bits from bob....

In Search of Christian Identity

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Humanity is in search of identity. In a world that buffets us and tears us down, we want to know who we are. In a world that tears away a part of our heart almost daily, we want to know that we are whole and that we still matter. In the intense search for an authentic identity, identity is often misunderstood and based on incorrect indicators. The question "Who am I?" implies a greater, more significant question. "How am I to be identified as human and at the same time as a child of heaven?" The confusion is multiplied because of how we connect or misconnect being and doing. When we are asked "Who are you?" we often respond just as we would to the question, "What do you do?" I am a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker. How should we understand the connection between what we do, what we are and how we understand ourselves?

For us Christians, the challenge of finding identity is intensified in our exile experience in the world. Identity is easily lost in exile. Why is it easy for a people to lose their true identity in exile? First, we are surrounded by foreign ways. We live life out of step with the customs and mores of the surrounding culture. Second, we are surrounded by foreign people who are much different than we are. Living in two worlds pulls us in two directions with a tension that at times becomes almost unbearable. When we live out our identity as shaped by the identity of God, by the image of God stamped on us and by our creation as "image of God" people, our identity is often misunderstood by the alien culture around us. Further, we are often uncomfortable with an identity that appears so out of step with the world. We want to respond differently than the world, but cannot stand the risk. We struggle to understand the connection between who we are and what we do. Then we struggle to distinguish what we do from what the Spirit does within us. One result is that we often come to use false identity markers. We tend to define our identity by the world's standards.

What are some of the false markers we may be tempted to use? As examples, consider that many tend to measure life by how much we have, what we can do, how much we know, who we know, or who knows us. When we buy into such measurement, we depend for identity on what others think of us more than on what God thinks of us.

What then are the keys to maintaining an accurate Christian identity? How does a Christian maintain identity in a world where we are strangers and aliens? What can we do to remind us of our identity in Christ? We remember who we are by sharing together relationship with God and one another in worship, by remembering the God-stories that are also our story, and through celebration of God's presence. All of these help us maintain an awareness of our identity. An important factor often overlooked is the way in which our heroes provide us examples and models as they live out a distinct identity. As Eugene Peterson reminds us in his book, The Wisdom of Each Other (2001), "We necessarily live much of our lives in exile, so to be able to spot the people and places that reestablish our true identity is so important."

These heroic people in our lives are polar stars, exhibiting dependence on God guidance, quietly demonstrating their sense of identity, and calling us to God's guidance and declaration of our identity. I remember in my life those who demonstrated an identity distinct from the world, in the world but not of the world. These are in one sense my heroes of faith as described in Hebrews 12. I hope you can remember such heroes from your own life. Even more, I hope that you are becoming such a person.

What does it take to be a person who points others to true Christian identity? What does a person look like when she or he is one who reestablishes true identity? How can I be a person who reflects true identity in Christ? Take a few moments to think about how you can reflect your Christian identity in a local church, in your family, in your daily world, and in ministry or the mission field. Pray about becoming a more accurate reflection of identity in Christ. When we model true Christian identity, the result is rewarding. We redeem our labor. We redeem our lives.

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Last updated August 15, 2011