What defines me? Who am I? What is my identity? Those questions get asked by a lot of people. I have asked those questions of myself over the years. I can come up with many different answers. I am a retired computer person, a retired research meteorologist, an American, a graduate of the University of Washington, a graduate of Camas High School, a Lutheran Christian, a husband, and a heterosexual white male. None of these answers really matter. What matters is that I am forgiven and loved, a child of God. That is who I am. That is what matters, and it is all because of what Jesus did out of love for me and you.
We tend to make a big deal out of our identities, many times too big of a deal. We get into “us versus them” tribalism. So we compare ourselves, our group identity, with others, and say something like this, “We are better than you because we are the great UW Huskies and you are only lowly WSU Cougars”, or vice versa. Rivalries can be fun, but they are not important and are not defining who we really are. Deep down inside we are all the same. There is no “us versus them”. We all are broken, corrupt, self-centered people. We are sinful people in need of help. The strange thing is God still loves us despite our many faults. It is his unconditional agape love (talked about in the last post, What is love? – heinsite) that restores us to him. We are loved and forgiven. We can be his, and that becomes our identity. We become forgiven and loved children of God. Turn to God and receive his love. That is what really matters.
6 thoughts on “Who am I?”
I would agree that the most fundamentally important aspect of our identities as Christians is that we’re God’s children who are loved, forgiven, and restored by God. There’s no doubt that that’s the most important starting point. But is that all there is to our identities? I’d like to take this a step further.
People come from all different backgrounds, ethnic groups, languages, and nationalities that, as Paul said in Acts 17:26, God himself had “determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation.” Now I don’t know how much all of that will play a role in what we all do and where exactly we’ll live in the next life, but it’s also true that we’re all wired differently too, even within our own particular people group. We were endowed by God with certain natural talents and spiritual gifts that Paul said in Rom. 11:29 were “irrevocable”.
Regarding spiritual gifts, he said in 1 Cor. 12:5-11:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
He explains further in vv. 27-31, saying,
“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts.”
Do our gifts not play a part in further defining our identities? Granted, spiritual gifts may be more variable and sometimes given to us on an as-needed basis, as the Holy Spirit determines. But what about our other natural talents, and the irrevocability of gifts that Paul mentioned in Rom. 11:29? Yes, the context of that passage had to do with the calling of whole people groups (i.e. the Jews and the Gentiles), but even so, it would seem likely to me that our gifts will, in some measure, play a part in determining the positions and roles we’ll be assigned in the next life. Another determinant seems to be how well we stewarded the gifts and resources we received in this life, as per Jesus’s parable about the talents in Matthew 25.
Yes, Jeff, I agree with you. We are on the same page, but I don’t want to get hung up on my individual details of being a part of the Body of Christ. Our callings/vocations (the hats we wear), our gifting, our experiences, and our abilities help define us, individually. Each one of us is unique. But I would argue that our callings, abilities, etc. are secondary. The fact is because we all are broken, corrupt and self-centered, we need a savior to deliver us from our self-destructive tendencies. Jesus Christ, our Savior, is the foundation of our identity. Our identity rests on him and what he has done for us. As Christians, our vocations, our gifting, our experiences, and our abilities provide a way to serve and give glory to God, our Savior, but our identity is the result of what God in Jesus Christ has done for us. We are forgiven and loved children of God because of Jesus.
People today find their identity in many things, sports, family, politics, and themselves to name a few. We all want to belong, but those are insecure foundations. And people will then use their identity to compare themselves to others, and make themselves feel better. I am being overly general and broad, but you get the idea. When our identity rests in Jesus and what he has done, there is no need to compare because it does not rest in what we have done but in what he has done. I think it is freeing.
