Where is your identity found?
In this piece I want to bring together two bits of commentary on two spiritual realities. The first has to do with our identity as believers, and the second has to do with our blessings in Christ. Both are closely related of course. The first one comes from two books I read yesterday, both by a noted Christian author, Paul David Tripp. I quoted from him extensively yesterday: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/12/27/christian-leadership-sin-and-restoration/
I quite like what he says about how too many Christian leaders find their identity in their ministry instead of in Christ. And that is always a recipe for trouble. As he said early on in his 2012 volume, Dangerous Calling:
Human beings are always assigning to themselves some kind of identity. There are only two places to look. Either you will be getting your identity vertically from who you are in Christ, or you will be shopping for it horizontally in the situations, experiences, and relationships of your daily life. This is true of everyone, but I am convinced that getting one’s identity horizontally is a particular temptation for those in ministry….
Ministry had become my identity. . . . My role as pastor was the way I understood myself. It shaped the way I related to God. It formed my relationships with the people in my life. My calling had become my identity.
Blind to what was going on in my heart, I was proud, unapproachable, defensive, and all too comfortable. I was a pastor; I didn’t need what other people need. . . . I didn’t realise that I looked horizontally for what I had already been given in Christ and that it was producing a harvest of bad fruit in my heart, in my ministry, and in my relationships. I had let my ministry become something that it should never be (my identity); I looked to it to give me what it never could (my inner sense of well-being).
And in his 2020 book, Lead, he has a whole chapter on this matter. He writes:
Since the fall, people look horizontally for what they were designed to find vertically. They ask people, places, and things to do for them what only identity in the Lord can do. And what people fail to understand is that wherever you look for identity will then exercise rulership over your heart and, in so doing, will direct the way you live your life. Things that were never meant to be sources of human identity become just that, creating endless layers of difficulty and brokenness….
There is always the temptation this side of eternity to look for identity horizontally, but looking there never delivers what you seek and never results in a harvest of good fruit. This is why the New Testament works to instill in every believer an identity in Christ and to exegete what that looks like in terms of the way we think about and approach our everyday lives.
He then goes on to list 14 such passages which speak to who and what we are in Christ. They are all very familiar texts, but it is so easy to forget these marvellous truths, and to overlook the tremendous blessings that all believers do have in Christ.
And that leads me to the second bit of commentary I also came upon just recently. In another brand-new book, this one by William Osborne called Divine Blessing and the Fullness of Life in the Presence of God (Crossway, 2020), I was struck by a quote he featured by another noted American pastor, John Piper.
Osborne mentions Romans 8:31-32: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” He says this about it:
There is no blessing for the people of God that will not be given. There is no promise that will not be fulfilled. If this verse tells us anything, it is that God is not stingy! He is not withholding good gifts from us—he has already given the most valuable gift ever given! … John Piper describes how Romans 8:32 has supported him throughout his ministry: “I have fought the fight against fear thousands of times in my life by listening to the voice of God say to me personally: ‘I did not spare my own Son; therefore, my promise to you cannot fail. I will help you. Go.’ And after forty years I bear witness it has never failed. And it never will. The logic of heaven holds.”
That quote comes from this 2012 message by Piper: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-solid-logic-of-heaven-holds
So, to tie all this together, let me explain why I am sharing this. I don’t know about you, but both sets of truths (where we find our identity, and what we have in Christ) really struck me forcefully. God certainly spoke to me on both counts.
As I said in yesterday’s piece, I do not consider myself to be a leader as such, but I am involved in some aspects of Christian ministry. And I know how easy it is for me to get my sense of identity and self-worth from what I DO for Christ instead of who I AM in Christ.
I too much worry about what others think instead of what God thinks. I too much crave the praise of men instead of the praise of God. I am too fearful of man and not fearful enough of God. I am too easily bothered by what others say and not enough by what God says.
Yes, we all need to be affirmed and encouraged and supported along the way. But it is too easy to allow the praise of others to replace the more important praise of God. It is too easy for me to do things (write articles, give talks, or post neat things online, etc.) and hope that other people will think well of me and like me and thank me and praise me.
And it is too easy for me to get bummed out when others criticise me or attack me or berate me or misunderstand me. Again, if you have your identity and sense of importance tied up in what others think and say, then that can be devastating.
But if all your sense of value and worth is found in God alone, and in your identity with Christ, then that really can free you up big time. Thus reading these books made me think about how much of my life has involved identifying with my ministry instead of getting my true identity in Christ.
So as I say, I don’t know about you, but I sure needed to be reminded of these basic truths. Yes we have all heard them before a million times. We can even read large theological tomes discussing our union with Christ, our blessings in Christ, our relationship with Christ, and what we have in Christ, and so on.
But getting these truths into your heart and soul, and not just in your head, is the key here. I can pen plenty of theological articles on all this, but has what is in my head really penetrated my heart? That is what I am being reminded of once again.
Pardon me if this has been a bit too personal. But if I think I can minister to others properly, I must first let Christ minister to me. So if nothing else, I am preaching to myself here. But if a few others are also touched by God with some of these truths, then all the better.