The Issue of Identity
A popular story about the American playwright Arthur Miller (told in The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes) illustrates the issue of personal identity.
Sitting alone in a bar, [Miller] was approached by a well-tailored, slightly [tipsy] fellow who addressed him thus:
“Aren’t you Arthur Miller?”
“Why, yes, I am.”
“Don’t you remember me?”
“Well . . . your face seems familiar.”
“Why, Art, I’m your old buddy Sam! We went to high school together! We went out on double dates!”
“I’m afraid I—”
“I guess you can see I’ve done all right. Department stores. What do you do, Art?”
“Well, I . . . write.”
“Ever get any produced?”
“Would I know any?”
“Well . . . perhaps you’ve heard of Death of a Salesman?”
Sam’s jaw dropped; his face went white. For a moment he was speechless.
Then he cried out, “Why, you’re ARTHUR MILLER!”
Sam recognized his high school friend Arthur Miller, and he was familiar with the dramatist Arthur Miller, but he didn’t realize the two were one and the same. There is a sense in which this happens in our experience as believers in Christ—we know ourselves and each other in a superficial way, but we do not grasp who we are at the core of our being. Like a man who has forgotten his name, we can wander about the streets of life without knowing our true identity.
Who Defines You?
We are constantly in danger of letting the world instead of God define us, because that is so easy to do. It is only natural to shape our self-image by the attitudes and opinions of our parents, our peer groups, and our society. None of us are immune to the distorting effects of performance-based acceptance, and we can falsely conclude that we are worthless or that we must try to earn God’s acceptance. Only when we define ourselves by the truths of the Word rather than the thinking and experiences of the world can we discover our deepest identity.
All of us have encountered psychobabble about self-love, including the call to look within ourselves to discover the answers to our problems. But the Scriptures exhort us to look to Christ, not to self, for the solutions we so greatly need. I have come to define the biblical view of self-love in this way: loving ourselves correctly means seeing ourselves as God sees us. This will never happen automatically, because the scriptural vision of human depravity and dignity is countercultural. To genuinely believe and embrace the reality of who we have become as a result of our faith in Christ requires consistent discipline and exposure to the Word of God. It also requires a context of fellowship and encouragement in a community of like-minded believers. Without these, the visible will overcome the invisible, and our understanding of this truth will gradually slip through our fingers.
Seeing Ourselves as God Sees Us
What does it mean to see ourselves as God sees us? Contrary to our culture, the biblical doctrine of grace humbles us without degrading us and elevates us without inflating us. It tells us that apart from Christ, we have nothing and can do nothing of eternal value. We are spiritually impotent and inadequate without him, and we must not put our confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3). Grace also tells us that we have become new creatures in Christ, having been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his light, life, and love. In him, we now enjoy complete forgiveness from sins and limitless privileges as unconditionally accepted members of God’s family. We are no longer defined by the pain of our bounded past but are defined by the joy of our unbounded future. We have a new heredity in Christ, and our future is secure because of our new destiny as members of his body.
Thus a biblical understanding of grace addresses both human depravity and human dignity. It avoids the extreme of worm theology (I’m worthless, I’m no good, I’ll never amount to anything, I’m nothing but a rotten sinner) and the opposite extreme of pride and autonomy (“What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” [1 Corinthians 4:7]). Grace teaches us that the most important thing about us is not what we do but who and whose we are in Christ. In Scripture, doing (our actions) should flow out of being (our identity); the better we grasp our identity in Christ, the more our actions should reflect Christlike character.
Who Does God Say I Am?
The following biblical affirmations about our identity in Jesus Christ are derived from a few selected passages in the New Testament. These passages teach a portion of the many truths about who we have become through faith in God’s Son.
- I am a child of God.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.
- I am a branch of the true vine, and a conduit of Christ’s life.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. . . . I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
John 15:1, 5
- I am a friend of Jesus.
“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
- I have been justified and redeemed.
Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
- My old self was crucified with Christ, and I am no longer a slave to sin.
Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.
- I will not be condemned by God.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- I have been set free from the law of sin and death.
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
- As a child of God, I am a fellow heir with Christ.
And if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
- I have been accepted by Christ.
Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
- I have been called to be a saint.
To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
1 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2
- In Christ Jesus, I have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.
1 Corinthians 1:30
- My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in me.
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 3:16
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
1 Corinthians 6:19
- I am joined to the Lord and am one spirit with him.
But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
1 Corinthians 6:17
- God leads me in the triumph and knowledge of Christ.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.
2 Corinthians 2:14
- The hardening of my mind has been removed in Christ.
But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
2 Corinthians 3:14
- I am a new creature in Christ.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
- I have become the righteousness of God in Christ.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21
- I have been made one with all who are in Christ Jesus.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- I am no longer a slave but a child and an heir.
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
- I have been set free in Christ.
It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
- I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
- I am chosen, holy, and blameless before God.
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
- I am redeemed and forgiven by the grace of Christ.
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.
- I have been predestined by God to obtain an inheritance.
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.
- I have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.
- Because of God’s mercy and love, I have been made alive with Christ.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
- I am seated in the heavenly places with Christ.
And raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
- I am God’s workmanship created to produce good works.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
- I have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ.
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
- I am a member of Christ’s body and a partaker of his promise.
The Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
Ephesians 3:6; 5:30
- I have boldness and confident access to God through faith in Christ.
In whom we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.
- My new self is righteous and holy.
Put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
- I was formerly darkness, but now I am light in the Lord.
You were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.
- I am a citizen of heaven.
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The peace of God guards my heart and mind.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- God supplies all my needs.
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
- I have been made complete in Christ.
In Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.
- I have been raised up with Christ.
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
- My life is hidden with Christ in God.
For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
- Christ is my life, and I will be revealed with him in glory.
When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
- I have been chosen of God, and I am holy and beloved.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
- God loves me and has chosen me.
Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you.
1 Thessalonians 1:4
I recommend reviewing frequently this powerful inventory, since it reminds us of truths we quickly forget amid the worries and cares of this world. The more we embrace these affirmations from Scripture, the more stable, grateful, and fully assured we will be in the course of our lives.
Questions for Personal Application
- To what degree are you defined by the world? By the Word? How can you develop your identity more fully in the latter?
- What does it require to see yourself as God sees you?
- Which five from the list of biblical affirmations resonate the most with you?
- Which five seem the most remote to your experience? How can you make these more real in your thinking and practice?
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