Identity for LawyersSmall Group Study / Produced by TOW Project
This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.
How does our identity as a Christian intersect with our identity as a lawyer. Is the identity best expressed as being a “lawyer who is a Christian” or a “Christian lawyer”.
James likes going along to Church and catching up with his friends, but views that as an identity quite separate to his job as a lawyer. He represents his clients vigorously and enjoys helping them achieve their goals. One day his client calls saying he is looking to terminate a commercial lease early and they set up a time to meet with the other side. James will need to be aggressive in how he deals with the counterparty in order to achieve the best result for his client.
When the other side gets to the meeting he has no legal representation and James inwardly smiles. This is almost too easy, he thinks. Surprisingly, the business owner greets him as a friend and James suddenly realises that he recognises him - while he goes to a different Church his kids are in the same swimming class with James’ own kids. All of a sudden what he is about to say becomes more difficult than he had previously anticipated.
Questions for discussion
- What can you relate to in the case study in your context, and why?
- Is it possible to compartmentalise one identity from the other so you are a “Christian” and a “Lawyer”? Or is it possible to be a “Christian Lawyer”.
- How would a Christian lawyer practice in a way that was different from others? Should there be a notable difference?
- Which identity should dominate – or should any? And how about other roles we may have (Church member, Parent, Caregiver etc)?
God wants you to work profitably so that you can support yourself and your family. One scripture on this point offers the chilling reminder that “whoever does not provide for relatives, and especially for family members, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). So making money is a legitimate concern for Christians, one which God understands.
On the other hand, the call to belong to Christ supercedes any particular call to an occupation. Believing in Christ, which is to say being a Christian, places demands on the way you execute your work:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
(2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
The Bible does not prescribe different moments for acting like a Christian and acting like a lawyer. Rather, the passage above assumes that faith is an all-encompassing identity, such that anyone who believes in Christ is a “new creation.” The writer of this letter tasks all Christians with the “ministry of reconciliation,” in which you are an “ambassador for Christ.” That includes the time you’re at work as well as the time you’re at church.
Another letter confirms the importance of bringing your Christian identity into your daily work:
Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.
The Bible does not break up identity into multiple parts, some of them Christian and some of them secular. However, the world we live in often demands we do exactly that. What does it mean to you to be a Christian in your workplace?
Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?
For more on the relationship between work and identity, see the Theology of Work Project commentary on Acts 8-12, or the article on calling and vocation.