“He has canceled our debt but didn’t leave us debt-free beggars. He also made us rich. That is a debt that can lead us into rejoicing.” – Ed Welch

Do we recognize our identity or define it?

Sometimes we identify things by what they are not. And this is helpful…to a point. The “C” note of an instrument is certainly not a “D” or an “E” or so on…but it is something – it is a “C.” The identity of “C” may even have various iterations – it can be played on a deep and booming upright bass or it can call from a piercing trumpet blast, and many timbres in between. So, while its identity may be dressed up in many, varying ways, and its identity may be better understood when couched in contrast to the separate notes around it, the note must have its own, distinct identity.

The God of the Bible is not a tree. He is not the universe. I am not the God of the Bible. While this may help us understand who and what God is not, these contrasts do not do justice in describing who he actually is. I will echo A.W. Tozer in saying that, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”, and what we believe about this identity will shape what we believe about all other identities.

Because I am a skeptic at heart, and have overly-analytical tendencies, identity has been a struggle for me as of late…here’s why. I know that God is immutable, yet all else is ever-changing. So, while my faith is anchored in the One who does not change, my struggle comes in knowing how to appropriate my faith in different, changing contexts. If the things that seem routine and dependable are actually different every day – including sunrises! – how can we confidently claim an identity that wont change tomorrow?

God is sovereign and through his providence he has “wired” everyone a certain way, be it chemically, genetically, through nurture and experiences, or whatever. That being said, do we choose our identity or does it choose us? In other words, do we recognize our identity or do we define it?

I would humbly argue both. Our decisions shape our circumstances and our circumstances shape who we are, but God ordains all of it (Prov. 16:9). While I wouldn’t subscribe to the “you-can-do-anything-you-put-your-mind-to” wisdom of Dr. Emmett Brown, I do think we have much to say about who we become…God just has more say. And according to Scripture, my identity is a missionary (Matt. 28:18-20), so this should have much to say about how I make my decisions. So, going back to my struggle with identity, I have a hard time determining how to live out this missionary identity in everyday contexts.

With absolutely no authority, I’ll take a guess at how to answer this problem. These are six suggestions for how to discover how to appropriate your identity:

  1. Pray – pray that God would give you wisdom and joy as you pursue your passions and make decisions.
  2. Live in Community – share your life with others and it will bring more out of them and they will bring more out of you (see C.S. Lewis quote on friendship).
  3. Seek your spiritual gifts – Matt Carter offered some wisdom a while back on how to seek spiritual gifts, saying to, “serve broadly and serve often”.
  4. Be patient – in a world that is always changing, we shouldn’t expect a formulaic life, producing results when we want them
  5. Be in the Word – going back to Tozer’s quote, what we think about God is of utmost importance, and what we know from his revelation will determine how we think about him and how we think about all things
  6. Obey – live a life of obedience, regardless of the context, and God will guide you.

Ultimately, identity is not just about the individual, it is also about a) the One who assigns the identity and b) our relation to those around us. A “C” note may still be a “C” if there were no other notes, but God designed it so that not only is there this distinct “C”, but there are many other distinct notes to interact with. While our identity may be discovered and created in unique ways, it is never done in isolation.