Toward a proper self image
Looking In the Wrong Places
"Beloved, now we are the sons of God … " 1 John 3:2
A person has no identity apart from his relationship with someone or something else. That's why we will latch onto practically anything in our desperate need to discover who we are. People will determine their identities through their appearance, occupation, abilities, family relationships, friends, denominational affiliation, and many other ways. The common denominator of all these human attempts to discover identity is that they all are temporal — they can change with the winds.
By the time we have grown up, we have likely gained a lot of experience confirming that the opinions of other people are a shaky way to determine who we are. Professional athletes strike me as the ultimate example. Make a great play, and people will throw a parade for you. Blow the play, and they will likely hound you about it for the rest of your life. The same holds true in marriage. If someone were to ask, "What does your wife think of you?" my answer would probably be, "What hour?" It can change at any given moment.
Many people determine their identity by their profession: "I am a businessman." But what happens if you retire? Who are you then? "I am a mother," say many women. But what happens when the kids grow up and leave home? "I am an athlete … musician … model." Determining your identity by the looks or the functioning of your body is surely building your life on sand. There are injuries and illnesses that can attack you. There's continual, intense competition — maybe someone just a little better than you is just around the corner. At the very least, there is the inevitable aging process.
There is only one way to determine your identity that cannot be shaken, one foundation that cannot be taken away from you: "I am a child of God." Now you might be a child of God who happens to be a businessman … or a mother … or an athlete. But the core source of your identity is your relationship with your God and Father. Only in this way can you ever begin to discover true security.
Focused on Failure
As if the usual struggles for identity that we all experience were not enough, millions of people become labeled with an identity that focuses on their greatest weakness. They identify themselves as, "I'm John. I am an alcoholic," or "I'm Steve. I am a homosexual." Why don't we do that with other sins? I wrestle with a critical spirit at times. Why don't I say, "I'm Bob George. I am a criticizaholic"?
I'll tell you why. I simply refuse to define myself by my failures. When someone accepts a label like one of these, it cements his identity in his own mind, as determined by his behavior. Therefore it is natural to assume that the behavior can never change. As a result, people accept as inevitable and normal a bondage from which God wants to set them free.
Truth is what God says about us. How do you determine what God thinks about you? From God's point of view, there are really only two kinds of people in the world. Their identities, as always, are represented in the Bible by someone with whom they are identified: "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22). The two kinds of people that God sees are described as being "in Adam" or "in Christ." To be "in" someone means that he is our family head. As such, he has left us his name, his nature, an inheritance, and a destiny. The most important issue facing you and me is: with whom are we identified — with Adam or with Christ? Since we are born identified with Adam, how can our identity be changed?
The subject of baptism provides the answer. The key meaning behind baptism is total identification, and that is exactly what God is trying to teach us. We are born into this world "in Adam" — spiritually dead and sinners by nature. Then we hear of the good news of Jesus Christ and trust in Him as our Savior and Lord. At that instant the Holy Spirit of God baptizes us into Christ! This is something that happens instantaneously to every Christian at the moment of spiritual birth: He is totally identified with Jesus Christ.
If this happened to you, you are no longer in Adam — you are in Christ. You have become a "partaker of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4), and heaven is your eternal destiny. Because you are now in Christ, you are now " … a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17). Being made into a new creation does not refer to your behavior; it refers to your identity.
Now you can be sure that this change of identity will result in some behavioral changes, but don't confuse it. Becoming a new creation refers to who you are in Christ. This is why Paul could write, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).*
The issue of identity is critical to Christian discipleship, because we tend to live out or demonstrate who we think we are. Someone who thinks of himself as a drunkard will get drunk, because that's what drunkards do. If you are just "a sinner saved by grace" you are still seeing yourself as a sinner, and your life will display it. Yes, you were a sinner and you are being saved by grace, but you ARE a child of God, and you should properly expect yourself to live like one. And you can! The Holy Spirit within you provides the power you need for you to " … walk in newness of life." (Romans 6:4) This is not theory or some abstract or idealized concept: it is your birthright! It is also normal, Biblical Christianity.
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you
* excerpt from Classic Christianity by Bob George (Take-away by Steve Coerper)