Editor's Note: This article was originally posted in 2014, but we felt it is still relevant to many of us, especially as we wrap up this month's articles on finding our place in the kingdom of God and being confident in who God made us to be.
Over the years I have encountered so many believers who struggle to have any sense of themselves—any clarity about their identity. On one hand, this doesn’t seem surprising. This is a prevalent question in our culture: who am I? If you google “how do I know who I am,” you will get over 1 billion hits for self-help articles and assessments trying to answer this question.
On the other hand, the struggle over identity seems particularly raw for believers because in our deepest hearts, we know we should know. Christianity is supposed to be a defining decision, one that brings purpose, meaning, and clarity to our lives. Of all people, we should be confident in our identity.
But we’re not.
And it’s not for the reason people like to flippantly throw out there, that we don’t know what the Bible actually says about who we are. The deeper issue is that in trying to align ourselves and embrace what the Bible says we are, many people instead begin to feel like they are actually losing a sense of themselves, and not in a good “whoever loses his life will find it” kind of way.
Much of the confusion surrounding identity stems from the tension of understanding corporate versus personal identity for believers. Many teachings tend to emphasize one or the other, but a balanced perspective is important.
The Bible primarily deals with corporate identity. While individuals are highlighted and their stories are offered, many of the “you are” statements associated with identity are directed to a specific group. The Old Testament is directed to the nation of Israel; the New Testament is directed to the Church. In both cases, as God spoke and inspired the writers, the purpose was to clarify what set them apart from the nations and people around them.
In Genesis 12, when God calls Abram out from Ur, He promises to make him into a great nation, and He says all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. While there are many promises throughout Scripture concerning what became the nation of Israel, ultimately they can be summed up here. Israel’s role as God’s chosen nation is to be a blessing to all the nations on earth, by being the nation from where the Messiah is born and by displaying what it means to serve God and be in relationship with Him.
In the New Testament, this covenant promise is expanded to include anyone who believes in Jesus as Messiah; Christians are “grafted in” to the promises of God made to Israel (see Ephesians 2; Romans 11). We are now part of the plan to be a blessing to the nations of the earth.
Further, as Paul writes his many letters to the early churches, he is navigating something newly formed—a body of people actively engaged in spreading the message of Jesus—that often stands in stark contrast to the practices of the cultures around these new believers; therefore, Paul writes for the purpose of helping the early churches see themselves in this new context. A few examples include:
We are justified (completely forgiven and made righteous). (Romans 5:1)
We are redeemed from the curse of the Law. (Galatians 3:13)
We are chosen and dearly loved. (Colossians 3:12)
We have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16)
We are a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 2:22)
Where believers often begin to struggle is in wondering, “In all of this grand plan for blessing the nations of the earth, does God still see me individually?” At times, some unbalanced teachings can almost seem to encourage the loss of personal identity for the sake of the “corporate good.”
This stands in complete contradiction to what we find in Scripture. Consider Paul’s teachings on the body of Christ and the gifts of the Spirit (see Ephesians 4, 5; 1 Corinthians 12). We are one body, but we are made up of many parts (individuals); further, Paul emphasizes that we need every single part.
Perhaps confusion has been heightened by an inappropriate emphasis on all the gifts being used expressly within the context of the Church. Many people who have not felt led to engage in church ministry have been left wondering if they fit at all. Fortunately, this thinking has begun to shift, and many are realizing they have the opportunity to be God’s chosen person in whatever context He has placed them—family, business, arts, government, education, etc.
There is no question that God has uniquely wired each and every single one of us, and while it may not feel that Scripture always speaks directly to this, we are assured we are each fearfully and wonderfully made (see Psalm 139). In fact, I believe this is why so many people find the book of Psalms the easiest to connect with in the Bible; it is one of the clearest pictures offered to us of an individual intimately relating to God.
Most powerful to consider is the ministry of Jesus while He was on earth. Yes, He spoke to crowds, and yes, He emphasized the coming of the kingdom of God (a collective experience); but so many of the stories in the gospels center around Jesus’ interactions with individuals: each of the disciples, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Lazarus, Jairus, the thief on the cross (just to name a few). The answer to our hearts’ question is abundantly clear: in the midst of God’s grand plan for establishing His kingdom, He most certainly sees—and loves—each us of right where we are.
Admittedly, the American brand of Christianity can become too focused at times on the individual, making faith all about us; we can forget the broader call to be a blessing to the nations of the earth. God, however, does not want you to feel lost in the broader call.
You are a uniquely crafted part of His kingdom—with all your strengths, gifts, passions, and quirks. His kingdom is best represented when you are fully you, alive and flourishing in the season, place and gifts He designed for you. When you embrace who He has made you to be individually, you are better able to actually be a blessing to others and be part of bringing His kingdom to earth.
Responding to Truth
What are some of the unique traits you possess--gifts, strengths, passions? Make a list and consider these things with fresh eyes. How could these things draw you deeper into relationship with God? How could they be used to connect others to God?
How do your individual characteristics open opportunities to connect to the body of Christ at large? Think beyond the traditional idea of church volunteerism if you have struggled to find a place in that context. Are you an artist who can portray beauty and truth in a unique way? Are you gifted with hospitality and the ability to make others feel comfortable in your home? Are you a successful business strategist who could help faith-based non-profits be more successful in their endeavors? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you uniquely fit in revealing His kingdom on earth. The possibilities are truly endless.