Humans are concerned with a great deal of things. Some of us are concerned about getting that next promotion while others are just concerned with finding the best seat at the Star Wars premiere. At some point I hope we have all slowed down and asked the question, "who are we?" I don’t mean that literally, like we forget our names or something, but rather philosophically—thoughts like why we exist, why we do what we do, and what we want out of life. These questions are wrapped up in our identity. Identity is the center of who we are. It shapes what we do, what we say, what we desire, and who we associate with. It’s the foundation upon which everything else in our life is built.
For many, their identity is wrapped up in what they have. Their money, clothes, car, and house define them. Others find their identity in relationships, talents, appearance, and the list goes on. From ethnicity to deep pain and loss, everyone finds their identity in something under the sun.
So what we do, where we come from, and what we desire are all true things about us. But when these become the most important things about us, there is an issue.
I am not suggesting that these things are necessarily bad or untrue. For example, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a designer. That’s a part of who I am. I would also be lying if I said my ancestors weren’t Italian or that I am not a husband. All of those things are true about me. They are all layers of who I am and they are all good things. But that’s not the core of who I am. It’s not the truest thing about me, meaning I do not base my entire life, value, and purpose on those things.
Timothy Keller said, "Identity is a complex set of layers, for we are many things. Our occupation, ethnic identity, etc., are part of who we are. But we assign different values to these components and thus Christian maturing is a process in which the most fundamental layer of our identity becomes our self-understanding as a new creature in Christ along with all our privileges in him."
Our position before God must become the core of who we are and the basis for how we live.
So what we do, where we come from, and what we desire are all true things about us. But when these become the most important things about us, there is an issue. That’s because they all fall short who God says we are in Christ. Our culture, for example, is confused about these things. Their understanding of who they are is shallow, which results in much unrest and dissatisfaction. The alarming fact is that the church has the same issue. We are tired, misguided, and stuck in perpetual cycles of sin.
How does this happen? Where are Christians going wrong? The root issue of our struggle is that we frequently forget who we are in Christ. Pastors and teachers refer to this as gospel amnesia: we believe in Jesus but we wake up not knowing who we are in Christ. We must not only discover who are in Christ, but we must trust God that what he says about us is fact. Our position before God must become the core of who we are and the basis for how we live.
Wrongly, we believe that we must find the power within ourselves to live the Christian-life. We think, “if I only try harder, then God will love me and give good gifts to me”. Quite the contrary! The Bible declares that our Christian identity is not based on what we do for God, but rather on what God has done for us in Christ.
Apart from Christ we are all "...dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind" (Ephesians 2:1-3). But by the grace and mercy of God, he made us "alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus..." (Ephesians 2:5-6).
Christian, our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). We are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). In Christ, we have election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, blessing, and the seal of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:1-14). We now share in the love, righteousness, and inheritance of Christ. We are truly children of God and joint heirs of Christ. In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing! This is what God declares over us and it is the core of who we are.
Christian maturity begins with believing who we are in Christ. Therefore, growing as a Christian is a matter of becoming who we already are. We love, forgive, serve, and put sin to death because we are already loved, forgiven, served, and freed from sin in Christ (1 John 4:19; Eph. 4:32; 1 John 3:16; Rom. 6:11-12). Who we are and what we have in Christ becomes our motivation for living the Christian-life.
When we fail to realize this, the Bible quickly becomes a heavy-handed rule book that puts impossible standards on people who are already broken. When we begin to understand that following God's commands aren't the basis for our Christian identity, we can freely and joyfully walk in obedience. Since our identity is wrapped up in Christ, we should imitate him (1 John 2:6). Our lives ought to reflect his life and bring honor to him in everything we do. But when we sin, we are temporarily denying our identity: we are forgetting who we really are.
We love, forgive, serve, and put sin to death because we are already loved, forgiven, served, and freed from sin in Christ.
When we are seeking the approval of others we have a gospel problem. We are failing to remember that we have the approval of the Father in Christ. When we are desperate and longing for love, we have a gospel problem. We are failing to remember that in Christ we are dearly loved. When we are hiding from Christian community because of guilt and shame, we are failing to remember that we are holy and righteous in Christ. When we are pilling up credit card debt because we feel like we need more things, we are failing to remember that we have heavenly riches that will never fade away. When we are depressed because we long for a family or parent we never had, we have a gospel problem. We must remember that we are dearly loved by our Father in heaven and that he has adopted us into his family. If we are constantly longing for meaning, we must remember that in Christ, we have meaning and purpose.
Friends, if you are a Christian, you are beloved by God. That is at the center of who you are. Therefore, live in light of that.