There’s something deep within us that we all wrestle with. A struggle that resides at the very core of our being. It manifests itself in numerous ways and we all deal with it through a variety of methods. This, of course, is our struggle with identity.
“Who am I?” We’ve all asked that question, in hopes of finding out who and what we are: our purpose, our worth, our value, our reason for being alive. “What defines me?” We all seek to find something to define us. Whether it be that you’re “Joe the chef,” or “Joe the athlete,” or “Jane the lawyer,” or “Jane the writer,” we’re all seeking for something to become us. And that’s where we mess up: in the thinking that our identity must be something we attain or work for. Nothing is more natural for us to assume, and yet so false, as that. Our hearts are naturally bent towards self-salvation and self-justification from birth. From the moment we enter the world, we’re “turned in on ourselves,” looking inward for that which can only be found outside of us.
The pursuit of identity — the pursuit of life, meaning, purpose, value, worth, everything — is nothing but a wild goose chase if we’re looking inward for it. The world tells us that we must “become” something or someone in order to find those things that we seek; that we must fix and better ourselves and incessantly work on us before our “dreams” are realized — dreams of abundant life and health and wealth. The world postulates that “identity is the sum of our achievements.”1 Everything is conditional: you get only in proportion to that which you give. Thus, to be the “best version of you,” to “be all you can be,” requires everything from you.
In this world of conditionality and performancism, where what you do is who you are, “success equals life, and failure is tantamount to death.”2 These notions, indeed, enslave and exhaust us. Nothing is more tiresome or burdensome than the endless pursuit of performing in hopes of realizing identity and finding meaning and attaining grace. Such an endeavor is, very much, hopeless.
Your identity will never be found in what you “do.” Your identity isn’t something you “attain,” it’s something you receive. Who you are is locked and secured in the gospel — in what Jesus has done. In Christ, we’re redeemed. In Christ, we’re cleansed. In Christ, we’re rescued. Because of the finished work of redemption, we must consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.” (Rom 6:11) Moreover, we’ve been “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24) Thus, because of this full and free justification, “There is therefore now no condemnation” for we who are in Christ. (Rom 8:1) And, if that weren’t enough, there’s absolutely nothing that can shake us or separate us from Jesus; there’s nothing that can take away what we’ve already been given in Christ!
Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35–39)
Yes, indeed, we receive everything in Christ! The most freeing and encouraging thought is that you aren’t what others see you to be. You aren’t a stereotype. You aren’t even what you see yourself to be. No, “you are who God sees you to be — his beloved child, with whom he’s well pleased.”3 Make no mistake, that before Jesus came into your life, your identity was filthy and wretched and deplorable. We often need to be reminded of that. But more than that, your new identity is found in Christ, in Jesus’s shed blood and work of redemption on the cross.
True identity is only found in the everlasting forgiveness and one-way love that can only come from the Heavenly Father. Our new identity is, “Sinners saved by grace.” That’s who we are: desperate sinners who’ve been met by greater grace. Christians are nothing but a bunch of ragtag mess-ups who’ve been rescued and transformed by miraculous mercy. Up from the crags and clay of sin and distress we’ve been raised by the amazing grace of God. We hail from filth and wickedness and sin; we must always remember that, for it’s then that the radicality of the gospel will truly grip us. We come from darkness, but Jesus clothes us in his light. We’re just filthy, dirty sinners, but Jesus dresses us in his righteousness. That’s our identity. That’s who we are — lost now found; desperate now delivered; resistant now redeemed; filthy now blameless, all in Christ.
Paul Zahl, Who Will Deliver Us?: The Present Power of the Death of Christ (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 11.
Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013), 20.