A few weeks ago, I got an email from a friend. The subject line read: “I love you, but . . .”
So, I quickly deleted it. Just kidding.
It was a criticism of a suggestion that I had made to a common acquaintance of ours.
I called my friend and said, “Don’t worry about it. My identity is not wrapped up in whether my opinions or suggestions are right or not. And if it is, it shouldn’t be.”
In spite of what I said, I know that I do often wrap up my identity in being right about even the most trivial things. I shouldn’t, but I do.
I fear that if I’m not right or don’t have a good suggestion, then I won’t be valuable.
The fact is that I need to see myself this way: I am a man who makes mistakes. That’s just part of the package that is me.
Not only do I try to imagine I don’t make mistakes, but I also try to build my identity on my successes: how well I did, how many friends I have, what people think of me, what I have achieved.
The trouble with our successes is that they are always open to questions like these: How much money do I have to make to be valuable? How big does my church have to be? How successful do my children have to be? How many home runs do I have to hit? How many degrees should I have? What if people don’t like me? Am I still valuable?
We need a better foundation for our identity than our successes. The Bible reveals that better foundation. Our identity should be built not on what we do or what we say but on what God thinks of us.
Even if we fail, God still values us.
But what about sin? What happens when we sin against God? It’s easy to let our sins define us. The wrongs we have done to ourselves and others are real and serious.
God bridges the gap. That’s why Jesus came into the world. He came to deal with our sin through the sacrifice of Himself on the cross.
The most important thing about us is whether or not we have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul described the experience of this relationship this way: “I consider [the things I relied on before] garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:8b–9).
If we are united in a relationship with Jesus through trusting Him, then we have a righteousness that is not our own but is from God. This means that God looks on us, as the church has confessed, this way: “God grants and credits to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner, and as if I had been as perfectly obedient as Christ was obedient for me. All I need to do is accept this gift with a believing heart” (The Heidelberg Catechism, Q/A 60).
This puts our identity on a greater foundation than even our greatest successes. It is founded on the relationship to Jesus Christ and the perfect obedience and satisfaction of the eternal Son of God. It is absolutely secure and absolutely immovable. Not even our worst sins can harm this standing.
But couldn’t we walk away from this relationship? Well, Jesus gives us more than a status. He gives us His power, “the power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). So, we can be confident that He who began a good work in us will carry it to completion (Phil. 1:6).
This should change our whole approach to life. Instead of seeking our identity in our success or letting our failures or sins define us, we start from the value that God places on us and the secure identity we have in Christ.
Here’s what this means practically. It’s easy for parents to base their identity on how their children behave or live or turn out. The problem? Children are unpredictable, and there’s always a better parent that demonstrates things we could have done better, a parent whose children play happily together while ours shout at each other.
But what if we viewed ourselves as having our identity in Christ? Then, a parent can say, I’m a cherished son or daughter of God. That doesn’t change no matter what happens to my children. However, the God who loves me and is already working with my children invites me to be a part of what He is doing in leading them to Himself and to productive service. I can join what He is doing and be thankful for the secondary role that He gives me to bless them.
It takes the pressure off. Finding our identity outside of what our Creator thinks of us is a burden we weren’t meant to bear.
The more we realize that our identity is secure in a heavenly Father who loves us, then we can hold much more loosely to the finite and changing things on which we built our old identity.