Monday, April 19, 2021

Who Are You? Our Identity Conundrum

Everyone these days seems concerned about their identity. “Who am I?” How we answer that question can take many directions, ranging from the work we do, to our family history, to the color of our skin, and increasingly, our gender.


For people in the working world, careers and jobs have long been a big part of their identity. I’ve lost count of how many times while traveling for business that I was asked, “What kind of work do you do?” I would ask fellow travelers the same thing. It might have been out of curiosity or sincere interest, but this  question functioned as a convenient way to discern where someone fit on the social importance scale. “Oh, you’re a doctor? Interesting!” “You’re a nuclear scientist? Wow!” “A professional athlete. That’s great!” “You’re a best-selling novelist? Well, so glad to meet you!”

 Alas, folks like hotel maids, sanitation engineers, newsstand operators and retail clerks usually don’t get the same kind of eager reception. Because some jobs equate to affluence and status while others don’t, and the more money you make, the more important people think you are. That’s what we’re taught to believe.


But jobs are only one of many determinants we use for identity. If you’ve ever taken an online survey, toward the end they often ask questions about marital status, the number and ages of children you have, your own age, education, race and gender. They might ask about your political affiliation. Sometimes they inquire about your income. All are used as means for identifying who you are. Or at least, who you’re supposed to be, based on demographics.


Twenty years ago, no one was talking about “gender identity.” It was agreed that gender, or sex, was determined by the equipment a baby had when it was born. These days, however, a whole cadre of people want to “identify” gender according to the impulses racing around their minds. You are who you think you are or perceive yourself to be, we’re now being instructed.


Rather than wading into that debate, I have another question: Is it really fair – or right – to define someone’s true identity solely based a single criterion, or even several external criteria? Such as the kind of job they have; how many years they spent in college; the size of their bank account and investment portfolio; whether they’re married, single, or divorced; the color of their skin; or even their lifestyle choices? 


For instance, I’m a male, Caucasian (for which I offer no apology), a husband, father, grandfather, writer and journalist (in the traditional sense of the term), college graduate and Buckeye fan. But not one of those descriptions – or all of them together – represent my full “identity.”


What if we resolved to determine our identity not based on what we do or have, or how we feel, but rather according to what God says about us?


Indeed, what does God say – and think – about us? Answers to that question could fill a book, but I’ll highlight just a handful of passages that have meant a lot to me, ones that have made a huge difference in how I understand my own identity. For instance, Psalm 139:14 says I am, “fearfully and wonderfully made” – a unique and special creation of God. That’s very good news.


The Bible also tells me some bad news, that I’m a sinner: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “There is no one righteous, not even one…there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12). I don’t like this part of my identity, but it’s true.


But as the Scriptures so often do, when they give us bad news, they also provide good news to offset it. In response to this sin problem we all have, which separates us from a perfect, holy, righteous God, we’re told, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This ties in with the passage most of us know well, John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That is, to borrow the phrase from an old rock song, a whole lotta love!


Getting back to my identity, the answer to the question, “Who am I?” The Bible declares that as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I have received a brand new identity. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Abiding in Christ, as the Scriptures term it, I’m a new person, fully forgiven for my sins and empowered by His Holy Spirit to live this new life.


A few verses down in the same passage, we’re informed that as His followers, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (Romans 5:20-21).


We could consider many more portions of Scripture, but I think one verse sums up what our focus should be, the way we address the matter of our “identity,” the answer to “who am I?” If we have trusted in Christ, have committed our lives to Him in faith and are seeking to know and serve Him more and more each day, then we all can rest in this promise: “See how great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).


It matters not whether we’re male or female, married or single, with or without children; whatever kind of work we do, what our skin color or ethnicity might be, how much education we have, or how much money we have in the bank. Those are facets of our lives, mere fractions of who we are in totality. But they don’t define us. Am I a child of the living God, promised life both now and forever as a member of His eternal family? That is who I am. 

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