By Dr. Josh Mulvihill
“Who am I?”
Every young person asks themselves this question. It is the challenge of childhood and the hunt of humanity to discover one’s identity. Society shouts to our children, attempting to convince them that they can create their own identity through the clothes they wear, the car they drive, the cause they support, their tattoos, music, job, gender pronouns, race, and sexuality they embrace. As a result, identity can change with a new pair of clothes, a new accessory, or a proclamation of gender expression.
Children are told to explore and construct their own identities based on their preferences. Due to the importance of this topic, every church, school, and family should address identity with children. This article will introduce you to identity in Christ so that we may achieve the goal of helping young people understand and live out a God-defined, Jesus-centered, and gospel-driven identity.
Identity is a clearly defined definition of self. For the Christian, identity formation is when a young person seeks to understand who they are in relationship to Jesus. Few young people know what the Bible says regarding their identity in Christ and, as a result, substitute an identity from society, peers, achievements or failures, or from family. When we do this, an identity crisis is bound to result.
A Case Study on Identity
The book of Daniel provides a case study regarding the enemy’s identity-forming tactics. Daniel was a young Israelite taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and transported to Babylon. The king used three methods in an attempt to transform Daniel from a God-fearer to a Babylonian. Nebuchadnezzar targeted Daniel’s beliefs, desires, and identity.
Belief: Daniel and his companions were taught the literature and language of Babylon for three years. Education shapes and forms our worldview. American society has changed its views on gender identity, marriage, and sexuality because the literature and media of America have shaped its thinking.
Desire: Nebuchadnezzar let his highly valued captives eat the best food available from the king’s table, which was the second tactic to transforming them into Babylonians. According to the book of Daniel, the king provided food that Israelites were prohibited from eating. American culture provides sexually appealing temptations to young people and encourages them to explore, enjoy, and embrace whatever they desire.
Identity: Part of the Babylonian strategy was to change the names of Daniel and his friends. Nebuchadnezzar changed Daniel’s Hebrew name, which meant “God is my judge,” to a Babylonian name Belteshazzar, which meant “Bel has protected the king.” The obvious parallel in our time is homosexuality and transgenderism, where young people are encouraged to embrace a new gender identity and even change their names.
Just like in the time of Daniel, our young people are encouraged to take on a false identity. Many young Israelites were assimilated to the Babylonian culture as they embraced the Babylonian teachings, ate the king’s food, and accepted their new identity. Only a small number, like Daniel, was able to remain faithful to God. Daniel rejected the cultural-shaping influences and did not waver in his faith. Daniel’s example applies today as our children face the same tactics that seek to shape their identity. Thousands of years later, the enemy uses the same methods and targets what our children think, their appetites, and identity. Let us be aware of the identity-assimilation process that is occurring.
Identity in God’s Story, His Character, and His Son
The Christian is to live with a God-defined, Jesus-centered, gospel-driven identity. Any other source and any other identity are false and lead to a faulty way of living. Our ability to navigate all the world’s messages is tied to our understanding of who Christ is and who we are as a result. Only as we understand our life in God’s larger story of redemption will we begin to live God-honoring lives as imitators of Jesus Christ.
Who I am is rooted in these three areas, and only in the context of these themes will our identity make sense:
The Christian narrative, specifically salvation and judgment, establishes our identity in Christ as part of a new humanity. Those who come by faith to know the Lord Jesus Christ are incorporated into the life of the church as a foretaste of the fullness of life in Christ that will be fully known in the kingdom to come. The Bible describes our identity in straightforward terms—we are lost, dead in our sins, and the very enemies of God. But thanks be to God, we are not left there. The Gospel of Jesus Christ declares salvation and redemption to all who believe in Him.
Creation: I am created. I am not God. I am dependent. I am not self-sufficient. I am human. I am not an animal. I am created in God’s image. I have value and dignity, not because of what I do, but because of whose I am.
Rebellion: I am sinful, corrupt, depraved, blind, and lost. I am not good by nature or spiritually alive. I crave glory that does not belong to me. I am not the center of reality. Sin makes us glory thieves. There is probably not a day that goes by where we do not plot to steal God’s glory in some manner. We need help because of the sin we commit and because of who we are. Sin is our heart’s desire for something or someone other than Christ.
Salvation: I am saved. I am not a child of wrath. I am a son of God. I am Satan’s enemy. Christ broke the power of sin over me (Rom. 6:1-14), but the presence of sin remains. I am an adopted child of God and a follower of Christ.
Restoration: I will be made new. I will have a new home. I am not made for this world. I have a purpose in this life. I am God’s ambassador and His steward in this world, working for His good and glory in all that I do.
We receive our identity from God. It is the divine that defines. Who God is determines who I am. The way our children get their identity has everything to do with God and nothing to do with them. He calls us out of darkness, He loves us, He possesses us, and He sets us apart as holy (1 Peter 2:9-10). God gave us our identity by virtue of His irresistible call. Therefore, we cannot understand who we are until we understand who God is. When we finally realize that God is holy and we are not, that is when God’s identity becomes our identity through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Christian self is not defined in terms of who we are in and of ourselves. It’s defined in terms of what God does in us and the relationship He creates with us. As Christians, we cannot talk about our identity without talking about the action of God in us, the relationship of God with us, and the purpose of God for us. Identity must be God-centered, not self-focused.
Identity is simply an understanding of myself in relation to Christ and living out this gospel reality. This is why we can say that the most significant quest is to ground ourselves in the gospel and to teach our children to do the same. Our lives are either shaped by indulging the sinful nature or by abandoning ourselves to the sovereign grace of God. When identity is sought internally, it leads to confusion, selfishness, and sinfulness. When identity is pursued externally in Christ, self is defined by another and rests on what Christ did and who He is, not on our accomplishments, failures, preferences, or character.
There is much talk of self-identity and self-esteem. These notions must be rejected as these aspects of personhood can only exist apart from Christ. The only individual who needs self-identity is the person who has no identity in Christ. The apostle Paul reminds us, “to live is Christ.” Identity is always rooted in Jesus and is Christ-centric, not man-centric. Our identity is correctly captured when our gaze is fixed on Christ. Our self-focus and self-centeredness must be confronted at their roots.
What is the Purpose of Our Identity?
Our identity is not an end in itself, but for the sake of service to the King (1 Peter 2:9-10). God made us who we are so that we might proclaim the glory of who He is. Our identity is for the sake of making known His identity. We are given our identity so that God can be seen in us. Therefore, being a Christian (our identity) and making God’s greatness known (our purpose) are closely tied to one another.
Who we are is for the sake of God. God made us who we are to show the world who He is. One’s identity in Christ radically redefines one’s agenda, values, priorities,