I am currently reading a book called Gospel Fluency (available here) and so far it is an excellent book. The author argues early in the book that we are all unbelievers. By that, he means that we all have areas in our lives where we fail to believe God. That is a simple, yet profound observation, and ultimately true. Though we may be trusting in Christ, we can say along with the man with the epileptic son, "I believe, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). We all need help in our unbelief.
One of the most widespread and sneaky areas of unbelief is in the area of identity. We often look to the world, to our achievements, to others, or even within ourselves to determine who we are. We can see this in the simplest of conversations. Imagine you are meeting someone for the first time and you ask them to tell you about themselves. They might respond with "well, I'm an accountant" or some other profession. They may respond "I am a mother or a husband". We subconsciously find our identity in things around us. Maybe you're a teenager and you are having a bad day and your mom or dad asks what's wrong and you respond with "I'm a loser". Maybe someone at school told you. Maybe you told yourself. The point is, we all struggle with identity. Here are some things that might help with that.
1. The crisis of identity is a result of the fall
We were created to image God and be in fellowship with God. Adam and Eve were created perfect and were in perfect harmony with God... until they disobeyed. The fall radically impacted our identity. While we are still image bearers of God, that image is marred by sin and the fellowship with God that we were created for was broken. Everyone is born a sinner. That is our most basic identity. Another way of saying it is our nature is that of a sinner from birth. All humanity fell with Adam and inherited that nature or identity. We are broken and there is something fundamentally missing in us because of sin, namely fellowship with God. We seek to compensate for that in many ways, but all of them lead to ruin.
2. The gospel gives us a new identity
One of the most profound truths of the gospel is that it changes who we are. While all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23), through faith in Christ, sinner is no longer our identity. The punishment for all of our sin is placed upon Christ and paid for when we believe, and we are called new creations (2 Cor 5:17). We are united with Christ by faith and his righteousness is counted as ours. We receive all of the benefits of Christ through faith in him. We are transformed by the Spirit from the inside out to become new creations. That means that the old has passed away, and we are new. Our identity is now found in Christ and what God says, not in the world and what others say.
3. The greatest end of the gospel is fellowship with God
The gospel reconciles us to God in new relationship with him. We are no longer enemies because everything that made us enemies has been dealt with by Christ. Moreover, we are counted as righteous by being credited with the righteousness of Christ. That means that everything necessary to reconcile us to God has been accomplished. When God looks at us, he does so through the blood of Christ. We have access to him through Christ. Christ is interceding for us and working on our behalf. The Holy Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we belong to God. Therefore, everything that defines who we really are in found in Christ.
4. Through faith in Christ we are adopted as children of God
Think about that analogy. Paul says in Ephesians "In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved" (Eph 1:4c-6a). Think about that text for a moment. Who do you belong to once you have believed? Why do you belong to him? What motivated God to cause you to be adopted? God's love caused him to predestine those who are believers for adoption into his family as children. This was accomplished by Jesus Christ and was done so that the glorious grace of God that has been lavished upon us would be praised. Now let me ask you a question. Does my daughter's performance determine whether or not she belongs to me as my daughter? In her obedience and disobedience, she is securely a Hawkins. My last name has been given to her. I have claimed her. Nothing can break that. That is her earthly identity. She is part of our family. She is learning to live out what it means to be a part of our family, and fails, but she is still secure and accepted because she is my daughter. The same is true of all who have been untied with Christ by faith. Our identity is children of God and nothing can change that.
5. We are loved by God with an eternal love that cannot be broken
Ephesians says that God's love caused him to predestine us for adoption as children. But can anything change that? Can we wake up one day and be separated from the love of God by our actions, or by someone or something else? That is the question the Paul addresses in the last part of Romans 8. We learn that God is for us and works everything for our good (v.28). The good that he is working is to conform us to the image of Christ. All of this is because he foreknew, predestined, called and justified us, and there is absolute confidence that he will glorify us (vv. 29-30). On the basis that God didn't withhold Christ but willingly gave him up for us, we know we have all things in Christ. No one can bring a charge against us that will stick because God alone justifies. No one can condemn us because Christ died, rose, and is interceding for his people (vv. 32-35). So can anything separate us from the love of God? Can any situation? Can any person? No! Nothing in all of creation... that includes Satan, situation, performance, failure, others, and ourselves... nothing can separate us from the love of God IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD (vv. 35-39). In other words, we are absolutely secure, loved and accepted through faith in Christ and nothing and no one can change that. Our identity is ultimately found in Christ, his work, his word, and what he has secured for us.
Combating the identity crisis in our lives
Through faith in Christ, we are accepted and loved as children by the Creator of the universe. We are a part of his family and our identity is no longer sinner but saint. It is amazing that Paul writes to "saints" so often. That is who we are. Saint simply means one who has been recognized or acknowledged as holy. It is a term only used of those chosen by God. We belong to God. We are reconciled to God. We are loved and accepted by God. That is our identity. That is what it means to be a new creation. That truth transforms how we live when we really believe that. When we rest on the merits of Christ, we can be sure that all that is necessary for us to be accepted by God has been accomplished. When we look to God to tell us who we are through his word, it is like putting on noise cancelling headphones and listening to beautiful music that drowns out the ugly sounds of who or what others say we are.
So many of us listen to the voices of the world, Satan, or others to define who we are. When that happens, it leads to despair, insecurity, defensiveness, fearing man, and many other ugly things. Satan wants us to find our identity anywhere but in Christ. Martin Luther said "So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: "I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!"
Do you see what he did there? He applied the gospel. When the gospel is applied, everyone can tell us we are worthless, every situation can go bad, and we can be utterly abandoned by everyone in our lives, but find joy and peace because we are trusting what the God of the universe, our Father, says about us above what others say. We can combat those whispers in the recesses of our heart that say we are not valuable or will never be accepted with the booming voice of God saying "look to the cross! You are mine and I love you. I chose you to be my child. I sent my Son to pay for your sins and bring you into fellowship with me. You are accepted and I am for you and will never abandon you". That is our identity in Christ.
Husband to Carlee, Papa to Fin and Ainsley, Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne., and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast.