Searching For Identity
“If I find in myself desires nothing in this world will satisfy. I can only conclude that I was not made for here.” | C S Lewis
Searching For Identity
I want to confess, at the outset, that as I was attempting to put down some of the thoughts I wanted to share relating to identity, my mind ran an internal commentary about myself. Thoughts such as, “what will people think of me?“, “how will I be perceived?“, “I wonder if they’ll think ‘this’ thing or ‘that’ thing ” ran on loop in my brain. I felt overwhelmed at the thought of showing up, convinced that I’m extremely flawed (and therefore inadequate to be sharing anything of value), anxious about my capacity to sufficiently convey and do justice to God’s truths, and wondering, perhaps, at whether I’m even the most articulate person in the world to be attempting to do so!
It struck me as really quite ironic that I was wrestling with my identity as I prepared to write and share about identity! I guess it seemed to prove, at least to me, that our identity, our true identity is something that we have to work hard at reminding ourselves of and something we all have struggled with or will struggle with throughout our lives.
I want to refer to a particular quote which I love – Colossians 1:13
“For He [God] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” | Colossians 1:13 (ESV)
How truly life-changing! In becoming disciples of Jesus, we’ve also become subjects of his kingdom – living in the sphere where Jesus rules!
We Are Kingdom People!
I think this is the first important truth we need to know, believe and establish at our core when we start to think about our identity and who we are. Before we relate ourselves to anyone (or anything) else in our lives, we are first and foremost kingdom people and Jesus is our king!
Choosing to be a Christian has its origins in believing the things about Jesus, in an intellectual sense – who he is and what he came for – but there’s more to it than that. We are also choosing to surrender to his guidance and leadership in our life as a willing subject of God’s designated king. Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth, he has first claim on our affections, he is the motivating force in our decisions and the final judge of our soul (Matthew 28:18-20, Isaiah 9:6, Luke 1:33, Acts 10:36, 1 Corinthians 15:27, Colossians 1:27, Romans 8:10, Ephesians 3:16, Acts 10:42, John 5:22. 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:21, 1 Peter 2:25).
Perhaps we need to take a step back and consider the powerful force that enacted this transfer from the dominion of darkness. The motivating force in all of this was love – the love of an eternal God and the love of a righteous king, who willingly died for those who were still his enemies. While we were still in darkness, Jesus died for us. This is the meaning of ‘saving grace‘ – undeserved, unmerited and entirely outworked without our help or contribution.
“Christianity is not about our disciplined pursuit of God but about God’s relentless pursuit of us – to the point of Jesus dying on a cross for us that we might become His friends. The inexhaustible God loves us so intensely that every time we turn to Him after wandering from His love for us, all heaven breaks out in a thunderous celebration (Luke 15:7)
Most of us believe this intellectually. This is the message of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Experiencing this infinite love in our hearts, however, is another matter. The sinister voices of the surrounding world and our pasts are powerful. They repeat the deeply-held, negative beliefs we may have learned in our families and cultures growing up:
• I am a mistake
• I am a burden
• I am stupid
• I am worthless
• I am not allowed to make mistakes
• I must be approved of by certain people to feel ok
• I don’t have the right to experience joy and pleasure
• I don’t have the right to assert myself and say what I think and feel
• I don’t have a right to feel
• I am value-based on my intelligence, wealth, and what I do, not for who I am.
It is astounding how many deeply committed followers of Jesus would affirm that the preceding statements articulate how they truly feel about themselves. Like the prodigal son, they are content to relate to God as hired servants, rather than enjoy the full privileges of sons and daughters of our heavenly Father (Luke 15: 11-21)” – Peter Scazzero
“Whom the Son sets free is free indeed!” | John 8:36 (ESV)
Perhaps we are also more willing at times to relate to God as slaves still chained in the dominion of darkness than of kingdom people, set free and redeemed by the Son and the king!
The Process Of Discipleship
Discipleship – being people of the kingdom – is a process that moves us from being spiritually and emotionally immature children to being fully mature and developed adults – “people dedicated to God, and capable and equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17, NET).
This process of discipleship is a principle-centered, character-based, “inside out” approach to developing our authentic self in Christ. It means to start first with ourselves; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self – our core – and to honestly analyse our paradigms, our character, and our motives and to realign those with the king we are serving, with the master we are following.
I think a lot of us struggle with having a clear sense of who we are, and our Christian life is often theory rather than practice, layering over our core, rather than challenging ourselves to examine what lies at the heart of us. This process of layering – creating and developing a false self over the top of core emotional truths – ensures that we remain entrapped and enslaved to ‘the old man’, rather than liberated in Jesus as a new creation.
