Your identity is everything.
When Jesus was on this Earth, a great deal of his focus was explaining how the Kingdom of God was different than what we experience day to day in our natural world. It turns out in many ways the Kingdom of God is upside down from how we do things in our world.
One area where God’s Kingdom contrasts sharply with the world is how identity is determined. In fact the difference is so radical that it even creates problems when believers and non believers talk about things. Because the perspectives of those two groups are so foreign to one another in this area, most of the time believers and nonbelievers end up talking past each other on a whole host of issues instead of actually connecting and communicating.
As believers we are called to love foremost of all. Part of loving someone is understanding their perspective.
Oscar Wilde famously said
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
How do you identify yourself? How to you explain who you are to others?
How we answer those questions says a lot about who we are as a person and how we view our role in the Kingdom of God. Once we get past our names, the natural thing place to start is with what we do for a living. Us guys especially tend to derive much of our identity from our occupation.
Behavior Determines Identity
The reason people tend to anchor their identity in the work they do to earn a pay check is because the world’s system identifies people by what they do. The world puts labels on people that classify people by their actions.
And it’s not just our occupations, either. Sometimes it’s their hobbies. Someone might be into running (a runner), into video games (a gammer), like to make quilts (a quilter), have some bee hives (a beekeeper), and on, and on.
Sometimes people identify with a disease or medical condition. Someone might be paralyzed, a diabetic, an amputee, a celiac, an asthmatic, have allergies, arthritis, alzheimers, or cancer. That list is almost endless too.
Then there are unsavory behaviors that people do which the world will make their identity. Someone might be a criminal, a drunk, a drug addict, a prostitute, a thief, a gambler, etc.
No matter how you slice it, it’s an outside-in thing. According to the world your identity is a function of what you do. Whether you are a success or a failure is strictly a matter of what results you see.
Love the Sinner Disconnect
It’s not uncommon to hear Christians say, “we love the sinner but hate the sin.” However, that comes across as complete nonsense to nonbelievers. It literally does not compute for them.
Because the world determines a person’s identity by their behavior, as far as they are concerned they are their sin. There’s no differentiation between the two for them.
Since the worldly frame of reference is all they know, they conclude that when Christians say sin is evil and they hate it, the Christians are really being hateful towards them personally. We think we’re being loving by sharing how wrong and damaging their behavior is. But to them, they receive it as a personal attack against their core identity. Without the ability to differentiate between behavior and identity any criticism of what non-Christians do gets interpreted as a hateful violation of their very being.
As a result believers and nonbelievers end up talking past each other, making it all but impossible to have meaningful dialog about those issues.
Identity Determines Behavior
In the Kingdom of God that whole thing is turned on its head. When we become believers and start following Jesus we become entirely new people. Our identity gets changed.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. — 2 Corinthians 5:17
Not only does our identity change when we become believers, but Paul says we become entirely new creatures in Christ. That truth is so profound and impactful that it is the foundational verse for our entire ministry.
All that mess before gets left behind when we become believers. For example, before I became a believer I was a drunk. Because of that I spent some time with Alcoholics Anonymous. Now that’s a great organization that helps a ton of people cope their alcohol addiction.
But one of their montras is once a drunk, always a drunk. They teach that their members can never truly be free of their addiction. Because that is who they are, because their identity is defined by their actions as “a drunk,” the best they can hope for is to control it.
The thing is that’s not true. People can be truly free of the addictions that are ruining their lives because in Christ we are made into entirely new creations. Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians chapter 6. In verses 9 and 10 he lists a whole bunch of destructive behaviors including drunkards like me. Then in verse 11 he says this:
Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. — 1 Corinthians 6:11
It was a great day when I realized that even though I was indeed a drunk, now that I am in Christ that’s not who I am anymore. I’ve been living for over 20 years genuinely free from that old addiction instead of just trying to control it.
Because we have a new identity in Jesus Christ, now that is where our behavior should flow from.
For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! — Ephesians 5:8
Now we conduct our lives and our behavior based on our new identity. As believers we are free of those old labels based on our behavior.
Unfortunately far too many believers don’t understand this new identity in Christ. Too many think they are just a sinner saved by grace. No! You were a sinner. Now you are a new creation in Christ and no longer a slave to those old behaviors.
The only power the enemy has anymore is deception. Folks who don’t know who they are in Christ fall into the trap of believing the lie that they are weak victims of outside forces and circumstance they find themselves in. As a result they feel powerless to change much of anything in their lives.
That’s how we end up having so many Christians out there behaving almost exactly like the world behaves. They mistakenly believe their identity is determined by their behavior.
Just Like Jesus
The truth is radically different than that. So much so that even some Christians may have a hard time accepting how powerful they truly are now that they are in Christ. The Bible says that we are just like Jesus.
Love has been perfected among us in this:that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. — 1 John 4:17
Notice we don’t have to wait until we step into eternity to be like Jesus. John says that we are like Jesus in this world, right here, right now.
Do you understand how powerful you are? If Jesus wouldn’t be defeated by your current circumstance, then know that as a believer you have all the power and ability He has right now to overcome those challenges you’re facing today. Because you truly are just like Him, even though you may not feel like it, or act like it. Your actions don’t determine your identity.
God, the very creator of the universe and everything it contains lives inside of you. You are powerful. You have the ability to change your circumstances. That is who you really are. It’s your inheritance and your new birthright as a child of God in Christ. Know it. Believe it.
Why then are you letting whatever it is keep you down and hold you back from stepping into that calling God put in your heart?