In the midst of life struggles, our identity can be rooted in our sin, our suffering, or our Savior. When things are good (or when we live in denial) our identity can be attached to our achievements, relationships, appearance, job, or many other things. But when things are hard we tend to identify our selves by what we’ve done wrong, the wrongs that have been done against us, or the God who forgives and loves us.
When we root our identity in our sin we beat ourselves up for being stupid, lazy, selfish, and lacking self-control. We begin to make “I am” statements that end with our sin: addict, angry, perverse, etc…
In this case we downplay the significance of Christ’s death to forgive our sin. This results in us playing God by trying to “forgive ourselves.” Our identity has already established that our sin is more dominant than Christ’s blood, so it only makes sense (although we would never say it out loud) that our forgiveness would be required “in addition to” God’s.
When we root our identity in our suffering we define ourselves by the bad things that have happened to us. We begin to make “I am” statements that end with our suffering: divorced, depressed, abused, etc…
In this case we downplay the degree to which we are loved by God. We believe our history has made us unlovable. The result is that we begin to play God by trying to “love ourselves” more to compensate for what our identity has declared unattainable from God.
In both cases, something becomes more central to “who we are” than being God’s children. Then, because God has been rooted out of his rightful place in our identity, we begin to try to do for ourselves what only God can healthily and satisfyingly do.
This is so common, that many readers are probably surprised that “forgiving myself” and “loving myself more” would be mentioned with a negative connotation. But the truth is they are attempts to live without God or declarations that what God has done is inadequate for our struggles.
The only solution to a sin-based identity or a suffering-based identity is to truly understand who we are in Christ. Everything else results in some form of God-playing self-reliance.
At the upcoming Summit counseling training a full hour will be devoted to the subject “How to Avoid a Struggle-Based Identity.” People ask for help because a struggle has begun to dominate their life. Too often life can be measured exclusively by how present my struggle is. The problem is that when I measure a “good day” by the absence of my struggle (sin or suffering), my struggle will remain the focal point of my life. I become trapped in recovery.
The only remedy is to center your life on something other than self, sin, or suffering. In explaining how to do this, our counseling training will explore what it means to have our identity rooted in Christ. This document (who-i-am-in-christ_kellemen) adapted from Bob Kellemen’s work will be a part of that training.