In ninth grade, I took Algebra from Mr. Shreckengost. This was right at the time when I discovered that all the cool kids in school thought things like studying and good grades were for losers. Given the fact that I wanted to be cool, I figured I needed to tank a couple classes. Enter Algebra 1 and Mr. Shreck.
Basically, I had always been an A, and sometimes B student. But those kinds of marks just were not going to get it done in the social-standing labyrinth that was Laramie Junior High School. If I wanted to reinvent myself, I was going to have to try harder, er, lesser.
As twisted as it sounds, I understood from even that relatively early age that, who I was, my identity was somehow tied to my performance. If I wanted to be cool, then I was going to have to tone it down a notch.
My parents didn’t see it that way, unfortunately, and when I waltzed in the house with my first-ever C, what I ended up being was grounded. The worst of all identities for any socially-minded ninth grader.
I think we fall into this trap a lot. Not tanking Algebra, but of misunderstanding the basis of our identity.
Philosophically, this is the basic premise of existentialism: what you do, your self-project, creates your identity, who you are. We believe this too: we say things all the time like, “I am a doctor,” or “I am just a teacher.” These vocations becomes our essence, our identity. Take this simple test: who would you rather be, a CEO of a massive company or a school janitor? If you didn’t answer, it doesn’t matter, then, in my opinion, you may have a slightly warped view of where your identity comes from.
But it gets worse: this view of ourselves, as a type of project, is a very slippery slope because it breeds a tremendous amount of insecurity and doubt: Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes? Do I matter, because I am just a….
When it comes to understanding our own identity, we often believe that who we are is a product of what we do. But for Christians, nothing could be further from the truth.
For the Christian, I think, our identity, has very little to do with us and everything to do with God: who He has made us to be. God’s view–as Paul outlines in the book of Ephesians–is that our identity is not based upon what we do, but upon what he has done, how he created us, and more importantly, how he has transformed us through Jesus. We are forgiven, chosen, empowered, blessed, assured, marked, enlightened and more. In fact, God, in Christ, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing from before the foundation of the world. This is who we are, in Christ, before we ever did anything.
Before the foundation of the world. Well before you or I did anything. We were just an idea and already our identity had been forged and established. That’s huge, because when we know who we are even before we’ve done anything, it builds confidence and security: We’ve been given everything we need, every spiritual blessing in Christ. We lack nothing. It’s already been established; there’s nothing left to prove.
I love Rembrandt’s self portrait The Raising of the Cross. In it, he shows himself at Jesus’s feet and the cross be raised. I think he called this a self-portrait because he is acknowledging that his identity is wholly and firmly rooted in the work of Christ on the cross. And who we are has little to do with us and everything to do with Him.