We are losing the identity wars because we are afraid to speak into them directly. Just as Daniel and his friends were bombarded and faced a programme designed to reshape and reform their worldview and sense of self and identity so do we. It’s in everything we read, hear, watch, as well as in the things we are taught. This isn’t new. It has always been the war that we are on the frontlines of. But perhaps we have never been so fearful of speaking in to this war because of the dangers of getting cancelled or no platformed. But we need to, so let me enter the fray with some thoughts.
We need to teach our congregations and our children a robust biblical understanding of identity and equip and train them in how to explain that lovingly to those around them. But we also need to explain how that contradicts and conflicts with what society teaches. We want to show them how God’s word; God’s wise loving compassionate view of our identity is so much better than what the world’s wisdom is offering.
I want to build a biblical framework of identity in this longer than normal post and help us see how the gospel is good news both for us and for those in our churches and communities. However, even as I do so we need to be realistic; as Christians we are counter cultural. We won’t fit in. Our message won’t be viewed as good, it goes against the grain, we will be the bad guys. This very issue may cost people their jobs, it may cost churches their rented spaces in certain venues like school or community centres. As Daniel and his friends stood out in Babylon, as Peter calls on the scattered churches to stand up and stand out in his letters we will stand out and face slander for it but count Christ as worth it.
Identity is complex. How would you answer the question ‘Who am I?’ Our identity matters. Society tells us certain ways to identify ourselves; by our successes, our education, our relationship status, our looks, our abilities. It invites us to find our identity in it’s story – a story of progress, freedom, and individuality. A story that is always shifting; influenced by social trends and ideas. Yet it’s always a story that’s searching and grasping for identity and love.We long to know who we are, what we were made for, where we fit. And the stress of trying to find your place and identity in an ever-shifting story is enormous. One of the biggest shifts in the last decade is the way culture is reshaping the story of identity.
The story we believe matters because it affects everything in life. Our society tells one story, seeking to shape our identity through it, it’s a story of rugged individualism, of self-determined right and wrong. But the Bible tells us an unchanging story and invites us to find our true identity in knowing God and who he reveals us to be and finding our place within his community of hope.
Identity is Given
If you want to see what something is, what it was made to be, to do, you need to go back to its origin. In Genesis 1 we see God create the world. And God in Genesis 1v26-27 makes man in his image – God gives us our identity. That doesn’t mean we look like God (no matter what some of you think!). It does mean we are made for community, to communicate, to make decisions, to love, to be moral, to know truth, and so on. God makes gender – men and women are equal, both reflect the image of God. God gives us a purpose, to mediate his rule to his good creation. And God says it’s very good, everything he has made, including the identity and purpose he has given to his creation that he loves.
Genesis 2 zooms in on day 6 and especially humanity. And we see that sexuality is a God given gift, it’s good, to be enjoyed, but there’s a right context in which we enjoy sex – marriage between a man and woman. We also see that we’re made to know God and enjoy him. We show our love by obedience to who he has made us to be and for his purpose and we do so joyfully because we know he is good. And yet that is not where we find ourselves, because the Bible also tells us another part of the story of our identity.
As Satan slithers into the garden and hisses into Eve’s ear – whilst Adam stands mute at her side like a spectator – he’s stealing identities. Detaching our identity from worship of, and relationship with a good, loving, all-powerful God. He strikes at who God is and who we were made to be.
First he gets Eve to doubt God, then he lies, and thirdly he suggests they make their own identity – as equal to God. Instead of being loved and created children of God he tempts them with false promises of godlikeness. They want to decide everything for themselves. And their God given identity is stolen. They’re no longer who they were. Now they’re ashamed and hide their nakedness – they lose their intimacy now they blames each other and feel shame. They lose the joy filled relationship with God that provided security. Their very identity and purpose is shattered and the world along with it.
Humanities God given identity lost affects everything: our bodies, our psychology, our desires, the story we live out of. We now rebel against God’s good by nature – that’s seen in the rest of Gen. In chapter 4 – Cain kills Abel and Lamech breathes out death threats against everyone. In chapter 6 – wickedness spreads – man’s heart is corrupt. In chapter 11 there is another attempt to overthrow God as man tries to create their own identity and glory.