There’s something in your reply that strikes me as particularly Lutheran, in that Luther’s primary focus during his ministry was to get the Catholic Church off works-based righteousness and onto the idea of unmerited favor and grace. That was a very good and critically-needed thing, but I think Luther went almost too far with his teaching. He seemingly ignored one of Jesus’s parables about the ten talents, and Jesus’s teachings about the rewards involved with losing our lives for his sake, and what Paul wrote in Eph. 2:10 about our being created for good works which God prepared in advance for us to do, and still other things the Apostle James wrote. In fact, as I understand it, Luther hated James’s letter and wished it had not been included in the Bible … primarily because of what James wrote about the necessity of good works to accompany faith if that faith is truly genuine and sincere. But none of this was meant to provide a means for us to boast about ourselves in any way. The Apostle Paul already addressed that in Eph. 2:8-9, when he wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Luther was all over passages like that, but about the other passages I mentioned, not so much.
As for who we are, yeah, you’re right, I think you’re being overly general and broad. 🙂 I don’t think God sees us in such a black-and-white, monolithic, monochromatic way. While the Bible does not give very many details about our raison d’etre (reason for existence), I do think that the answer to the question “Who am I?” is more than simply “A saved sinner.” The answer does not stop with our salvation. It starts there. I think our identities are intrinsically linked to the reason for our existence … and by extension, the reason for our salvation. Why were we created in the first place, and why were some people saved even though all sinned and fell short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23)?
Maybe I veered too deeply — at least initially — into personal characteristics when answering “Who am I?” But in a follow-up I did finally zoom the lens back out again in my postscript note that I had posted only minutes after my original reply to your post, in which I wrote, “The most important baseline of our identities will still be that we are children of God who were created in God’s image and have dominion over his creation (Gen. 1:26), and who have been called to love and worship the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:5 — “the greatest of all commandments”.) So even the most general answer to “Who am I?” must at least include the fact that God created us to love and glorify him, otherwise why would he have gone through millennia of patiently enduring man’s sinfulness, and then submitting himself to a humiliating and excruciating death by crucifixion to pay for our sins, which was something he really, really, *really* did not want to do if there was any way at all that it could have been avoided? (Luke 22:42-44).
Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Why? To quote God in Isaiah 43:21, so that “… the people whom I formed for myself … might declare my praise.” Paul echoed that thought in Ephesians 1:4-6, where he wrote, “… He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” [John Piper posted a good article about this, entitled, “Why Did God Create the World?”, at https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-did-god-create-the-world.%5D
And so, to come full circle, in order to bring the most glory to God and generate the most love and praise for him in ourselves and in those around us, we need to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling”, and cooperate with God “who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13). That’s easier said than done, but it’s critically important. And I have no doubt that “working out our salvation” will involve using our particular place and time of birth, nationality, talents, resources, and spiritual gifts.
P.S.: In the next chapter of 1 Corinthians — chapter 13, the “love” chapter — Paul seems to indicate that at least some spiritual gifts are only for this present age of church building and Kingdom advancing. He says in vv. 8-10, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”
Nonetheless, how we allowed God to use us in this age, how closely or distantly we walked with the Lord, how we stewarded our resources, and the kinds and extents of the natural talents we were given are all things that I think will have a major impact in determining our identities and roles in the next life. But I also wouldn’t limit our future selves to who we were by the time we finished our short lives here on Earth. In Heaven we will have unlimited time, energy, and resources to pursue whatever interests us, and to further develop, hone, and refine who we are.
Of course, there’s a danger here in defining ourselves by our talents, gifts, and interests, just as some define themselves by their occupations. The most important baseline of our identities will still be that we are children of God who were created in God’s image and have dominion over God’s creation (Gen. 1:26), and who have been called to love and worship the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deut. 6:5 — a passage that Jesus reiterated in the Gospels as the greatest of all commandments).
Jeff – I see that when comments are limited to 3 deep, it means that I can not reply to your latest comment. I thought it meant there would be no indentation after 3 comments. I was wrong. However, I still can reply.
I agree with what you are saying. And I do like that last sentence of your PS. That does say we are in agreement. I apologize for not taking into account the PS when writing my response.
I am a Lutheran Christian so there will be some Lutheran “taint”. I think you are being a little overly harsh on Luther. He did at one point call James “a book of straw”, but I don’t think he ever said he hated it. He did consider it to be part of the Bible and God’s word. I liked the Piper article.