It takes courage to decide to live differently, to follow Jesus into the unknown and to be committed to emotional and spiritual reality. It takes courage to define ourselves by how God sees us – deeply loved, despite our flaws and to live from that basis of grace in our Christian discipleship.
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is an illusion.” | Brennan Manning
I’d really like to encourage us all, but especially those of you who might be really struggling with identity right now in your life, to give real attention to developing your authentic self in Jesus.
1. Pay attention to your interior (the “heart of you”) in silence and solitude.
2. Find trusted companions to help you along the way.
3. Move out of your comfort zone.
4. Pray for courage.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. Our existence is now framed by Christ’s life – who is a life-giving Spirit (Romans 8:16).
Here are some core, emotional truths that we can believe and take deep into our hearts, as much-loved children of God: We are created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27), the crowning glory of His creative work (Psalm 8:5). We are incredibly unique and known intimately by God (Psalm 139:13-16) and we are more valuable to Him than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31). Even when we have travelled far from His spirituality (Romans 3:23), He loved the world so much He sent His son to die for us (John 3:16). While we were still ‘at enmity’ with Him, He reached out to reconcile us back to Him (Romans 5:8-10). His grace, not our sin, has the final word in our position before Him (Romans 5:20). Those who step into His grace are saved (Romans 10:13), we are born-again (1 Peter 1:3), adopted as God’s children and positioned as His heirs (Ephesians 1:5, 1 John 3:2, Romans 8:16-17). We belong to God and He loves us with the love of a perfect Father (John 14:18, 1 John 3:1).
“…This is my [Paul’s] prayer. That God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and the all-glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of Him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the Spirit which will make you realise how great is the hope to which He is calling you—the magnificence and splendour of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. That power is the same divine power which was demonstrated in Christ when He raised him from the dead and gave him the place of supreme honour in Heaven—a place that is infinitely superior to any conceivable command, authority, power or control, and which carries with it a name far beyond any name that could ever be used in this world or the world to come.” | Ephesians 1:18-21, JB Phillips
Thanks heaps Carrie. Very encouraging and an article that many will need to frequently revisit! I suggest filing this one in the ‘reposting cabinet’ as time goes on (if such a cabinet exists!)
Hi Carrie, I love what you have written here and I agree with everything you’ve said despite constantly wrestling with my inclination to disagree. I grew up (many years ago now) in an old school, conservative Christadelphian ecclesia and it has only been in the last 10 years that I have begun to see the words of the Bible as portraying the message that you have put forward in your article.
I just want to comment on your statement….”His grace, not our sin, has the final word in our position before Him” because while it is 100% correct and ‘works’ cannot save us,they (works/behaviour) definitely have a part to play in our salvation.
You quoted from Romans chapter 8 (which I love) and verse 14 say that ..”those that are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” and further down Paul says that these ‘children’ are the people who God sees as His ‘heirs’ and (awesomely) “co-heirs with Christ”
The conundrum/challenge here is that ‘being led by the Spirit of God’ is a pro-active choice we have to make every day, every hour and as such is behaviour/works.
We definitely don’t have to have any specific rate of success in our efforts, but our efforts have to be real and depend on our ability and readiness to identify what would otherwise be ‘leading’ us if we were not choosing the Spirit/the mind of God.
After describing the battle that he constantly felt going on in his mind, Paul describes himself as a ‘wretched man’ in desperate need of saving and I feel strongly that mainstream Christianity puts forward a message that essentially says… God loves you for exactly who you are!.. and the implicit message is almost certainly going to be perceived as…so don’t stress about changing.
I don’t think that anything that I have suggested here contradicts anything that you have said, but I feel that for the message about grace to be complete it has to include the importance of Gods children needing to work (hard if necessary) to demonstrate who they have chosen to lead them.
I still love what you wrote 🙂
Hi Chris, thanks so much for your comments on this article. I certainly agree with your comments in relation to the faith/works conundrum! Repentance (of our sin/way of life) is absolutely part of accepting God’s grace (and this ‘repentance’ often takes place many times over the course of our lives). As you say, the demonstration of this is an integral part of a believer’s life – that is, our loving union with God must result in a living faith, shown by our good works to others and of course, proactively choosing God’s will and way over our own. While our works don’t save us, they demonstrate that our faith is real. Without this active response to God’s grace, our ‘faith’ is simply counterfeit Christianity and nothing more than a corpse. “God’s Way is not a matter of mere talk; it’s an empowered life” (1 Corinthians 4:20). Depending on God and accepting His gift of grace – truly accepting it – will radically transform our lives (resulting in the works you speak of) and in this context, His grace – not our sin – will always have the last word. You may be interested in this article https://www.carrielloydshaw.com/practical/the-faith-works-conundrum/ where I’ve explored this subject in more depth. Blessings to you. 🙂