I am 28 years old, married for almost 6 years, I have a 2 year old son, and I am a high school teacher at Duluth. To many, the obvious answers to “what is your identity” are male, husband, father, teacher. But let’s probe a little deeper. I like to think of identity as a Jenga tower. All of the different things that we do, like, and want are all pieces of the tower. Some of my other “pieces” would be “Georgia Bulldog fan,” “tennis player,” “father to a son who goes to college,” etc. Many of the things that I find my identity in are future things. If you are having trouble putting your finger on what makes up your “identity,” think about it this way: what are you scared of losing?
I am a man who struggles with anxiety because so much of my identity is wrapped up in these “pieces.” How do I react when the Bulldogs lose to Florida? How frustrated to I become when I lose a tennis match? Why do I sometimes stare at my baby monitor waiting for my son to move in the morning?
I am a man who struggles with anxiety because so much of my identity is wrapped up in these “pieces.”
Think about our prayers – how many of you, and I’m throwing myself in this mix, pray for all kinds of personal things where you ask God to do stuff for you? Notice how Jesus taught his disciples to pray (Matthew 6.9-13): “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.״
The emphasis is on God’s glory (hallowing His name), His Kingdom (where God is held as supreme), and His will accomplished. Even when Jesus mentions something for us, it is only our “daily bread” – substance enough for the day. Our prayers reveal our true desire for what we think will make us happy, successful, or safe. Sometimes God allows the Jenga tower to be knocked around. He, graciously, will bring things into our lives that cause us to be troubled in order to open our eyes. God is not sadistic, nor is He cruel by any means. In those whom God has called and has given them new life, His “Children,” He speaks through the Holy Spirit during these times. God knows that if we are clinging to anything outside of Christ then, ultimately, we are idol worshiping. When we pray to God like He is Santa Claus, we are really finding our identity and worshiping those things we are praying for (even when they might be “good” things like family or health). Of course, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t bring our petitions to God, but is that the only time we pray, is it the only thing we pray for? Paul says in Philippians 4.11-13, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
God knows that if we are clinging to anything outside of Christ then, ultimately, we are idol worshiping.
We see that to Paul, his circumstances do not determine who he is; rather it is his full hope in the finished work of Christ that gives him strength. We can see that more directly stated earlier in Philippians 3.4-9:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”
Whether by the Spirit’s enlightenment with or without hardship, God will break us of those identities out of love because He knows that He alone is what we need because even if we make it through 80 years on earth is complete “happiness”, in the end, the Jenga tower will be toppled and then our true identities will be revealed.
We see that to Paul, his circumstances do not determine who he is; rather it is his full hope in the finished work of Christ that gives him strength.
Let me be clear – finding our identities in Christ does not mean that we don’t care about other things in this world. Actually, quite the opposite is true. When we find our complete identity in the finished work of Christ we can now love and work for things outside of ourselves without waiting to be rewarded or filled by them. Lecrae, a rapper today, made a profound statement about how he sees his job: “I am not a Christian rapper, I am a Christian who raps.” The identity is in Christ first and foremost, then it overflows into his occupation, familial ties, friendships, and other aspects of our lives. Paul said it this way in Galatians 3.27-28, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Put that idea with this one from Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.17, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.” Paul’s view of ourselves after being saved is that we live and work where God has placed us but we no longer see the work, activities, etc as who we are, instead, our lives are “lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us” (Galatians 2.20).
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk 3.17-19