It is God, not anything in creation, who determines who we are and gives individuals identity, meaning, and purpose. And in Christ, God’s determination of our identity is gloriously liberating rather than stifling. The following are three aspects of every Christian’s identity:
1. I am no longer defined by sin.
Those of us united by faith to Christ are no longer defined by sin, whether sins of the past, struggles with sin in the present, or sin battles we will face in the future. Our former sin-based identity was crucified with Christ, and we have been raised with him to “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). Because our identity is now intrinsically linked to his, sin no longer has dominion over us (v. 14); sin and its power to define and enslave are no longer part of who we are.
Gone forever is the illusion of deliverance that comes from standing before a twelve-step group and publicly defining ourselves by our besetting sin. “I’m Joe, and I’m an alcoholic” has become “I’m Joe, a son of the living God.” And “I’m gay because I’ve always struggled with same-sex attraction” is now “Although I’m tempted by same-sex attraction, my sexuality doesn’t define me. I’m defined by Christ, whose perfect resistance to temptation has been applied to me.” In Christ, we are daily becoming what we already are.
2. I am called according to God’s purpose.
By virtue of our union with Christ, our calling has been clearly defined. We have been called by God “according to his purpose,” which primarily is to conform us to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). By the power of God, everything that happens to us and whatever we choose to do work toward that end. “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11).
In other words, our particular earthly callings are all subsumed under his call of us into the kingdom. Because this is so, we don’t have to fixate inwardly in order to figure out who we are or what we will do; light comes as we redirect our gaze upward and outward.
Scripture defines us as “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” And because these good works were “prepared beforehand” by God, we are already engaged in living them out in our day-to-day lives and relationships (Eph. 2:10).
This is the outworking of biblical discipleship, and as distinctly Christian disciples, what we do is never divorced from who we are. In fact, true discipleship is less about doing than it is about being. God doesn’t need our good works, and if we view discipleship primarily in those terms, we are at risk of misusing “disciple” as merely another self-defining label. The pressure is off! Because we have been placed in Christ, our calling has been defined.
3. I have a secure future.
The future of those in Christ has already been established. We are destined for a glorious, unending future in the new heavens and the new earth, where we will enjoy unhindered fellowship with God. At that time, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Gone will be the remaining vestiges of our sin and the inclination to define ourselves by it. No more will the weaknesses, limitations, and brokenness of life in this world confound our understanding of who we are. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Even now, while the mirror is still dim, who we are has been revealed. Who we are and what we are called to do is all wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is the Christian’s identity, both now and forever. In this world, we might be lonely and alone, but in Christ we are a vital part of an eternal family (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 2:22). The world judges and condemns us for what we do and say, but in Christ we are covered by grace (1 Cor. 1:4). The deficiencies of our humanity weaken us, but in Christ we are enriched in every way (1 Cor. 1:5).
Our intellectual limitations might hinder us, but Christ has become our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30). Past sin—no matter how grievous—no longer characterizes us, because in Christ we have redemption through his blood and full forgiveness (Eph. 1:7). The fear of man mars our witness and our relationships, but in Christ we can draw near to God with freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12).
Our earthbound goals and dreams might come crashing down, but in Christ all disappointments are being used by God for our good (Rom. 8:28). In him, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Christ is the Christian’s identity, and it is glorious.
Adapted from Lydia Brownback, “How Does God See Me?” Modern Reformation, September/October 2015. Used by permission.