More Exploration of Identity

I want to use this post to dispel another myth about IDENTITY. This will be my third post about identity in the last few months.

In our Relationships by God’s Design, I started the series with a sermon about Identity in Christ. In my discernment, it seemed as though I needed to start there because (a) our core identity is in Christ and (b) many people get confused into thinking their primary identity is in their marital status, their parental status, their sexual history, or their sexual orientation. Those are all secondary or tertiary aspects of identity. You can read more by accessing the blog post that summarizes that first sermonHERE.

Because that concept was foundational to the series and because there’s so much confusion about this topic, I wrote another blog post about Identity in Christ—HERE. The title of that post summaries the content of the post: Reminders and Resources about Identity. If you read through that post, you will find excellent reminders about how our current culture emphasizes that our identity arises from within, through a path of self-discovery (which is tied to this notion of expressive individualism). Christians approach the notion of identity from a very different perspective. I included some great resources there.

I’m back here with a third post about identity because it’s so important to know the source of our identity. There are many notions about how identity is formed and it’s important to examine the prevailing notions with a critical eye. In other words, there are many false gospels out there and we want to avoid them.

For instance, on Oct. 13th of this year, I saw that a prominent Christian leader posted this quote from Emily McDowell on Facebook:

This sort of quote has a strong allure to it! That’s precisely why 133 people “liked/loved” it and 124 people shared it (that’s A LOT of shares for a FB post!).

Yet, we should take a long look at what’s being espoused here. Although it contains a few things Christians would affirm, it also suggests a notion of identity formation that is foreign to Christian theology (which makes it all the more troubling that this was posted by a Christian leader and affirmed/shared by many people who claim allegiance to Christ).

I want to analyzed this and I want to start with what Christians would affirm in this quote: Christians would definitely affirm that “cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid” can all contribute to an inaccurate sense of identity. These are all aspects of our fallen world and our fallen nature, and it should go without saying that these factors can have a detrimental affect on us.

Christians can also affirm, based on the imago Dei imprinted upon all of us, that there is some sense of “true self” buried underneath a lot of junk.

But, Christians do not affirm that we uncover identity by returning to ourselves. While there is something to be said for “unlearning” and “excavation” (See John 15!), we don’t excavate so that we find something that was always there—as though we have a perfect interior that is merely tarnished by the world’s influence.

Instead, we assume identity formation happens as the Holy Spirit excavates our distorted self so that we can become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and live from our identity in Christ (Galatians 2:20).

The notion put forth in this quote from McDowell not only assumes that we are innocent at birth, but also assumes that we’re born with a full identity that is eventually corrupted by the world. Christians assume neither of those things.

Rather, Christians affirm that we are all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. We assume that God’s original image is distorted and we are depraved (literally twisted). Consequently, we are prone to follow our own will and our own ways rather than God’s will and God’s ways.

That said, the last thing we want to do is assume that our true self is simply waiting to be unveiled from underneath some cultural baggage. While it is true that we want to grow our awareness of how “cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions we drew as kids” distract us from God’s intentions, we DO NOT affirm that we can discover and determine our own identity based on our own resources. That puts us at the center and makes seem like we have everything we need. It returns us directly to Genesis 3. It may “feel good” but it will not lead us to reflect God’s design.

Instead, the experience of the Christian affirms that God de-centers us. God makes us into new creations where both the world’s corruption and our original sin are dealt with. We live out of—or out from—our baptism, our redemption, our callings, all of which are things God does in us through God’s people, not simply things we discover about ourselves, in-and-of ourselves. Our identity is in Christ, and according the God’s mysteries, we live in Christ and Christ lives in us.

So, here’s the point: You are not a good source of your own identity.

To say such a thing is extremely countercultural, but know this: nothing is better than our fulfillment in Christ. Don’t believe a false Gospel, but believe the good news in Jesus Christ.

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I could say so much more … But I will stop here. I hope this is helpful.

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