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Issues of Identity

by Stephen Hebert on Thursday - 22 February 2007

in Ministry

In Colossians 3:12, Paul describes us as “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved” (ESV). Elsewhere, Paul talks about being “in Christ.” What does all this really mean?

I was sitting down with a pastor a few weeks ago, and we got on to the subject of identity. He asked me what defined me: what is my identity?

My initial response came in 2 flavors:

  1. I am the person I perceive myself to be.
  2. I am the person others perceive me to be.

In all honesty, this is a terrible take on identity.

In the first case, I am who I perceive myself to be. That sounds nice, but it’s really not. I am my own worst critic. I can standup and teach for 20 minutes, and when I sit down I am always confident that I have communicated nothing. I can play mandolin with a group and feel like I’ve not played a single thing properly. Natalie, my wife, will almost always tell me that the mandolin sounded great. She’ll almost always tell me that my lesson was really good, and that people were really listening.

Sometimes Natalie lies, I know.

Still—if my identity is wrapped up in how I see myself, then I’m never going to have a positive identity.

In the second case, I am allowing other people and their perceptions and understandings of me to create my identity. This is also terrible. Now the great question, “who am I?” is totally in the hands of others. How can I trust that?

For years, my identity according to non-me people has been: the smart, good kid.

My natural reaction to this is to counter it. I did so through rebellion—physical, intellectual, spiritual rebellion.

At the same time, that perception was a burden which I felt a need to carry. I felt a need to live up to their expectations. I felt a need to come off as smart and well-behaved or well-intentioned.

It’s easy to see how these two activities, my need both to comply with and rebel against the outsider perception, can be destructive.

It was.

It was during this conversation with the pastor that I also discovered a third way that I perceive myself which is destructive: sinner.

I had never realized how wrapped up I was in this idea of “human as sinner.” I believe it’s absolutely true that sin is part of human nature. However, I spent a lot of time beating myself up. I spent a lot of time inhabiting a vicious cycle: if I sinned, there was nothing I could do about it…so why not do it again?

How can we possibly expect to break that cycle?

First and foremost, we have to realize that the three identities we’ve discussed are not our proper identity. Our proper identity, as Paul puts it, is found “in Christ.” We are “chosen ones of God, holy and beloved.”

This is who we are.

In Christ.

Holy.

Beloved.

Chosen.

Rather than beating ourselves down; rather than concentrating on how awful we are; rather than concentrating on how we see ourselves or how others see us, we should concentrate on our proper identity. We are in Christ. We are holy. We are beloved. We are chosen.

If we concentrate on the negative, are we guilty of “[glorying] in our shame” (Phil 3:19)?

We are citizens of Heaven (Phil 3:20). It’s time we start thinking like it.

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