When we think of ourselves as people, there is a predilection to
However, in Western society that has placed emphasis on the individual, the one-ness conception of selfhood making this one-ness not just a possible construal of ourselves, but as the default mode of thinking about who “I” am. This is more than simply a statement of how we exist in the social world, as many critiques of individualism are focused upon, but my concerned is more on the numerical nature of how we conceive ourselves.
When it comes to talking about identity, we exhibit a predilection to think ourselves as a singular, coherent person. While we may recognize those plural aspects of ourselves, we tend to construe these all as fitting together into a singular, coherent sense of who we are. Consequently, we are predisposed to construct narratives about who we are as a person that attempts to neatly and tidily integrates into one narrative so as to adequately and reliably expresse everything that is significant about “me” as one person. Here, the singular identity the default mode of self-perception and then we integrate our plural aspects into coherent account of who we are.
But this is not
Because this manner integrates selves/identities around prominent powers in
Pertaining to the flesh, Stoicism, which Paul is aware of, had developed their own universal account of human life, construing persons as bodies and construing all persons as being citizens,
By contrast, the Spirit functions to offer another center of integration of various plural identities. The Spirit is the power of God that relates the believer to Christ, that joins them to a new relational status with God and with others. The Spirit is the other power that
Therefore, for Paul, there are two centers of human identity for believers, one centered around the flesh as a center of engagement with the social powers and others who share flesh, whereas there is another identity centered around the Spirit as a center of engagement with Jesus Christ and fellow believers that also have the Spirit. There exist two conflicting narratives, one with impulses that lead to death and another with leadings that bring about life. So, for Paul, the struggle is that the Christian ceases to be like the people of the world, whose lives are united around a singular power as influencing them through the flesh, but for them to move to another power, the power of God.1 One proceeds to participate in the narrative of
I bring all this together to make a point about sanctification within the modern world. Because we are deeply biased construe ourselves as individual person with a singular, central identity and narrative around which everything fits, almost to a point that it is an implicit ideology that can resist any alternative, it serves as a hindrance to the journey of sanctificaton that Paul mentions and Wesleyan theology highlights.
Because we construe ourselves around one identity, we feel the need to integrate everything about who we are into a singular narrative this identity expresses. If it does not all fit, then rather than trying to fit it into another coherent narrative, we are prone to deny its existence. Recognition of aspects of who we are as persons becoming an either-or sort of process, where we entirely accept something as true about ourselves or entirely reject it. Consequently, we find people who have deep struggles with having complex views of who they are and their self-esteem, either vacillating between the extremes of all-good or all-bad as in splitting or having deep identity crises because the truth of who they are cannot be integrated around any coherent account of the self. This is the more extreme forms of dissociation of the person, as can be witnessed in people with certain personality disorders like borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, etc., but this tendency exists within all of us. Rather than a recognition that we contain multiple, interconnected identities that are struggling within the one person, which is to say that we have different centers of coherence about ourselves that are then coherently, but unconsciously integrated into our self-perception as a singular entity, we reject anything that may suggest we are not what this identity and narrative we hold to be true about ourselves. We are prone to see ourselves as either sinner or saint, as a devil or deified, as repelling or compelling, etc. and struggle to see how there are aspects of who we are that do not neatly fit into the primary identity and narrative we wish to hold about ourselves.
But for Paul, sanctification entails the recognition of the flesh so that one can fight the deeds of the flesh, so that one participates in the narrative of life of the Spirit. There is an identification and acceptance of existence of certain powers within ourselves and that there is a spiritual war to fight with it to move towards the other power within our self that is calling us in a different direction. In this war, obedience is construed as the power of the Spirit, disobedience is construed to the power of the flesh. We can recognize the multiple realities of who we are, instead of feeling the need to deny and rationalize away anything that suggests the prevailing self-narrative and
Furthermore, the ideological-like stranglehold of ourselves in terms of a singular, coherent identity and narrative makes obedience and disobedience about defining that whole person rather than
So, the end result is that we in the West are prone to obey to maintain self-perception and our identity rather than to be formed by and in relation to the significant powers in our life. We are prone to deny any aspect of ourselves that doesn’t fit within our prevailing narratives. This isn’t destiny being in the West, as it is possible for our sense of identity to be more complex, but it does present two barriers to the nature of sanctification: recognition of sin as contained in repentance and obedience as part of a loving relationship in response to God and His power. Religion becomes more about identity maintenance rather than personal transformation where one power is lessened whereas we experience a great impact from the other power. But it is this movement from flesh to Spirit, from the power of sin to the enslavement to righteousness, that defines the Christian journey of sanctification. This means, therefore, that to help people along the journey of sanctification, it will entail identifying and recognizing the different powers that pervade us as persons, that influence us in different directions to make us live differently in different circumstances.
- It is important to note that this is the world being defined by the singular entity of the flesh and the powers that pervade it in sin and death is how Paul construes the world in a singular manner; that is not necessarily how non-Christians in the Roman world construed themselves, particuarly if they were a part of a social group that had less status.