Our identity is made up from a string of deep desires that we allow to surface through our actions, which are dependent on our environment and culture in which we live. The way we perceive our identity is shaped by this cultural climate, which also influences the way we make decisions. Whether because of family or other forces like war or the economy, many people make decisions separate from their emotions and their deepest desires.
The way our culture perceives their identity now is quite different from those who came before us. In our current modern way of thinking, our culture tells us to do what makes us happy, to “live life the fullest”, and to pursue all our passions. It tells us this in order to be our own true selves, we must not be held back by doing things that we do not like to do. It tells us also, to strive to get our way and achieve our goals regardless of the people or opposition we face. This is a way of living that Timothy Keller wrote as being the, “sovereign self”. The sovereign self’s way of thinking that currently presides over North American culture. This is the elevation of our own individual desires, despite the input from society, yet formed by our culture. Though on the surface level, the sovereign self seems to be progressive and relatively cohesive within the age of technology.
The Christian way of thought gives weight to our emotions, not to be controlled by them but instead allowing our emotions to be directed and not suppressed. We accept that we ourselves are not sovereign. We accept that in order to sort through our conflicting desires, we require a higher standard outside of ourselves. When I refer to conflicting desires this could be simply the conflict between career and relationship (or any other ever-shifting conflicting desire). Having the standard of God’s word to guide these desires allows everyone as a Church family, to have a process that is harmonious and consistent.
All of our lives are filtered through our cultural narrative before coming through. When your identity is found in culture, that filter is the only one you know, and the only thing that affects your processing of your desires. When your identity is found in Christ, there is another filter that is laid upon your life that changes the way some desires are perceived.
What does it look like to change your source for your identity? In the end you cannot design your own identity. Sure, you are your own person, but you cannot be justified within yourself. Just as we did not name ourselves, our self-worth comes from outside input. For example, the volleyball from the movie Cast Away, simply floating in the water being a volleyball, when Tom Hanks character, Chuck Noland, gives that volleyball a name and an image. Suddenly, this volleyball whose name is now Wilson takes on an identity, and almost a personality. Wilson goes on to get lost at sea where Chuck Noland begins to cry uncontrollably for a volleyball, which was Wilson, which was his friend. This outside input becomes more formative depending on the source of the input, like a father, or a teacher.
We are expected to go out into the world and become successful with jobs, money, success, power and families. Our identities are formed during those pursuits by outside input, based on if our dreams have been fulfilled, or not. With only our cultural filter only, any failures will take a piece of you with it. The cultural gauge that determines your identity will tell you that you are not good enough.
Now that we have a generalization of how our modern minds find identity, lets looks at how Christianity fits into the mix. We find our identity being stamped on us from the beginning when we were made in the imago dei – the image of God. This means that we have inherited our value, but also that our value relies upon God. We are dependent. This identity is not something we have achieved, but something that we can only receive. We have been adopted into God’s family name (Isaiah 43:7; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Ephesians 1:5 ). This dependence on God translates through the Old Testament into the New Testament. In the Gospel we find our identity in Christ, for it is not our own work, performance, or achieved power or status that proves who we are, but it is the actions of Christ that gives us our identity. When we are baptized into Christ, and repent, we are baptized into the divine family, which is our supplier of our identity.
We are all created for the Kingdom of God for different purposes; there are only some people we can affect, only some tasks we can complete. The reality is that we know there are some deep desires in our hearts that can keep us from being our true selves. The beauty of it is, is that when we have that filter of Jesus laid over our lives, and ground ourselves within him, the failures that we have do not affect our identity. For we are centered in what has already been done, which is the life and death of Jesus Christ, who sacrificed his life so that we may live in freedom and eternal life with him.