Who are you? What defines you?
What is your identity?
“Identity” is a loaded term these days, being all wrapped up in things like sexuality, sexual preference, gender identity, racial identity, political affiliation – and it’s all become very divisive, very incendiary – and very confusing.
Some of us might joke about the political correctness of how someone “self-identifies” as this or that, but the root of the problem is not political correctness, it’s sin.
Sin causes confusion about who we are and what our identity is. And when you take God out of the equation for long enough, when we stop searching His Word for answers, there is nothing solid left to look to for the Truth about who we are and who we are meant to be.
As we go through life, we surround ourselves with people who look like us, think like us, talk like us, behave like us – and that’s a natural and normal thing, that all people do, everywhere. The problem is, the more we include some, we exclude others. And the more we surround ourselves with thoughts and words that echo our own, the more our own way of thinking gets reinforced, and the more we become set in our ways – convinced that we are right, and everyone who does not think like we do, is wrong. Eventually, we look down on them because they are different.
Because the problem is, we fear what we do not understand. And the only way to overcome that fear is to challenge it within ourselves – to seek understanding by engaging the differences.
When I was teaching, I had a Muslim student of Arabic descent who was absolutely convinced that I was a Muslim… just because I had a long beard! I had more than one student who was disappointed to find out I was a Christian, because they “thought (I) was so cool before.” When I worked at Lowe’s, my lumber guys told me one night that they would invite me to join them for a beer, but they knew I was a Christian, so they knew I didn’t drink beer. They were shocked when I told them I would love to have a beer with them.
Because we all make assumptions about identity – it’s not unique to any race or social status or degree of intelligence. Everyone makes assumptions based on appearances, based on reputation, based on bits and pieces of information that we take in.
But it isn’t until we take the time to get to know someone that we begin to see them for who they are, rather than the image we have in our minds. And it’s only then that we begin to see that they are just people – people not so different from us – with similar experiences, similar preferences and similar personality traits – as well as different experiences, preferences and personality traits. Because no two people are exactly the same – but we are also not all that different from one another.
And life is so much richer and fuller when we get to know people who are different from us. Because when we do, we learn and we grow as people ourselves. And if we’re willing to be vulnerable, we can even learn a lot about ourselves. Because who you are doesn’t ever have to be settled, in terms of what you think or like or dislike or feel. I didn’t try Mexican food until I was 18 years old, and I didn’t try seafood until I was 24. I became a pastor at age 36 – and at 45, I’m still trying new things – because the day you stop learning is the day you stop living.
The only thing that will never change is who you are in Christ. “In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).” You were created in Him, saved by Him… and you have been called by Him. You are made in His image – and called to image Him to others. You are in this world, but you are not of it.
Who you are is not what you do or where you come from or where you live or who you vote for or where you went to school; who you are is a baptized child of God. It is how you are identified by your Creator, and it is how you are called to make yourself know to His creation.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:35 (ESV)
If we know who we are and we show that to the world around us, if we live as though our identity in Christ is the most important identity there is, then when we look at other people, no matter what the color of their skin is, no matter how they dress, no matter what church they go to or what job they do or how they raise their kids, when we treat others the way God treats them – with love and forgiveness and enough empathy for their situation that even when we don’t understand why they are struggling, we are willing to listen to them and care about them in their struggles – we will see the world around us change!
Maybe not the world we read about or hear about or see on TV or on social media – but maybe we need to remember that the world out “there” is not the world out here…
It’s time we walk in our identity as children of God, who once were lost, dead in our sins, but who now live – alive to bring that same life to a people around us who are dying.
I think that if Paul were writing Galatians today, it might sound a little more like this:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither black nor white, there is neither Republican nor Democrat, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Let us live as those who believe those words are true – and may God’s peace and love guard us and guide us in all we say and do; Amen.