A man typically defines himself by what he does; a woman by her relationships. Both use their physical attributes, heritage, possessions, backgrounds and aspirations to describe themselves. Over time, these become an identity. For example, a man might identify himself as a plumber who has owned his own business in Columbus for 20 years and has plans on retiring in the South in five more years. Similarly, a woman might identify herself as a mother of three (a toddler and two teens), who also cares for her disabled mother and is looking forward to when the children are grown so she can be an “empty nester” with less demanding responsibilities.
We must understand that our identity shapes our beliefs. That identity – the way we perceive ourselves – is what shapes our core beliefs. Those core beliefs, in turn, drive what we think, say and do. In the examples above, the plumber will not hesitate to tell even a stranger the “best way” to solve a plumbing problem, based on his knowledge and experience. And the woman will share her experiences of what works and doesn’t work with child raising, based on what she has learned over the years.
Everyone has a worldly identity and also a spiritual identity. 1 John 3:10 tells us that everyone is either a child of God or a child of the Devil. We Christians know that we are children of God, but there is much more to our identity than that. Each of us has been made into a new creation by God Himself, hence the term “born again.” That new creation – with its new identity – comes with a description of who we are. Once and for all, we have been forgiven, declared innocent (justified) of all wrongdoing, made holy (sanctified), become Jesus’ brothers and joint heirs of God’s kingdom, given the righteousness of God, translated out of darkness into His light, changed from being God’s enemy to being His friend, joined with Christ eternally as His bride, and so much more.
The old identity – what men do, and with whom women relate – is part of our flesh, and it stays with us as long as our physical bodies walk this earth. However, our new God-given identity is spiritual. It began when we put our trust in Jesus, and will continue on eternally. Our flesh and our spirit – with their respective identities – are in conflict with each other battling it out in our minds, justifying their own existence and rationalizing their behavior. And all the while, the ways of the spirit cannot gratify the flesh, and the ways of the flesh cannot please the spirit. Our single most valuable – yet least understood – treasure here on earth is our identity in Christ. Until it becomes prominent in our thinking, we remain stuck in the impossible struggle to make our flesh behave. And since it won’t behave, others see us as hypocrites trying to act out the role of the Christians, failing to do what we say.
I want to encourage you to study Bible verses that talk about your identity. Understanding who “you have become” will make a monumental change in every part of your life. It will eliminate trying to perform the Christian balancing act of budgeting time and effort for God, church, family, work, prayer and the like. It will enable your words and your actions to become one. More importantly, you can be at peace with God as well as with your circumstances and the people in your life.
This Sunday at South Side, we will continue our series, “The Reborn Identity,” and dive deeper into what our new identity should look like. Worship begins at 10:45 a.m., and we would love to have you worship with us.
Barry Pettit is lead minister at South Side Church of Christ in Washington Court House.