One of the Bible verses that has most impacted my life is a verse that most people don’t really know about. Paul is writing the church at Corinth, and they are fighting about who they follow. Paul says, basically, What is Apollos? What am I? We are servants of God. And here is one of the core verses for the Bible in my life. Verse 6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God brought the growth.”
I have been thinking a lot about identity of late. I have come to believe that how you and I view ourselves has a huge impact on how we act and react in different situations. If I see myself as passive and a victim in certain situations, then I am likely to get pushed around. If you see yourself as powerful and in control, then you would react totally in the same situations.
There is a lot of research that has been done into the idea of identity. We have different kinds of identities. Personal identities are ones that you and I hold for ourselves. Role identities related to jobs or responsibilities. Social identities are ones based on our relationships such as who we know or who we are related to.
This means that we all have multiple identities that we move in and out of in different contexts at different times. Have you ever mixed your social groups? Have you ever mixed your college friends and your church friends? It may have been awkward because you have different identities with each of these groups and you don’t know who to be when they mix.
These identities change over time as we change, our contexts change, and as we test out our identities in real life. For example, if I see myself as the boss but nobody listens to me, then I have a problem. Either the people supposedly working for me are losers or I have to adjust my identity to acknowledge that I am not the boss I think I am.
While Paul does not talk about identity in our modern psychological terms in his letters, I think it is an underlying theme in his works. He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Paul’s theology of identity relates to the resurrection of Jesus. He lays it out in Colossians 3 that we have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. We are considered to be new in Christ. Yet we still have some of our old self in us. We need to put to death all thee selfish actions and destructive behaviors of our old selves. We cannot walk in them anymore. Paul does not think that you are earning your new status. Actually, as Christians we are supposed to become what we already are in Christ.
The idea of Christians finding their identity in Christ is especially difficult in the world we live in. We live in a world where everything is an identity. I know people who find their identity in their job, their kids, who they hang out with, the car they drive, the neighborhood they live in, their sexual preferences, the color of their skin…
We make anything and everything an identity today. But the problem with all of these things is that they cannot hold up to the pressure of life. Identities quickly become idolatries, and idols always let you down because they cannot hold the weight of your life.
The only hope is to find your identity in Christ. That is the only thing that will hold up to the pressures of life. That does not mean that you lose all of those other aspects of your life. They are reordered to less importance. They are less defining when your identity is truly found in Christ. They are arranged to fit around Christ’s purpose for your life.
But all of these parts of your life also become more beautiful in Christ. I am not my kids and should not find my identity in them, yet when I look at being a father in Christ the value of that work and the purpose of that responsibility takes on a whole new meaning. Your job is not a good identity, but it can be a holy calling if you see it in Christ.
Your life because so much more in Christ. If you are finding your identity in anything other than Christ, then you are selling yourself short.
I went to the YMCA yesterday to work out and was reminded that it was the New Year. January is always crazy at the YMCA. All these people who decide for their New Year’s Resolution they are going to finally work out or lose that weight. I can watch their efforts unfold as the YMCA thins out through January and February. By March, I see the regulars there again but none of those new members. I understand these people. I am also trying to go to the YMCA more often to begin the year. I have some things I would like to do differently this year.
Why is it so hard to see lasting change in our lives? In our work places? In our churches? In our communities? I wonder if part of the challenge is that we struggle to balance being ok with ourselves and also wanting to change. We can hate ourselves so much that we don’t think we can change. We can love ourselves so much that we don’t think we need to change. We need to find balance.
This is not pop-psychology. I actually think this is routed in a spiritual issue. Do we really believe that God loves us just the way we are and that we cannot do anything to make God love us any less or any more? But that is exactly how God loves us. At the same time, God loves you enough to not let you stay where you are. This tension is all over scripture, but look at these verses for Colossians 3.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 ESV)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)
Understand the amazing assumption of this text. We are already God’s chosen ones. We are Holy and Beloved. At the same time, there are things in us that is earthly and need to be put to death. That is a very strong image that Paul uses. Take some things in your life out in the back yard and end them.
There are also things that we need to add to our lives. Paul’s metaphor for these things is that of clothing. It is as if God’s holiness and love is a coat that is given to you but you have to put it on.
This is what makes the Christian faith so special. It is a journey of becoming what you already are. It is being loved as you are but also being loved into the person you could be. So, as you approach your New Year’s Resolutions, try to be ok with who you are now. God is. At the same time, try to live into the person that God sees you as. Maybe that will give you just enough drive to make some lasting changes while also giving yourself slack when you fall backwards.
May you put on the new you with God’s help in 2015!