19 May 2013

Just Who Do You Think You Are?: Thoughts on Finding Identity in Christ

Identity in Christ.   A  lot of us hear this phrase batted around, but how often do we take time to think about what it really means, or if we're applying it to our lives?  This is something that God has been bringing to my mind over and over again in the last month or two, through different circumstances and conversations.  The whole topic of finding identity in Christ is something that I've become passionate about, especially for girls, as I've grown in that area myself and as I've observed how much it affects our lives.  Let me see if I can put my thoughts and what I've learned into words...

Identity in Christ was something I'd grown up hearing about, and as a college student and young adult I would have told you that I had my identity in Christ.  However, looking back, I think I knew much more about God's identity than MY identity IN Him (and if I had truly known Him, those two would have gone hand-in-hand).  It wasn't until my late 20s that this became something I HAD to work through and truly begin to discover for myself.  It didn't happen overnight, and in fact, I truly believe this is a lifelong process--one of those "good works" that has been started in me and will be carried out until the day when I am made complete in Him (Philippians 1:6).  But I do think that I have come a long way, and I have to say, life is so much better on this side of the issue!

About a month ago, a friend gave me the chance to teach one of his high school Christianity and Culture classes here at Rosslyn.  We batted around a few ideas, but this topic came to mind one night and stuck.  To open the class, I asked the students to write a bit about who/what they felt the world expected them to be--how they felt defined by family, religion, culture, media, friends, etc.  Some one-word responses of theirs were nice, smart, successful, irresponsible,  and beautiful.   It wasn't hard for them to quickly generate a list of what they thought they were SUPPOSED to be.  I then asked them to write a bit about how well they felt they measured up to those expectations.  I didn't read their responses, but it was pretty easy to see simply from their physical reactions to the question and the way they were writing that for most of them, they felt pretty inadequate.  We could all generate our own list of what we feel we're expected to be, and I'd be willing to bet that most of us probably think we don't measure up.

At all stages of life, we have questions and doubts tied to who we are (or think we are): Why am I here?  Why can't I be more like....? I'm a bad student.   I'm a bad parent.  I'm not smart enough.  Who will love me?  Why have these bad things happened to me?  I don't fit in.  Why me?  Why NOT me?  I can never be forgiven for that.  I'll never be good enough.  Who am I?   The list could go on and on.

So many times we try to find our identity--and the answers to these questions--in other things:  possessions, careers, relationships, status, family roles, appearance, activities, adventure, successes, failtures--we even define ourselves by the LACK of these things.   While it is very true that our personalities, relationships, roles, and life experiences play a large part in how we perceive ourselves and interpret and interact with the world, more important than any of these is the reality of who God has created us to be and who He says we are, because even when our circumstances change, the truth of who we are in Him never will.

Consider the life of Moses in these words by Rick Warren:
"In Egypt the baby Jewish boys were condemned to die, so [Moses'] mother put him in a little boat in the Nile River. It happened that the daughter of Pharaoh was taking a bath, and she took this little boy back into the palace to raise him as her own son.

Moses had an identity crisis. He was born Jewish, but he was raised Egyptian. He had to ask himself at some point in his life, 'Who am I?' This was quite an important choice because it would determine the rest of his life. He was in line to be Pharaoh. If he said, 'I'm an Egyptian' and faked his heritage, he would live a life of ease. He would have an outstanding career. He would have fame and fortune.
If he said what he really was — Jewish — he would be humiliated, kicked out of the palace, and sent to live with a bunch of slaves for the rest of his life.  Yet Moses saw his people being badly mistreated as slaves, and he could not be silent...So he made a decision that cost him the next 80 years of his life.

Hebrews 11:24 says, 'By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter' (NIV). The word 'refused' in the Greek literally means to reject, deny, to totally disown. Moses cut himself off from a promising career as an Egyptian, and he refused to live a lie. Instead, he wanted to do what God had made him to do."

After reading this, I began to study the life of Moses a little more.  In Exodus 3, Moses had his encounter with God at the burning bush.  God had given Moses instructions to go to Pharaoh to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  In Exodus 3:3, Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"  God's response?  "I will be with you." Um, God?  You didn't answer his question!  Moses, trying to rephrase his question, said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?'  Then what shall I tell them?"  God's response?  "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

Moses began with a question about who he was.  God answered by declaring who HE was.   I think that is the first thing we have to get straight when searching for our identity.  Who is God?  When we know that, THEN and only then can we begin to understand who He has created us to be--which makes sense since we're created in the image of God.  If we don't know the original, we have nothing by which to process the image. 

After we develop a healthy understanding of Who God is, we can begin to understand what He says about who He's created us to be.  For starters, here are some things God says about YOU.  As a child of God, you are:
  • chosen, God's special possession (1 Peter 2:9)
  • a new creation, reconciled, Christ's ambassadors, the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17--21)
  • fearfully and wonderfully made, seen by God (Psalm 139:13--16)
  • a dear child, forgiven (1 John 2:12)
  • alive with Christ (Colossians 2:13)
  • redeemed (1 Peter 1:18--19)
  • not fearful, but powerful (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • have freedom and have been given confidence (Ephesians 3:12)
  • created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)
  • God's handiwork, created to do good works (Ephesians 2:10)
  • chosen to be holy and blameless, adopted (Ephesians 1:4--5)
  • precious and honored (Isaiah 43:4)
  • known by God (Psalm 139:1--4)
  • beautiful (Psalm 45:11)
  • LOVED. (John 3:16)
I asked the students to compare the first list they wrote--the things they thought they were expected to be--to this list.  I asked them what they noticed about the differences between the two.  One girl finally spoke up and said that in the first list, the words denoted things that WE had to do or become to earn a reputation, but in the list of words of who God says we are, those are things He has done for us. A pretty profound observation.  The reality of who you are has nothing to do with you. It's not about how you grew up, where you're from, what you look like, how well you perform, how much stuff you have, how unloved you feel, or how much you've screwed up.  It's about God, what He has done for you, and who He says you are.

So what does this mean for our lives?  We have to stop looking to people and things to fulfill us.  NO ONE can ever do this for you--it's only God.  When you look to people, and activities, and success, and stuff to help you find your identity, you will be sorely disappointed--and probably miserable--because people will let you down.  Activities will end.  Successes will be forgotten.  Stuff will break.  What DO we do?  Look to God.  Spend time with Him.  Find out more about who He says you are.  Ask Him to TELL you who you are!  Spend time with others who are finding their identity in Him because they'll help point you in the right direction.  Separate yourself from influences that detract from or are in conflict with who God has created you to be.  Find your strength, your confidence, your contentment, your peace in Him.  Doing so will not only make your life more fulfilling, but you'll be bringing glory to God in the meantime, displaying his artistry and workmanship as His creation.

For some final thoughts on this, check out this video:

Side note:  One of my favorite things about God is the idea of being redeemed--purchased, bought back--from what once mastered us.  While typing the list above, I was reminded of this song by Big Daddy Weave.  If you don't know it, and believe it, you should.

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