By Y Bonesteele
A Lifeway Research study on how Americans view their identity revealed that most Americans find their identity in their relational roles, their character, and their accomplishments.
When asked the open-ended question, “When you think about who you are, what are the first three things that come to mind?” Americans say being a parent (25%), being intelligent (12%), their job (11%), being compassionate (11%), being a husband (10%), being kind (10%), being trustworthy (10%), being a wife (8%), being a friend (8%), being hardworking (8%), being honest (8%), being a Christian (8%), and being religious/spiritual (2%).
When given a list of potential facets that could be ‘very important’ to their identity, most respondents point to their role in their family (73%) and the good they do (57%). Around half say what they have achieved (51%) and their role as friend (49%) is vital to their identity.When asked what they would consider 'very important' to their identity, most Americans point to their role in their family (73%) and the good they do (57%), according to Lifeway Research. Click To Tweet
Unfortunately, relational roles, character, and accomplishments can easily change. Sometimes rather rapidly. What ends up happening is what psychologists call an identity crisis, the “challenge faced by adolescents and emerging adults who must figure out who they are, what they’re going to do with their lives and who they’re going to do it with.” But these days, it’s not just young adults facing these challenges, it’s everyone.
The problem is, when you place your identity in things that aren’t stable and consistent, you find yourself constantly wondering who you are. But when your find your identity in something rooted, in something that’s immutable, that never changes, you will always have something to ground your self-identity, and thus your self-worth, in.When you place your identity in things that aren’t stable and consistent, you find yourself constantly wondering who you are. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
For a believer, one of the good news of the gospel is an identity in Christ that never changes. In correlation to the familial roles, character traits, and purposeful calling in which we view ourselves, our identity in Christ seen in these three ways allows us constancy that takes away any crisis that may occur in our lives.
1. Our familial role as a child of God
As we get older, the roles we play in our relationships change and some find this difficult. A lost child or sibling, a divorce, a passing parent––all these circumstances can change our perceived identity as father or mother, husband or wife, or son or daughter. This change can happen in a blink of an eye that can be devastating to any individual. But as Paul writes in Romans, “the Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17a).If we are going to stake our identity in any familial role, the only one that never changes is our identity as a child of God and co-heir with Christ. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
If we are going to stake our identity in any familial role, the only one that never changes is our identity as a child of God and co-heir with Christ. God is our Father and we are His child. And as our Father, He is not like any earthly father. He is the ultimate good and faithful Father, who will never leave us and never forsake us. And as His child, that can never be taken from us. That can never be altered because of the work of the Holy Spirit.
2. Our character as righteous because of Christ
For some, their identity is wrapped in their character. “Who am I? I’m compassionate; I’m kind; I’m trustworthy.” We find our identity in our good character. But what happens when we fail? When we disappoint others? When we succumb to temptation or have a lapse of integrity? We can easily modify who we think we are. Shame and guilt sets in. We end up thinking we’re a hypocrite or fake. We end up thinking we can’t know who we really are.If we find our identity in our good character, what happens when we fail? Christians must find their identity in Christ's righteousness granted to us. Click To Tweet
But 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 says, “It is from him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption— in order that, as it is written: Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” Similarly, 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Because of Christ and His sacrifice, we are righteous before the Father. As we continually work on our character in our sanctification process, we no longer worry about sin’s impact on our identity in this manner. Christ’s righteousness imputed to us makes us blameless before the Father. We no longer work towards righteousness; righteousness works out of us.
3. Our purposeful calling to follow Christ
From the survey, 51% of Americans say that what they have achieved is very important to their identity––their jobs, careers, accomplishments. Yet layoffs, retirements, and career changes from boredom or other factors are more common than ever.
Forbes comments on the identity crisis of current baby boomers who find themselves retired with many more healthy years before them. “Today’s 65-year-old is very likely to experience much the same feelings and disturbance of the typical identity crisis previously ascribed only to adolescents … as your place in society shifts so does your internal sense of identity. These are the questions that come into play, either consciously or unconsciously: Who am I anyway, after all this? What kind of work do I want to do now? Who do I want to spend my time with and where? What is the point of my life now?”No matter how many times our job or career changes, our calling to be like Christ and follow Him and His mission will never change. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
For believers, however, our rooted identity in Christ does not shift in the same way. When questions about our “calling” towards a career try to cause a crisis in our lives, understanding our calling to follow Him––to love God and love others, to fulfill the Great Commission, to live a life “worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1b-3)––will ground our thoughts about ourselves. No matter how many times our job or career changes, our calling to be like Christ and follow Him and His mission will never change. We can be assured that treasuring and following Christ is our ultimate calling and purpose that stays constant.
Understanding our identity in Christ is crucial to our understanding of our whole self and our self-worth. Without rooting our identity in Christ alone, we are like shifting shadows, constantly unsure of who we are and where we stand, leading to a variety of consequences like depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and hopelessness.Without rooting our identity in Christ alone, we are like shifting shadows, constantly unsure of who we are and where we stand. — Y Bonesteele Click To Tweet
Churches and ministry leaders have a vital task in teaching and preaching what it means to be “in Christ” and the significance of being a child of God in a world that tells us to self-identify with whatever and whomever we choose at the moment.
Y is an editorial coordinator at Lifeway Christian Resources. She has her M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology with an emphasis in Evangelism and Discipleship.