development in the faith of the early disciples in the narratives of Jesus. We can assume they had faith, and what they did demonstrated faith. But is faith in Jesus what we have or what we do? Based on Jesus frequently pointing out their lack of faith, we certainly cannot conclude this. Once again the function of “little children” informs us what’s involved. Little children, who have yet to be conditioned by their experience, don’t “have faith” or “do faith” but simply extend their person vulnerably to others in the process of relational trust. This process is the relational response and involvement necessary with Jesus to constitute our ongoing faith (cf. Mk 10:14-15). This relational process of faith is irreducible by any other context and nonnegotiable by any other process—even if that context is a Christian community and if that process is practiced by a church.
The early disciples lacked knowing the whole of Jesus (as discussed in Jn 14:9), which was less a theological issue of Christology and more a functional issue of faith. Even after three faithful years of service with Jesus, they still lacked the ongoing relational response and involvement of trust congruent with the function of “little children.” This relational trust is not the blind faith of an innocent child or the unwarranted trust of naiveté; on the contrary, this is the relational reciprocity with the vulnerable whole person Jesus embodied in full identity and with complete Christology. This ongoing relational trust submitted to the whole of God’s relational work of grace is the priority, primacy and nature of discipleship. Its lack subjects his followers to identity crisis. Thus, in comparison to the early disciples, where do we locate our identity today?
Identity for Christians and church identity are not necessarily synonymous. Though they are theologically they are not always in function. Increasingly, they tend to be two different identities, which may interact or remain functionally separate, even in a bifocal process. Any separation of identity occurs when Christian life and practice is not well integrated into the life and practice of the church (as local and global); this existing condition is characteristic of Western Christian communities. In this separation, one identity may be perceived in crisis while the other is considered “healthy.” The functional truth is, however, that these identities are interrelated, and thus mutually dependent on the other for its function and significance.
Identity crisis exists whenever (or wherever, even in the Eastern church and global South) the christological problem pervades and however the influence of sin as reductionism prevails. What pervades and prevails in many Christian communities suggest an identity crisis, or at least one in the making. Given where this condition may exist, I suggest our identity will remain in crisis until it is congruent with the relational nature and functional significance of Jesus’ sanctified identity.
Moreover, Christians and churches, notably in the Western church, need to grasp being “minority”; the Western Christian community has for too long assumed the dominant function more congruent with the dominant sociocultural position. And we need the redemptive shift to functioning in our minority identity with the clarity and depth constituted by Jesus’ sanctified life and practice.
Lastly, a directly interrelated issue to Christian and church identities, and how they function, is the importance of soteriology. Christology and soteriology are inseparable and need to be understood together. The issue is: In our doctrine of salvation, what is salvation all about? That is, did Jesus just save us from: sin, judgment, consequences and death? This would signify a truncated soteriology. Or did he also save us to: transformation to the new creation constituted initially in the present relationships necessary to be the whole of God’s family in likeness of the Trinity, the relational process of which will be completed in the eschatological conclusion of God’s thematic action? This constitutes the full soteriology integral to a complete Christology.
If how we function only reflects what Jesus “saved us from,” then our Christian and church identities will never be whole, nor will our discipleship ever be complete (katartizo). If Jesus also “saves us to,” then we have necessary relational work to engage in the trinitarian relational context of family to be intimately involved with the Trinity and the whole of God’s family in the trinitarian relational process of family love.
 The narratives of Jesus’ relationship with the Father give us predominately a binitarian view of God. This is understandable in the context of the whole of God’s thematic action because the Spirit’s presence and function have yet to be fully identified. Yet, the Spirit was never absent nor rendered temporarily “out of service” (see Lk 4:1,14,18). The ontology of the whole of God is irreducibly trinitarian. And though his main involvement appeared notably with the Father, Jesus’ ontology and identity are always trinitarian and functioned in the trinitarian relational context and process.
©2008 T. Dave Matsuo, Ph.D.