|Volume 24 Number 6 June 2022
Our Identity in Christ
Johnny O. Trail
Just recently we hosted my father-in-law for a brief stay. He was a Viet Nam veteran, and as we ate supper, I asked him to quote his military serial number. He quoted it without any hesitation. Before asking this question, I knew he would be able to quote it. I knew this because my father could do the very same thing. He was a WWII veteran, and he could quote his military serial number up until a week or so before his death.
My father told me that each service member was to provide only his name, rank and serial number if captured by the enemy. This was very important for the one captured, since it helped the family of the one taken POW to know that its family member was still alive. Moreover, the treatment of POW’s pivoted on the U.S. government’s knowledge of their survival. That is, if people do not know you are alive, you can be tortured, brutalized, propagandized and murdered by those holding you as a prisoner of war, and do so without any real consequences.
Until the release of Douglas Hegdahl, many of those held POW in the “Hanoi Hilton” were unknown. This refusal to let the United States know that some of their military servicemen were being held allowed the North Vietnamese to brutalize American Soldiers and torture them for information.
Hegdahl was viewed as the “incredibly stupid one” by his North Vietnamese captors. This being the case, he was given liberties around the POW camp that others were not afforded. These liberties allowed him to gather intelligence about the encampment and destroy some enemy vehicles by placing dirt in the gas tanks. During this time, he was offered early release from the camp. The standing order was for POWs in Hanoi to refuse this offer. This would change for Hegdahl.
When the command structure at the Hanoi Hilton became aware of this, he was immediately tasked with learning the vital information of those with whom he was incarcerated. After his release, Hegdahl revealed the names, ranks, and serial numbers of the 256 servicemen held prisoner at the Hanoi Hilton and the location of the camp itself to the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” Upon revelation of these facts, the treatment of the POWs improved immensely. One source states, “Once Hegdahl described the treatment of POWs in public and to the media, the ones he left behind saw their treatment improve, receiving better rations and less brutality in their daily life” (Stilwell).
Our identity is an important thing, not just for members of the military who might be taken captive but for every person living. We have identities that can vary given the type of relationship that we have with others. We can have professional identities, personal identities and spiritual identities. Along these lines of reasoning, one might ask, “What is my identity in Christ?”
At the outset, one must acknowledge what Scripture states. We are placed into Christ at the point of baptism (Romans 6:3-4). After one is “in Christ,” his identity changes. Indeed, all the relationships one has become modified after becoming a child of God.
The alien sinner, if truly repentant, will work to sin no more (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). This might mean cutting off former friendships or relationships that are characterized by sinful activities. Our identity in Christ should be a radical change from who we were outside of His body. Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (NKJV).
Our identity in Christ means that all things have become new. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This new creature is not born again to sin more. On the contrary, there is a change in his identity that is manifest to all who know him.
Our identity in Christ means that we have a relationship with God through faithfulness toward Christ. John 14:6 reads, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” One cannot reject Christ and expect to have access to the Father, but once we have identified with Him, we are His people if we continue to be faithful unto death.
Our identity in Christ means that we have eternal life with those who are His people. Therefore, loving our brethren is so important. If we cannot love our brethren in this life, how can we expect to love them eternally in Heaven? First John 4:20-21 observes, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”
Our identity in Christ means that we must suffer with Him to follow Him. Luke 9:23-24 says, “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.’” Sometimes, we must suffer for who we are. People will ridicule Christians for excluding themselves from worldly pursuits and from things that are intrinsically sinful.
Our identity demands that we act in a way that is consistent with who Christ would have us to be. In doing this, we will have crucified the old person of sin and death. Galatians 2:20 states, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Our identities matter! Hopefully, our identity is in Christ, and people see Him living in us as we strive to serve Him.
Stilwell, Blake. “How a Sailor Remembered 250 Prisoners of War Through Song.” We Are the Mighty. 15 Dec 2021. <https://www.wearethemighty.com/popular/amazing-pow-douglas-hegdahl/.>