Identity has become something of a hot topic these days. What exactly is identity? Vocabulary.com defines identity like this – (noun) the individual characteristics by which a thing or person is recognized or known “geneticists only recently discovered the identity of the gene that causes it” “it was too dark to determine his identity”; (noun) the distinct personality of an individual regarded as a persisting entity, “you can lose your identity when you join the army”.
There are lots of elements which form our identity – name, nationality, personality, culture, vocation, beliefs. Some aspects of our identity we can choose and change – such as name, occupation, and beliefs. Some aspects of our identity we cannot choose and change – such as age, ethnicity, and sex. Identity is important, it constitutes who we are. There is much confusion and irrationality today because two key truths are denied.
A. As human beings our identity connects us to God. We are made in God’s image, according to His likeness. Although the divine image has been disfigured by sin, it has not been eradicated. This is what sets us apart from the rest of the created order. Every person in different ways reflects something of what God is like. We are capable of advanced forms of communication. We give and receive affection at a higher level than animals. We were made to have dominion over the earth. We were made to harness and utilise the earth’s recourses. We were made with creative desires and skills. We have an awareness of right and wrong. We see the goodness of justice and mercy. Being created in the image of God is a complex matter, but we can at least say this – intellectually, emotionally, socially, creatively, morally we reflect in a small way the character of God. This points to the one great reality – we were made by God for God; made to commune with Him.
When the divine identity is denied, human beings lose their way. There is no reference point to explain our existence. The foundation which provides meaning, purpose, morality, law, ethics, hope etc. is gone. The history of the world is the history of Adam’s fallen race and its insatiable desire to be rid of the One who brought it into being. This means that people want to create their own identity according to their desires, free from God.
B. In Christ our identity is restored. Through the new birth, God begins to rebuild the divine image in His people. Salvation means that we are immersed into Christ and He is immersed into us – hence salvation is described as a baptism (Rom 6:3-4). In Gal 2:19 Paul says that Christ lives in us. By faith our lives have been subsumed into His. Increasingly as we walk in communion with Him the transforming effect of the gospel changes us from glory to glory.
Our identity in Christ permeates and shapes and colours all that makes us who we are. Salvation, however, doesn’t supress our individuality and uniqueness – it doesn’t take away from who we are. Salvation enhances who we are while at the same time addressing sin in us. The richness of the Gospel is made evident not through the blandness of uniformity but Christlikeness in diversity. In our own unique way, with our personality, our gifts, our interests, our tastes, etc. we become the people that God would have us to be.
No one has to go in search of identity. We need to discover who we are in Christ.