It’s likely happened to each of us at some point in our lives. Upon finding ourselves in a situation that made us uncomfortable in one way or another, we were relieved to see someone else who made us feel safe. Maybe we knew them—maybe we didn’t. But something about them made us think, “Ah! There’s one of my people.”
It could be someone dressed as casually as you at a semi-formal event. It could be someone wearing a pop culture t-shirt like yours. Maybe it’s someone of the same skin color or ethnicity. Sporting the same political leanings. Having a similar manner of carrying themselves. Filling the same profession. Being your same gender. Whatever the likeness is, in that moment, you feel just a little less uncomfortable—because there’s finally someone here with whom you identify.
Identity is one of the single most important matters for many people today. And also one that must be navigated with some of the greatest care—because the things by which you identify yourself have power over you.
Let me say that again: the things by which you identify yourself have power over you.
This is true across any spectrum. If you identify with any group, any tribe, any faction, you enter in under their auspices. Their causes are at least expected, if not required, to be yours. What they stand for, you are expected to stand for. After all, how can you identify as conservative if you don’t support conservative values? How can you call yourself progressive if you don’t stand for what the progressive platform stands for? To identify as a writer, you must write. As a musician, you must play music. You can’t call yourself a Marvel fan if you don’t even like Marvel movies, dude.
And there’s the catch. To identify as something, we must give it power over us. Power to define us. Power to, at least in some way, control our actions, thoughts, and choices. Subtly or not, we become prone to shifting our patterns to fit the mold. So if someone says “real writers write every day regardless of how they feel”—well, I want to be a real writer, don’t I? So if that means sitting at my keyboard hating myself on my bad days just so I can say I wrote something and therefore I can identify as a real writer…that’s just part of the job, isn’t it? The pain is now part of my identity.
If you want to identify as a cool kid, you’d better do what the cool kids do. Today it’s the clothing you wear. Tomorrow it’s the alcohol you drink and the drugs you take. If you want to be a tough guy on the street, today it’s intimidating a stranger. Tomorrow it’s robbing them.
Next thing you know, the things you identify as are dictating your way of life. And you lose all sense of self, of the identity you were striving for, because the movement doesn’t care about the individual. It exists to perpetuate itself.
God is pretty concerned with where we draw our identity from. In Galatians 3, He tells us this: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.”
This was as revolutionary the day Paul penned it as it is to us now. Where you drew your identity in the ancient world defined quite a bit of who you were and how far you could go. Until Jesus came and fulfilled the law, the Jews alone had claim to the promises of God and hope for that future. The distinction between opportunities for males and females back then was even more profound than it is today. And need I say anything about the different opportunities for the slave and free man?
Yet God was saying this: when we draw our identity from Jesus, the division of sects and segments—the things by which many would define themselves—are torn away. The people under Christ are not merely our people, we are all one people. No one is better than another within God’s family. It is true, absolute, utter equality and wholeness.
And that is the bare truth of our identity, brothers and sisters. Followers of Jesus are not defined by richness or poorness, whiteness or blackness, conservatism or progressivism, male or female or any other label. We are defined by this: we are Christ’s and we are one.
In the broader spiritual reality by which we should order our lives, the truth as laid out by God, there are two identities: those who are in Christ and those who are not—yet. Our concern should be to disciple asmany as we can under that identity…under the banner of Jesus. In the end, it is the only identity that matters. Everything else is finite, impermanent, and imperfect—liable to lead us astray into causes we don’t want to support, into actions not aligned to God’s will, into mindsets and motives that are not healthy.
By contrast, when you draw your identity from who you are in Christ, your foundation is solid. Unchanging. Planted in this, the need to draw a sense of self from the ever-changing currents of culture and tribe and segment within the world fades away.
When a Christian walks into your room, that is your person. That is your family—regardless of denomination. And as one, we have a commission to bring as many others into the family as we can.
That is our true identity, my loves—stamped into our spirit at the moment we made Jesus our Lord.
Let’s never forget that. It’s the truth of who we are.