“I don’t even know who I am anymore.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh
and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)
“We have seen the enemy and he is us.” (Pogo; comic strip)
“I am just a different person when they are around.”
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD,
and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” (2 Samuel 7:18)
“I look in the mirror and I don’t know the person staring back at me.”
“O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?” (Psalm 144:3)
What do all these statements have in common? Among other possibilities, they are questions of identity. They raise the question of what gives me uniqueness, the right to act, or constancy in changing circumstances. Identification is an important part of life. If it were not, there would be no need for label makers, diagnostic systems, or personalized license plates.
Who am I? This three-word question has challenged history’s greatest philosophers. The challenge of this chapter, however, is not to answer a question that 2000 years’ worth of brilliant minds could not, but rather to determine what Christ has done in the life of a believer to provide a satisfying and sustaining sense of identity. When God makes a believer a new creation, how should that event—salvation—and its on-going ramifications—sanctification—change the believer’s self-perception and social interactions?
Defining “Biblical Identity”
Biblical Identity refers to the defining ideas, labels, and relational roles which make our actions or emotions seem right and natural. Identity, when healthy, remains constant even when circumstances and peer groups change. Identity should remain stable when no one is looking, when everyone is looking, when you are with the love of your life, or with an ardent enemy.
Identity is one of the defining marks of human motivation. We act out of who we think we are. Identity is one of the primary ways that the heart expresses what it loves most. Identity is a primary way that we make choices and judgments before we are intentional about either.
By identifying ourselves as a loser, a salesman, a good/bad parent, an athlete, a dunce, the guy who knows how to get things, or other label we implicitly make many choices. Those identity statements exclude some options and make others seem “obvious.” Changes in identity have a strong gravitational pull upon our behavior and the emotions.
A good way to begin to identify your sense of identity is to consider how you introduce yourself to strangers. What are the roles or stories you share about yourself? What do you want to know about other people? These questions reveal your instincts about how you define yourself and relate to people. Another question that can reveal one’s source of identity is, “How do you define success?”
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