Who am I? The Fundamentals of Understanding Your Identity: Part 1

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What about building identity on accomplishments?

If we want to understand who we are, I suggest that we not begin with our accomplishments. I suggest we do not say, "I have achieved success, and therefore I am a successful person." What if we fail? Then, by our own metrics, we would become a failure. And what does it mean to be both a successful person and a failure at the same time? Could we be either "more of a successful person" or "more of a failure"?

If we build our identity off of "success", we would eventually have to ask, "Success by whose standards?" If our standards are set by us, then we are going to spend our whole life attempting to achieve our own standards and even in this pursuit we will inevitably fail. Haven't we already failed at building our identity off of our own standards of success? 

Moreover, the Bible clearly teaches that the only success that lasts forever, that will be attached to you for all eternity, is the success of loving Jesus and obeying His commands. 

What about building identity on feelings?

If we want to understand who we are, I would suggest we not begin with our feelings either. If we feel healthy, then does that make us healthy? Can we say, "I am a healthy person because I feel healthy"? Most people feel healthy when cancer is at its earliest stages. Does feeling healthy make them healthy? 

What about our feelings for another person? If we feel romantic love toward another person, does that create for us a workable identity? Well, what happens when we no longer feel love toward that person? If identity were based off of feelings, even long-held ones, they would eventually change and create an identity crisis. Often this type of identity crisis in our culture ends in divorce. 

So, what should we build our identity upon?

What I do suggest is that we think of identity from its most fundamental dimension. This dimension is the realm of covenantal relationship; and our most fundamental covenantal relationship is to God. 

To ask the question "What is fundamental to my identity?" is to ask "What is essential to me being me?" It is to determine what is most core about ourselves for as long as we exist. It is to say that from conception into eternity I am [fill in the blank]. This does not mean that the concept of identity cannot be expanded into various temporal understandings that shift and change over time. It is only to say that when we find ourselves living out an identity that is changing or can be changed, that is not most essentially us. Why? Because we still exist and yet we are no longer that person. If we are to build a long-lasting sense of identity, we need to build off the strongest foundation possible. 

To illustrate, let us think of a college student. When does one take on the identity of a college student? Most people would say that during orientation week one becomes a college student. Sure, they were accepted as a college student before then, but could not take on college student identity until they paid their tuition for their first semester. Sure, they wanted to be a college student before they even applied, but we wouldn't say that just because someone wanted to be a college student means they were a college student. So, one becomes a college student when they step on campus for orientation week.

How long does this identity last? It lasts until they either drop out of college or until they graduate. During those (typically) four or five years they can rightfully claim the identity of college student. Yet, that identity is temporary. To build one's life off the foundation of being a college student is to inevitably be disappointed. 

Further, this same illustration is true when applied to a particular job or vocation. More than ever people are realizing the transient nature of the modern workplace, and so many of us are realizing the devastating emotional defeats that can come from placing too much identity upon a particular job, company or profession.

So what makes Lauren, Lauren? Or, Stephen, Stephen? If not our achievements or failures, then what? If not our feelings, then what? If not our schooling or job, then what?

God's covenantal actions toward us make us who we are. Fundamentally.

When God created the world, he knew we were coming. He created us. We are, at our most core, ones who are created by God. For the rest of our existence we are God's creatures, made in His image. It will never, ever change. This is the type of identity that we can put all our emotional weight upon and it will never crumble or change. We will never not be created in the image of God.

But there's more.

Because it was the Triune God of the Bible who created us, we are also fundamentally loved by God and we are fundamentally good creations. God loves His creation. Fundamentally. God's creations are good. Fundamentally. You are therefore a good creature who was and is loved by God. We may not always feel this, but it doesn't matter because we are not our feelings. We may not always act like this, but it doesn't matter because we are not our actions. We may not want this but it does not matter because our aspirations do not make us who we are. 

But there's more.

Here is where it gets really good for the follower of Jesus, the one who has been filled with the Holy Spirit upon regeneration, the one who is located in Christ: we also get more identities, the identities of grace.

We are the called, chosen, justified, adopted, sanctified and soon-to-be-glorified children of God in Christ. Fundamentally.

We are the body of Christ. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit even as each of us individually is a temple of the Holy Spirit. We are the freedmen and freedwomen who are no longer bound to the slavemaster of sin. We are the secure and protected ones. We are the holy nation of sojourners. We are the forgiven and redeemed and reconciled. 

These identities of grace will never leave us nor forsake us, because God has eternally committed to continuing to act toward us in these ways. He will not stop being our father. He will not stop being kind. He will not kick us out of "in Christ" to "out of Christ." He will not allow us to return to the slavemaster that is Sin. He will never stop protecting and defending us. He will not deport us back to the kingdom of darkness. From the moment of our redemption and unto everlasting life, our identities of grace are secure. 

We are the called, chosen, justified, adopted, sanctified and soon-to-be-glorified children of God in Christ. Fundamentally.

Do you want to know who you are? Focus first on what is most essential to who you are. And that is found in your covenant relationship to God.

In our next blog post we will look at how this reality of covenant relationship is next seen in our relationship to our parents, siblings, spouse, extended family, church community and even our nation.

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