Belief – Who are You?
In our last blog, we explored how our view of God impacts our behaviors. Our beliefs about God dramatically influence how we relate to Him, the world, and everything we do and say. When we have a distorted view of God, things can go sideways in a hurry. It opens a whole avenue of lies and false conclusions Therefore, it is imperative we get this right.
The second belief that holds sway over us is our view of ourselves. Our self-concept. Our identity. It’s said that we live out of a story, a narrative that we have in our head based on what we believe to be true about life, the world, and our place in it.
Our narrative has been influenced by what others have said about us, what we have said about ourselves, and the conclusions we have made about ourselves based upon our experiences in life. We have formed an Identity.
One of the challenges we face in identity formation is deciding whose view of us will dominate our beliefs about who we are. Will it be our parents' view, our teachers’ view, the culture’s view, or God’s view? In other words, we have one of three choices to make.
Will I embrace what God says about me to shape my identity?
Will I embrace what the culture says about me to shape my identity?
Will I embrace an Identity that consciously or unconsciously embraces both?
If we choose to agree with God’s view of us, his view will likely confront our culture, as well as our presently held identity.
Tim Keller, a pastor and author, in a discussion about identity, cited social commentator Charles Taylor’s insights into the seismic shift our American culture has taken post World War II.
Prior to World War II, our “previous culture” by and large demonstrated an emphasis on individual rights, but these individual rights and desires had boundaries. One’s rights were balanced by one’s responsibilities owed to the needs of their family, their state, their community, and/or their faith.
After World War II, in our “present culture,” there was an explosion of what Taylor calls “Expressive Individualism,” and individualism became an absolute! The new view declared that the interest and desires of the individual always came before the needs or wishes of the group, the family, community, or country. Self-sacrifice was praised!
The previous culture said, “you are your duties.” Present culture says, “you are your desires.” Previous culture, you got a sense of identity by sublimating your individual interest to what society said/needed, the nation said/needed or family said/needed. Sacrifice was praised!
Present culture says the only heroic narrative is for you to look inside yourself, and YOU decide who you are or what you want to be. YOU assert yourself in spite of what your family says, in spite of what your faith or society says. Don’t worry about what anybody else says. You recognize yourself; you bestow honor upon yourself. To say otherwise, you are not just being mistaken but evil and oppressive. Self-interest is praised!
A chosen identity is often incoherent in that you have inconsistencies within yourself. Often your deepest feelings contradict each other.
Tim Keller describes several reasons why choosing your own identity doesn’t work. The first is that a chosen identity is often incoherent in that you have inconsistencies within yourself. Often your deepest feelings contradict each other. For example, you may love your spouse and your career, but both can’t be the foundation of your identity. Another reason it doesn’t work is that we as people are unstable, we are always changing, and our 15-year-old self is not as wise as our 30-year-old self (hopefully).
Our cultural basis for identity is also an illusion. It is inconsistent and ever-changing. Take, for example, a 15-year-old Anglo Saxon warrior. He may look inside and feel both aggression and same-sex attraction. He says ‘same-sex attraction is wrong’ and suppresses it because of his culture, but ‘aggression is good,’ so he fights and kills, and it's heroic. On the other hand, take a 15-year-old boy living in New York today, he may look inside and feels both aggression and same-sex attraction. He says, ‘Same-sex attraction is right’ and acts on it because of his culture, and its heroic, but ‘aggression is bad,’ so he suppresses it.
There is also a huge pressure when determining your own identity because you must look inside, figure out who you are, be consistent, and then achieve it all by yourself.
There is also a huge pressure when determining your own identity because you must look inside, figure out who you are, be consistent, and then achieve it all by yourself. Any identity that is achieved rather than received requires that others be less than you. We rarely feel satisfied with being ‘smart’ or ‘talented’ for its own sake. We feel satisfaction from being ‘smarter’ or ‘more talented’ than others. Thus, a “self-determined achievement” identity puts pressure on relationships as there will always be those greater and lesser than ourselves. This is why God’s way to a ‘received identity’ is so superior!
Receiving an identity that is not based on culture or achievements or feelings requires someone in your life that you esteem highly, is greater than you, that you can trust perfectly, and won’t disillusion you. He does not vacillate in his assessment of whom you are based on your performance. In other words, you need the love, approval, and esteem of someone you esteem highly to declare who you are and thus give you your identity to be truly satisfied.
That someone is God. God designed us to derive our identity from Him. He is the only true source of our identity. Receiving this God-given identity affords us the security to love, submit, serve, and seek the good of others.
God’s Design for Identity
While it can be tempting to choose your own identity, God’s design is the only true source for a healthy identity. We must derive our identity from Him and what He says about us. When we receive our God-given identity, it affords us the security that tells us our place, our purpose and our destiny. We can know where we came from, what our purpose is and where we are going.
We all draw from and operate out of multiple roles and experiences to form our identities. The key is recognizing which one is the one that trumps the others. Some of the identities we take on are detrimental: shame, sinner, etc. Some are good: based on family or talents. The key is not letting any of those identities trump your Kingdom identity as a child of the King.
In my early years, one of the primary identities that I embraced, and that shaped how I thought and behaved, was as a football player. When college football was over, I was asking, “Who am I now?” Because it was so much a part of how I derived my value, it took some time to reshape my identity. I began to discover that any identity other than my identity in Christ was fleeting. I had to find my true identity in my relationship with Jesus.
For example, my identity changed when I realized I was not a sinner who acted like a saint but a saint who sometimes sinned. When tempted, I would declare that this sinful desire I was feeling was not for me; it was not who I was anymore. I must daily, and sometimes hourly, declare that I no longer identify with the sin, and I say about myself what God says about each of His children. “I am His workmanship (poem), righteous in Christ, a saint,” etc.
With the help of a of a dear friend, and mature minister, I worked through a process of identifying the lies I had believed about myself and then countered them by identifying what God’s truth said. I wrote down a long list of who God said I am and then would recite the truth out loud every morning. Before bed, I recited these truths out loud again, and then Lea would speak these truths over me, preceding with, “You are…” For example, “You are righteous in Christ.” “You are loved unconditionally.” “You are a beloved son of the God most high!” Well, I think you get the idea.
So this is a good place to end and I think I will end it with this, “You are a beloved child of God, destined for the throne and a select arrow of God’s own choosing!”
PHOTO CREDIT: Image by Andreas on Freepik