We’ve all heard it. Many of us have said it at some point. Seemingly it’s the answer to many a fear and doubt we encounter and the remedy to most of the struggles we wrestle through in our life. I may even have brandished it like a sword, as so much weaponry in the fight of our lives.
“You must find your identity in Christ.”
I’ll admit that for a long time I had no idea what that meant. How does a person do that? How does one put their identity in Christ? How does losing my identity within the being of another person make me more the person I was meant to be?
Over time, I began to see, bit by bit, what I thought was meant by the phrase. But it still wasn’t real to me. Many times when I expressed confusion, doubt, worry, fear – yep, you guessed it – I would hear it again. And they were probably right – I was very likely forgetting who I was, and whose I was. I would say that yes, I was a Christian, so automatically I was surely putting my identity in Christ. But… was I then simply a possession that could be easily cast aside if I failed to do everything I was supposed to do? I must say that struck some fear in my heart. At any rate, it all seemed too abstract.
Then there was the list. You’ve probably seen it. Everything on this list is true, reaI, good to know. And I’m ever so grateful that it’s true and real. Except, being the performance-driven person that I am, it all looked like a long list of more things I needed to do, and I was already exhausted. I am supposed to be a friend to God, so now I have to figure out what that looks like and how to do it. I’ve been adopted as God’s child, but what if I fall out of favor with Him? Does He then get to “un-adopt” me? I’m a citizen of heaven, seated in heaven right now, so why am I still walking around here on earth? I am salt, I am light. How do I DO that? I’m righteous and holy, but why do I still feel and act like a sinner? So many of these things just did not add up. And I was, of course, never enough. Try as I might (performance kicking in here), I could not fulfill this list. It had, in fact, become the new law for me. I know now, this is likely meant to be more of reflection of our position in Christ than it is about our performance, but I didn’t know that yet.
More than that, I also didn’t know that these statements (dare we call them truths), even if I believed them with my whole mind and most of my heart, were not what gave me value, not only in God’s eyes, but value, period.
I sometimes wonder if there would have been any way that I could have understood this earlier in life. It’s taken these many years and a crisis of identity to begin to recognize wherein lies my true identity. Going through the experience (it really is the best teacher, isn’t it?) of losing most, if not all, of who I thought I was helped me understand more fully what it meant. For as long as I could remember I perceived my identity and hence, my value and significance, to be wrapped up in my accomplishments, the worth I felt when I was pleasing the people who needed to be pleased, and in being a good Christian nice-girl. My identity was firmly rooted in my performance. And I was doing a pretty good job of it for a very long time. Until I couldn’t.
The day my body said, “I won’t do this any more,” was the day I did not know who I was.
Physically and emotionally, it was impossible for me to keep going. The electricity coursing through my limbs was a sure sign that my nervous system was certainly not healthy. So I quit. I quit almost everything. And for the first time in a long time I heard God speak to me. What He said was disconcerting to the performer in me. He whispered, “You just come and be with me for the next year.” What? I couldn’t possibly have heard correctly. You don’t want me to DO anything? You simply want me to BE with you? But, but…
Thus began the journey to a new identity, to my true identity. God took me way back, beyond Jesus and the Cross. He took me back to Jesus and Creation, to the day that mankind was made a living soul, where God breathed into him the breath of life. He took me to where a Triune God said, “Let us make man in our image.” There He showed me that my value and significance is not in my performance and it’s not even in having my identity in Christ after a new-birth experience, but it is completely encompassed in the gospel truth that I have been created, from the foundation of the world, in the very image of God. Therein lies the true identity of every man, woman and child upon the face of the earth. Every human being reflects God, whether or not they say they believe in the God who created them.
Furthermore, it means that not only do followers of Jesus have value and worth in the eyes of God, but every person who has ever lived on the face of the earth is precious to God. Value and significance is inherent to every human being on the planet. It cannot lie solely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, although I dare say our ability to more truly reflect the image of God comes as we are transformed more and more into His image. Galatians 4:19
And this is why, as a human being, I believe it may not be enough to find my identity in Christ alone (although our identity as a redeemed soul may rest in Christ alone). When I do that (only go back as far as the Cross), I am automatically putting more value on followers of Christ than on the rest of the world. How do you think that affects the way I interact with those around me who don’t know Christ? It puts me into a position of “holier-than-thou” and raises me above those who “don’t have what I have.” It causes me to have an elevated view of myself. It allows me to put myself in a position of standing up on the road, gingerly inching a rope to the one in the ditch, praying he has the strength to pull himself out rather than getting down in that ditch, wrapping my arms around him and lifting him out. It makes it very easy to forget my own sin and my sinful tendencies. It makes me smug because I think I have what it takes. It makes me judgmental and insufferable. It tempts me to look for performance in my fellow man. It keeps me from receiving and from giving the gift of grace.
So yes, losing my identity within the being of another Person may actually make me more me. If nothing else, it helps me be much more okay with who I am, because after all, God created me to begin with. When I catch glimpses of God I am reminded of who I have been created to be – a living, walking-around three dimensional image of Him. And when I don’t know what that might look like, He is more than happy to teach me. As I read through the Gospels, I am brought face to face with the most perfect reflection of God to ever walk the earth – Jesus, God’s own Son. Jesus showed us what it looks like to bear the image of God in a broken and sin-sick world, and He showed us that it is possible to truly reflect God here, now.
Friends, lets not forget who we are – image-bearers valued, loved and significant simply because we exist. Valued and loved because we reflect our Maker. We don’t gain significance by anything we can bring to God. We are already valued, loved and significant. We cannot do anything or not do anything to change that. Our identity as an image-bearer and the love God has for us are really the one or two things that truly can never be taken away.