‘What’s your name? And what do you do for work?’ These are two questions you inevitably get asked when you meet someone. It’s tempting to get all indignant, ’I’m more than just my job,’ but the heart of the question is identity. And it’s worth remembering that identity determines actions, not the other way round.
We all long to know our identity. It’s created its own genre of coming of age TV shows. The more refined and mature viewer may prefer shows like Who Do You Think You Are. And you’ve got the twenty-somethings who need to find themselves (often they discover it was India where they had lost themselves in the first place. Go figure?)
The point is identity matters. This is no different for us as followers of Jesus. The way we understand our identity in Jesus will determine the direction of our spiritual walk in everyday things. In other words, knowing who Jesus has made us be will determine how we go about the different roles we play whether that’s our job, as a spouse or parent, or the way we interact with people as we go about life.
The New Testament uses identity language all over the place. Here are just 4 examples of your identity as a follower of Jesus:
1. You Are Made New
One of the most encouraging verses is surely 2 Cor. 5:17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Jesus isn’t offering a do-over; he offering a complete transformation. It’s not like he’s covering up our scars with makeup in an attempt to pretend they’re not there, he’s starting fresh. It doesn’t mean that every issue we’re facing suddenly vanishes. These may still need to be worked through. But Jesus stops them from holding us captive and works redemption.
2. You Are Family
There’s the self-made man – self-dependent, self-reliant. So often culture tells us that independence is good. Relying on others is a sign of weakness. And so, we build fences around our houses, we distance ourselves from others and our neighbors become strangers.
Compare this to what Paul writes:
God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan.
To be a follower of Jesus is to be part of his family. To be part of God’s family means being in community, not isolated. The sheer number of ’one another’s’ in the New Testament show this. As an introvert, I’ve tried one another-ing by myself. It just doesn’t work.
3. You Are A Connector
Peter writes that Christians are ‘living stones’ and ‘a royal priesthood.’ The word priest doesn’t immediately grab me as identity language. Since I don’t have a Jewish background, nor grow up in a church with a formal liturgy, priests seem foreign. One thing I did understand was that priests helped people come before God. In other words, the priest’s identity was to connect people with God.
Priests helped people understand the sacrifices, so having a priestly identity means we help people understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is the only sacrifice God requires. Furthermore, it’s helping others place their trust in his sacrifice and explaining its implications for Christian life.
4. You Are A Sent One
I love the way Jesus responds to the disciples when they are fearfully huddled in a locked room before they’ve discovered he’s been resurrected (John 20:19-22). He brings them peace and restoration. But he also gives them a job to do. He sends them out to continue his work and call people to the Father through him.
This means following Jesus isn’t passive. It could be tempting to see the priest identity as sitting in the Temple waiting for people to come. To be a sent one doesn’t allow this. The Great Commission is an instruction to go. The mandate is like the priest, help people become connected with God, be his agents of reconciliation, bearers of God’s grace, peace and love.
Lessons from Oz
The Wizard of Oz is one of the great movies of all time. Everyone loves it. I mean, what’s not to love about flying monkeys? But Dorothy’s 3 companions are a perfect example of characters who are struggling to live out of their identity. Here’s what I mean.
The Scarecrow believes he needs a brain. Why? Well, that’s who he is. It’s his role. He’s a scarecrow and everyone knows scarecrows don’t have brains. He’s probably been told this all his life. There’s just one problem – this scarecrow thinks and reasons. He decides to join Dorothy on the yellow brick road. Being a scarecrow, his role says he doesn’t have a brain, but his actions say he does.
The Tin Man is empty on the inside and wants nothing greater than a heart. Yet how can someone without a heart have desires, longings, passions? There’s an irony that his longing for a heart simultaneously demonstrates the presence of his heart.
The Cowardly Lion lives perfectly out of his role too. He believes everything he’s always been told; he’s just a scaredy-cat. Even though it would have been much safer to stay at home, he joined an adventure. He faced those flying monkeys. Does this sound like a scaredy-cat?
Dorothy’s companions all believed their role shaped them most. Yet they joined her in their quest for something that was already inside them, a brain, a heart, and courage. They had forgotten that it was their identity in Jesus that shapes them and so had gone on an entirely unnecessary adventure. Man, that’s dangerous.
Living In Light Of Your Identity In Jesus
The number one way to start living from your identity in Jesus is by knowing about it. I’ve mentioned 4 (new creation, family, priest, sent one) but there are others. These include ambassador, servant, disciple, body of Christ, and the list goes on.
Pay attention when identity language is used in the Bible. What is the context? How does the image apply to you? Ask others to help explain it.
Paul calls us to build one another up in love (Eph 4:14-19). Our words are one of the primary ways we do this. Do you have someone who consistently reminds you of your identity in Christ? If not, maybe you need to be the catalyst. Are there people you build up by reminding them of who they are in Jesus?
I am a pastor, blogger and speaker. I help ordinary people connect with an extraordinary God, so they can follow Jesus in their everyday life.