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"Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." 1 Peter 2.10


When God calls us "out of darkness into his marvellous light" does that mean ditching our past completely in order to acquire a completely new identity? Or does coming to faith in Jesus involve the transformation and renewal of our existing identity so that it is purged of all deficiencies, conformed into the likeness of the Saviour himself and released into its full potential - as befits those made in the image of God?


US-based Nigerian theologian, Victor Ezigbo, considers the question in light of the experience of his erstwhile compatriots and fellow believers, pondering whether he should refer to them as "African Christians or Christian Africans"? That might seem pedantic but it raises a significant issue, regarding the primary influence in one's identity: is it our faith or our ethnicity? Instinctively most Christians will protest that our decision to follow Jesus trumps all lesser loyalties. Indeed but that still begs the question: whether these lesser loyalties remain relevant and what their proper place might be in the life of a faithful believer?


And that brings us hard up against the controversial issue of syncretism: the blending of traditional practices with mainstream religion. The reality is that life is complex. Some will glory in the grey, while others will yearn for clarity, preferring to see things in black and white. The trouble with the latter is that it may give way to prejudice and persecution, while the more nuanced attitude embraced by the former threatens compromise even collusion.


The Gospels testify to Jesus as the central figure in history, the key to everything from personal salvation to the redemption of the world. While he comes to us with a huge agenda - bigger than we can imagine - he dealt with people as individuals. As the visible incarnation of the invisible God of the Bible, he is also the one who created everything, invented language and enjoys the praise of all nations, tribes, languages and cultures.

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