It is through your identity that the world relates to you, and you to the world. The former through outward characteristics that set you apart from the multitude, the latter is entirely inward and relates to your experiences, choices and desires. This second aspect of identity is what this post is discussing. Who you are, your sense of self and value that impacts your daily choices and life trajectory.
The issue of identity is very complex. In ancient cultures, and some cultures today, you were assigned your identity (family roles etc.) Your choices were made to affirm the community. In modern day culture we are told the exact opposite - "you yourself need to go and find out who you are, never let anyone tell you what you are, just go and find yourself". Your choices should then be made to affirm yourself.
Both of these forms of identity are crushing because we cannot simply affirm ourselves or take the weight of affirmation from our community. What we need and long for is someone who we adore, who is perfection, to affirm you. That person cannot be fickle, or someone we lose, or changeable. We need God to name us. Here's how our lives are changed when we look to God and ask Him to name us, to give us our true identity.
We Pursue the Glory of God, Not Our Own
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions is not from the Father but it is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
Our identities are firmly rooted in a sense of worth, it determines our life choices and daily actions. It's how we see ourselves, which gives us a sense of value and significance. Our identity can be forged in only one of two ways, wholly by ourselves and outside of God, or wholly by God in place of ourselves.
That difference shifts the direction of where we believe glory is rightly due. If our identity is ours to find, then we must be the fashioners of our own sense of worth and seek our own glory. And yet if our identity is in Christ, then our sense of worth can only come from Him, and thus glory is due to God.
1 John in this verse above provides a snapshot of what these two lives look like. Our identity before Christ looked at the world and all within it and sought how to manipulate those things for our own glory, to attain an assurance of significance. This was what used to dominate our lives before Christ and how we tried to satisfy our hunger for worth and love.
But John is saying no longer is that our identity; instead because we are now followers of Jesus, we are in Christ, our love is for the Father and our desire is to do His will. What did Jesus' life on earth look like? Everything He did was to the glory of the Father, that was constantly in His mind. When hearing the sickness of Lazarus, Jesus proclaimed that it would not end in death because God was going to be glorified (John 11). When Jesus teaches about Himself as the True Vine, He tells us to remain in Him for the Father's glory (John 15).
We as new creation, with an identity won for us by God, now have this same urge – that in all we do and say is rooted in the focus to see God's glory.
That does not mean, of course, that we won't wrestle with the flesh and seeking our own glory. But nothing could be stressed more: our wrestling does not taint or alter our identity in Christ. In the moments we're worshipping God for His glory our identity is in Christ, in the moments we're wrestling with trying to attain our own, our identity is still in Christ. The Spirit is within us so that, if we allow Him, we are taken through those times of wrestling into new depths of understanding and wisdom of who we really are.
A heart that truly knows its identity in Christ could not be more content since we could not be more loved or accepted. This means then, that our desires turn not to our own methods of deriving glory but our actions continuously point to the glory of God – to make Him known in response to who we now are.
We Are Set Free from Comparison
Don’t act out of selfish ambition or be conceited. Instead, humbly think of others as being better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. (Psalm 23:1)
The area of comparison is wholly centred around the issue of identity. It's something we can do without even realising it. The struggle with comparing ourselves to others stems from an insecurity with our own identity. If we are constantly looking to others to see how we fit in comparison, then we mustn't trust the foundation of our identity as worthy or secure. This is an interesting and crucial thing for a Christian to acknowledge if they especially struggle with comparison.
Comparison is fuelled by a drive to attain a sense of worth by not just being rich or clever, but by being richer or cleverer than others, as C. S. Lewis has pointed out. This kind of life reflects an identity that lacks the assurance and certainty we crave the centre of our beings to have. And comparison does not allow a celebration or upholding of others.
Our identity in Christ changes everything in its relation to others. Because the identity that Christ gives us is secure, and has been won for us as a free gift, there is nothing to boast in but Christ. There is no way possible for us now in Christ to truly look at our identity in Him and see it lacking or unsatisfactory in the face of others. If we do, we have not at all grasped who we now are, and how stunning it is.
Paul in Philippians wrote what has always been profoundly challenging for me. 'Humbly think of others as being better than yourselves' - that is something only truly and joyously done when our identities are in Christ. Attempting to think others better than yourself without the security and love of God simply continues down the route of pride and comparison through an inferiority complex.
Grasping what Philippians says could not be more freeing. Things you see in others that you wish you naturally had yourself, rather than coveting, you begin to rejoice in for simply what it is rather than what you lack. Since in Christ you lack nothing. Personally, I wish I naturally had more confidence to speak well in front of groups. I look at others and see how easy it is for them to articulate themselves well in situations I would find humiliating. But instead of comparing myself to them, or focusing on things I naturally find a challenge, I look to Christ. Is my identity one of timidity or fear? No. Therefore, I will rejoice in what others find naturally much easier to do, because I'm wrapped in love and affirmation.
God is teaching us to be who we already are. We are already completely affirmed and secure in the eyes of God, He sees us as He sees Christ now, not when we feel like it.
Life is Truly Meaningful
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
The reason this sub-heading doesn't say 'life is meaningful' is because life outside of God can be sought to be made meaningful in various ways, but never truly meaningful.
Our identities project our life's meaning and choices because it is from who you are that shapes what you do. Outside of God that could look like gaining wealth, knowledge or getting comfortable. Understanding who we now are, our worth and importance to God, means the purpose and meaning of life is drastically changed. Who we are now? Saints.
Knowing our identity in Christ, that we are no longer named 'sinner', alters the meaning of our lives. Life is truly meaningful because the director of our hearts and the layer of the foundation of our identities is the meaning of life. He is life. Only then does money simply become money to live and bless others, or careers as a gift from God in order to commune with others and build friendships as well as serving the community, because our identity is not deeply rooted in any of it.
Let's take a look at how we are described by God and how that would drench our lives with worth and significance. 1 Peter 2:9 - "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light." Who, when described this way by God, could look at life and think 'this is meaningless.' To be named by God as His special possession, His very own, captures our hearts and rids our lives of the heavy feeling of nothingness. We are then called to sing His praises throughout the entirety of our lives.
As was said before, our identities shape our desires over our lives - its trajectory. So, as children of God, how do our identities mould our daily choices now that we know life is meaningful? We are told to seek first God's Kingdom, knowing that it is here now and ever advancing. If you were given your truest passport it wouldn't say England, Brazil, Spain or Sudan, it would say 'Kingdom of God' - that is where our true citizenship lies. Our identities in Christ point to an eternal abiding with God forever, as stated in John 3. We are headed to a Kingdom we've always known we were made for.
For the present, however, 1 Thessalonians shows us what our days are to look like. Rejoice, pray and thank God in all circumstances. Life becomes meaningful in its truest sense when our identities in Christ bring to fruition a heart that is glad, thankful and in constant communion with God.