Identity   (click the arrow to listen)

Identity is a term which is being used more and more frequently in so many important matters of life: demanding respect from others, making ethical decisions, the creation of Government policy and laws, and perhaps mostly, in the way people come to view themselves. If it is such an important human concern, we would expect the bible to have something to contribute to this subject. However, identity is not a word which the bible uses. There is little doubt that it is a very modern concept and so its absence is no surprise. But because the bible is God’s Word for human life, we should be able to find wisdom in it to help us navigate the choppy seas of identity and all its implications.

There are two things for us to grasp: firstly, what is the human meaning of identity and its consequences; secondly, what is the Christian meaning of identity and its significance? John Piper expressed an important point for the Christian in this way: 
               “Christian selfhood is not defined in terms of who we are in and of ourselves.” 
Indeed, as Christians, our lives are wrapped up in Jesus and in our relationships with one another: we cannot divorce ourselves from these two important things.


I have long seen a difference between individualism and what I would describe as individuality. The difference may seem obvious: individualism produces independence from others in the sense of our vital need for relationships. For some people, depending on others is seen as a weakness. Yet that is how God designed humanity to flourish. In fact, the way to become weak is to create a ‘selfhood’ which is supposedly independent of others. Unfortunately, this is a very attractive option for those who attempt to create through their own efforts what they see as their unique identity.

But doing this erodes the important ways that other people ‘feed’ our souls. We understand synergy as the extra energy and effect we find when we work together with others as a team; but what is also going on is the improvement in our wellbeing which comes from that positive interaction – what I’m describing here as ‘feeding’. Being distant from others creates an ‘emaciated soul’. This is the trap of individualism: the fear that allowing your identity to be examined through close interaction with others will prove that it is just an illusion.


The irony here is that we are all unique – personally tagged by God at a very intimate level:

Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Luke 12:7)

God has created us each as a unique person: even identical twins have their own individuality! But we do not have to discover this by some kind of individualistic search for ‘who I am’! When we learn God’s good design for us, we discover this individuality by living, not by searching. As we shall see, especially in Jesus, that design for how to live is expressed in this way:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

This principle is especially seen in the way the church of Jesus is described:

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27 ESV)

The church of Jesus functions like a body. We are interdependent and rely on others to keep us functioning in a healthy way. But each of us is indeed unique and important to the functioning of the body – ‘individually members of it’. The modern search for meaning in identity will always lead to frustration and possibly isolation. But in Christ, meaning is found in serving others in His living body; and each of us is guaranteed a unique, individual place. 

In this series I will draw from Paul’s letter to the Philippians to see what is and what is not identity. From that base we can look at other scriptures which will help us gain a healthy understanding of this important, yet potentially destructive, subject of identity.

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