I walked off the stage and thought, “Will they ask me to speak again? I wonder if they liked me.”
I walked out of the school and thought, “I bet my son’s teacher thinks I’m a lousy parent.”
We wrestle with thoughts like these. We have been taught that identity is found in Christ, and I’m thrilled that this is true! And yet, I still tend to crave the approval of others. Even though I placed my faith in the saving work of Jesus over thirty years ago, the temptation to tether my identity to how others perceive me still lingers.
Identity is a tricky subject. Even the definition of identity is tricky. Identity, as defined in the dictionary is:
- the distinguishing character or personality of an individual: individuality; the set of qualities that make a person different from other people1
- sameness; oneness
The definitions for identity seem to contradict one another. This is not helpful for those in search of it.
Or maybe it is.
Because a believer’s identity is in Jesus Christ, let’s look at His life and the basis of His identity for help with rightly viewing our own.
In Matthew 3, we read that Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized by His cousin, John the Baptist. Jesus identified with the people He came to save by being baptized, and He also gave a picture of what He was resolved to accomplish while on earth. He stepped into the Jordan and was immersed in the river, giving a picture of His coming death and burial. He came up from the water, giving a picture of His coming resurrection. Matthew 3:16-17 tells us, “When Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water. The heavens suddenly opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice from heaven said: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.’”
At Jesus’ baptism, God the Father declared Jesus’ identity:
- This is my Son.
- I deeply love Him.
- I am well-pleased with Him.
Notice that this declaration of Jesus’ identity took place before His public ministry had begun.2 He had not healed anyone yet. He had not cast out a demon or raised anyone from the dead. His identity was announced, then His earthly ministry followed. Jesus ministered from a place of identity, not in an effort to establish one. And Jesus was led by and empowered by the Spirit in His ministry.
How does Jesus’ identity impact yours and mine as believers? Look once more at the seemingly contradictory definitions of the word identity:
- the distinguishing character or personality of an individual: individuality; the set of qualities that make a person different from other people
- sameness; oneness
Both of these definitions of identity are true in Jesus.
In Christ, you have been granted oneness: If you have placed your faith in Jesus, you have been identified with Him. This is the best news! Paul wrote, “Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6:4-5). And in Colossians, we read, “you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead”(Colossians 2:12). Because you have been made one with Jesus through faith, identified with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, God the Father declares this about your identity:
- This is my child.
- I deeply love her.
- I am well-pleased with her.
And like Jesus, your ministry, your work, and the way you love others are to flow from a place of identity, rather than to establish one. And you are given the Spirit to lead you and empower you as you work and love others.
God has also given you individuality: You were created with characteristics and qualities that make you distinct from other people. This is by God’s design. In 1 Peter, we read, “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God. If anyone speaks, let it be as one who speaks God’s words; if anyone serves, let it be from the strength God provides, so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11). And Paul wrote, “But as it is, God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted” (1 Corinthians 12:18).
When we begin to understand the identity we have been given in our oneness with Jesus, we will desire to use the unique characteristics and gifts He has given us to make much of Him. True freedom comes when you no longer try to leverage what makes you distinct for your glory, but for His. Push back on the temptation to use your gifts in an effort to establish identity. You already have one!
- You are his child. (You already belong to someone.)
- God deeply loves you. (You are loved unconditionally.)
- He is pleased with you. (Someone likes you no matter what.)
Only in your oneness with Jesus can you freely enjoy your individuality.
For example, I am a Bible teacher. Perhaps you are, too. When I remind myself that I am fully loved and fully accepted in Jesus, I will teach the Bible to make much of Him, not to make much of me. I can teach from a place of identity, not in an effort to establish one. And I can trust the Spirit to lead me and empower me as I study and teach. If I’m not invited to speak again, I will feel disappointed, but I will not be undone.
I am also a mom. Perhaps you are, too. When I remind myself that my parenting flows from a place of established identity, I will not parent in a paranoid way, trying to establish an identity through my children. I will long to look like Jesus in my parenting, trusting the Spirit to lead me and empower me as I parent. If my son receives a bad grade on a project because he waited until the last minute to start it, I will feel disappointed, but I will not be undone.
My boys are musicians. Perhaps you are, too. I pray that my sons will write and play music from a place of established identity rather than in an effort to establish one. I pray they will write songs and play their instruments for the One who chose to identify with them.
Whether you create songs or excel spreadsheets, use your uniqueness to make much of Him. “So that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ in everything” (1 Peter 4:11).
I will still be tempted to tether my value to how others perceive me. There will be days I long for the approval of others. But when I meditate on the identity I’ve been given in Jesus, I rest and enjoy the love and approval I have in Him.
In the early years of ministry, God kindled within Colleen D. Searcy a deep affection for studying and teaching Scripture. She deeply desires to see women anchor their hope in the God of the Bible as they get to know Him through the study of His Word. Colleen has been teaching Bible studies in the Dallas area for over ten years, and she speaks at women’s retreats and conferences throughout the year. She serves as Minister to Women at Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas. Colleen loves being the wife of Wes and the mom of two teenage boys, Sam and Tate.