But God is loving and gracious, he punishes – yes – as a loving God must – an unloving God would let sin and harm run unchecked. A loving God disciplines and judges. But he’s also gracious – he doesn’t give humanity what it deserves, he doesn’t wipe us out and start again, he still provides, and he promises a future hope.That’s the story of the rest of the Old Testament; sin and rebellion. A restless search for identity and a refusal to find it in God. Which is meet by God’s love in judgement and grace, and always the promise of hope; of one day, one man, one king who would change everything.
Amazingly God isn’t finished with humanity. Amazingly given the state of the human race and the way it has rejected God again and again and again in a staggering act of love and grace God the Son becomes man and enters the world. Showing us the identity we were made to enjoy. God becomes man and just as since the beginning man tries to kill God. Man refuses rescue, rebellion and self determination in his very blood stream. But where Adam failed when tempted to remake his identity in his own image Jesus stands as the perfect Son of God.
In the gospels we see what life lived loving God and secure in his love looks like. Jesus faces every temptation we face but stands faithful. And Jesus invites people to enjoy and share in his identity, to know and love God just as he does, to have a right relationship with God, to be what they were made to be. He comes to rescue and redeem our identity.
He meets Zacchaeus – a man seeking his identity in money and wealth, but isolated and lonely – Jesus shows him real love and welcome and Zacchaeus gives his money away and becomes who he was made to be by faith in Jesus. His identity is transformed. Jesus says Zacc is now a Son of Abraham – that is his new identity.
To a Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) who has been seeking her identity, her sense of self, of welcome and love, in relationships, she’s had 5 husbands and is living with another man. But Jesus invites her by faith in him and she finds her true identity in God’s love and forgiveness and rushes to town to tell everyone “Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done.”
Jesus meets religious Nicodemus whose identity is in religious learning and doing, his position and reputation, but who has been intrigued by Jesus actions and signs. Jesus challenges his sense of identity and calls him to be born again by the Spirit. To really know God and enjoy him. Nicodemus later comes with Joseph to claim Jesus body.
Jesus life lived loving God and revelling in his goodness shows us how far short we fall of being who we were made to be. As we read the gospels we hunger to be like Jesus, as generous as he was, as joyful as he was, as welcoming of others as he was, as forgiving as he was, as content in his own skin as he was. But our problem is that our God given identity is stolen. We still seek a sense of identity, to be loved, of value, but we slavishly seek it in all the wrong places. But Jesus comes to free us. Jesus also shows us what God is like, as he lives and finally in love goes to the cross to rescue us. To pay the price for our rejection of God and bring us back to him. To forge a new identity for us. To reconcile us to the God we rejected but who loves and so provides a way for us to be reconciled and have our identity remade by faith in Jesus.God who invites us to enjoy once again what we were made to enjoy, to be who we were made to be.
But that’s not where the story ends. Jesus dies and rises again and he ascends to heaven and from their he pours out his Spirit and there is more…
Jesus promised his disciples that one day he will restore all of creation. Everything will be remade, including us, finally we’ll be who God made us to be, who Jesus rescued and redeemed us to be by grace through faith. And we’ll enjoy him forever in a world at rest with its true identity.
But in the meantime, while we await Jesu return, we live as rescued people under restoration, our identity is in Christ, we are united with him, and he is remakes us, restoring us bit by bit by the Spirit as we explore and understand and apply this new identity he has rescued and redeemed us for. We are made new when we trust him, and so much of the Epistles is given over to helping believers understand their new identity and live out that identity. Paul writes to the Corinthians “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” He helps them see their old identity and contrasts them with their new identity, they are not what they were they are now a new people with a new identity.
Peter does that same as he writes in his first letter “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” See who you are, live it out, revel in the rescue and the purpose you have been rescued for.
As those who trust in Jesus we have a new identity. But we’re a work in progress, we’re not their yet. In the life, all of us, when we follow Jesu face a daily battle as we commit afresh day by day to root our identity in Jesus. Repenting when we slip back to placing our identity in what we were not what we are. And we do so in community, redeemed and restored and reconnected to God’s forgiven people the church. A band of brothers and sisters who accept our failures not fatalistically but who point us to grace and to Jesus and encourage and call us to live out our new identity in Jesus by the Spirit. Whilst we wait for and long for the day our new identity will finally and joyously be redeemed and we will be fully restored to what God has made us to be in Jesus.
How do you answer that question, ‘Who am I?’ Praise God for our identity given, and that he has rescued our identity stolen and that one day he will full restore it, and in the meantime he is at work using all things in that restoration process.