Who am I? What defines me, motivates me, and practically shapes the thousands of small and big choices I make each day? Identity is the word for who we are and how we derive meaning. Every person either consciously or subconsciously answers the question: “What makes me “me”?

When we introduce ourselves, we might tell someone what we do for work or fun. Although we might not realize it, a deeper look at daily choices might reveal unexamined ways we pursue identity—staying fit and toned, wearing hip clothes, accumulating Instagram likes, being affirmed for kind things we do, etc.  Sometimes we even seek to build identity through a performance-based Christian life.

A sad story is told of a young woman who became involved with a church while in college. She came to recognize herself as a sinner in need of forgiveness and soon became a leader in the ministry. She wanted to pursue missions, but first she did some graduate work in psychology. The more she studied, the more suspicious she became of what her Christian ministry taught her about her identity as a “worthless sinner.” Through her studies in psychology, this young woman began to again see herself as a person of value. The more she studied, the freer and less burdened she felt. She began to feel less guilty and more “healthy.” Her family rejoiced to see the return of their “happy” daughter. Yet this “freedom” and “health” were at the cost of her Christian convictions because this young woman had a fundamental misunderstanding regarding a Biblical view of Christian identity.[1]

God’s Word tells us true identity will not be found in jobs, possessions, the pursuit of happiness, or even trying to be “good enough for God,” but rather as we gain a deep, heart knowledge of God’s goodness TO us.

Made Glorious

The first thing we learn about identity in the Bible is we were created for glory—not our own, but that comes from another and shines through us. God “crowned [us] with glory and honor” (Ps. 8). He breathed His Spirit into us and made us in His image. Genesis 1 tells the story of our creation as image bearers and the charge that flowed from it, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). God created the man and woman to be His representatives on earth displaying and stewarding His goodness to all of creation.

A Glorious Ruin

But we know what happened in Genesis 3. Mankind sought identity apart from God. Instead of spreading God’s light to the world, Adam and Eve wanted to “shine” their own light. That is like a lamp deciding to shed light by unplugging itself from the wall. Adam and Eve broke relationship with God and man was no longer a shining beacon of God’s goodness. Instead, He became a darkened ruins.

Sin alienated humankind from God, from one another, from the earth, and even from self. Our glorious, created identity was shattered. Open any world or local news app to see the result. Things are not as they should be. We were created for “shalom”: peace with God and one another and all things as they should be. Yet, we find ourselves far from the shalom of Eden. Francis Schaeffer defined the issue well when he described mankind as a “glorious ruins.”

Glory Restored

Thanks be to God, that is not the end. God created us in His image. We shattered that glorious image. But God always had a plan to “re-create.”

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 says, “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone. Behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

God has reconciled us. The lights God made us to be can again be plugged into the Source. There are two main applications:

First, as new creations reconciled to God, your and my identity is known and loved. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed before God in the Garden (Gen. 2:25). They walked alongside Him (Gen. 3:8). As new creations, we are restored to that freedom, safety, and fellowship. Have you ever observed the confidence, joy, and freedom of a dearly-loved child playing under the watchful eye of a good parent? As reconciled, dearly-loved children, that is our identity.

I often ask Christians if they feel God’s pleasure upon them, and it is not uncommon for the response to be, “I struggle to feel God’s pleasure upon me. I know how sinful I am.” God’s Word answers those accusations. Romans 8:1 tells us, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 1 John 3:1 says, “See what love the Father has given that we should be called the children of God.” And finally, Romans 8:33 tells us, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn?” When we charge ourselves with sin which God says is taken away, we contradict God. Growth in Christian identity means growing into who God declares us to be.

Second, as new creations we are “ambassadors” of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) just as Adam and Eve were created to be ambassadors of God’s care and goodness in the first garden. As we hear God declare, “You are my ‘beloved child,’” (Eph. 5:1), we will naturally take that good news out into the world!

If you see God as angry, indifferent, or frustrated, this is the face you are likely to show the world.  If you feel God’s love and smile upon you, that is what will flow out of you.

This does not discount sin. Christians still sin, and repentance is a vital part of the Christian life. But there is freedom and joy as we confess our sins to God as those no longer condemned but safe and loved (Heb. 4:16). Christian identity is found not in what we do for God, but in what God has done for us.

Do we slow down enough to hear God speak His deep, identity-shaping love into us daily? Or do we have too many good and valuable things to accomplish for Him? May we take the time to stop, breathe, and hear God say, “______________ (fill in your name), I chose you,” (Eph. 1:4). Ask God to work that truth not just into your intellect but deeply into your heart.  Hear God say, “_______________ (fill in your name) you are a new creation in Christ. There is now no condemnation for you,” (2 Cor. 5:17, Ro. 8:1). Hear your heavenly Father tenderly whisper, “____________ (fill in your name), you are my beloved child,” (Eph. 5:1, 1 John 3:1, John 1:12).

I encourage you to choose one of the above truths to focus on today and spend time simply meditating on God speaking these words over you. Pray that you would not seek identity in any task, possessions, or affirmation from others, but that your identity would be deeply shaped by God’s delight in you.

Christians should not leave the question of identity to Hollywood writers who script characters’ discovery of “truth from within.” The best way to push back our world’s confusion about identity is a strong theology of true identity. Our identity is not found by gazing within but as we gaze at the Source of truth.

“Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces will never be covered with shame,” says Psalm 34:5. Lamps not plugged into the wall cannot give light. We learn to live into our true “new creation” identity as we feel God’s deep, Fatherly love; as we run and dance and play with freedom before Him in this world; and as God’s radiant love flows into us, wipes the shame from our faces, and shines upon our world.

[1] William Countes, “The Nature of Man and the Christian’s Self Esteem”

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Tara Gibbs

Tara Gibbs is a wife, mother, and writer. She spent 19 years in San Antonio, Texas ministering alongside her husband Tom to the city of San Antonio at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Tara has authored Bible studies and taught internationally on women’s ministry.  Tara and Tom recently moved to St. Louis, Missouri to serve Covenant Theological Seminary where Tom currently serves as president. Tara has parented four children, led Bible studies, practiced hospitality, worked with the San Antonio area public schools, worked in water conservation, and served as Director of Redeemer’s women’s ministry. Tara loves running, reading, everything outdoors, Tex-Mex food, and fall in St. Louis.