Chapter 24 – Identity

 

We all, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

– 2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV

We know what the Bible tells us about our identity. Maybe we struggle to believe or grasp it all – or maybe we don’t. Blaise Pascal wrote: “Not only do we not know God except through Jesus Christ; We do not even know ourselves except through Jesus Christ”. No matter how much we may feel we have to work on the identity we create for ourselves in the eyes of other people, we can still be firm in the knowledge of who we are in God. There is no condemnation for us (Romans 8:1). We are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14). We are God’s holy Temple, with His Spirit living inside us (1 Corinthians 3:16). We are children of God (John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1). We are free from sin and slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). We are a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). We are members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19). We can never be separated from God’s love (Romans 8:39). We are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). We who are many form one body (Romans 12:5). We have wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30). We are sons and heirs of God (Galatians 4:6-7). Our labour is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). We have every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3). We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). We have the forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7). We were chosen by God (Ephesians 1:4-5; 11). We exist for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12). We’ve been given the incomparable riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:7). We who were once far away from God have been brought near to Him (Ephesians 2:13). We may approach God with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3:12). All our needs are met according to His glorious riches (Philippians 4:19). We are holy (Colossians 1:2). We have our hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). We have been given the fullness of the deity (Colossians 2:9-10). We will rise from the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:16). We can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We have faith, hope, and love (1 Timothy 1:1, 14). We have the promise of life (2 Timothy 1:1)…

When in Exodus 34 Moses went up the mountain to talk with God, he returned to the camp with his face shining so brightly that he had to cover it with a veil which was removed only in the times when he returned to talk with God. In 2 Corinthians 13 Paul speaks of how we do not need to cover our faces – the light of God’s glory shines through us (perhaps in a slightly different way to what Moses experienced), and we do not need to hide it. When we commit our lives to Christ we choose to take on the image and glory of God, taking on His identity – leaving behind our own in priority of His. I do not mean to imply that we are no longer individuals or no longer have personality, rather that we live for God’s glory instead of our own, in His strength instead of our own, to honour His Name instead of our own. Choosing to be “transformed into his image” and “reflect the Lord’s glory” means that the way people see us or the things people think about us or what people say about us are no longer so important – it is not our own name that we live for any more. As we choose to surrender our image, our identity, into His hands, we can then take on His image, being conformed into His likeness, as He gives us a new identity in the light of who He is. God holds our identity in His hands from the time we first commit our lives to Him, and we do not need to hide our identity as His children!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

– 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, NIV

What are the ‘veils’ that we put over our faces to hide our identity as children of God, or to hide who He has made us to be? We all know of people – friends, or celebrities, or others – who have a “public face” which is a different person to the unmasked reality. What are the masks we cover ourselves with? And why do we do this – why are we ashamed of the reality of who God made us to be? Perhaps we want to be seen as in control, or rich, or righteous, or exciting, or in need, or confident, or strong, or whatever else – and so we try hard to keep up that name, that image. May we surrender to God the image we create for ourselves – how we want to be seen, how we believe that people see us, and how people do see us. In this act of surrender may we lay down those veils that could be hiding the real person beneath, and may we make ourselves open and vulnerable for all to see the truth of who we are: who we are in God. Then may He shine through us as people see Him in us!

There is a kids’ worship song that I love, called Audience of One. It talks of living to please God alone, not trying to impress anyone else and not hiding who we truly are. May our own identity never become an idol to us – in surrender may we lay it down before God for Him to do with it as He pleases. As we see in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, if everyone was aware of and comfortable in their own identity, nobody would feel the need to hide the truth for the sake of keeping up an image (in the case of the story, pretending that they could see something that was not there, for the sake of appearing “intelligent”).

 Just think you are here not by chance but by GOD’s choosing. His hand formed you and made you the person you are. He compares you to no-one else; you are one of a kind. You lack nothing that His grace can’t give you. He has allowed you to be here at this time in history to fulfil His special purpose for this generation. You are GOD’s servant in GOD’s place at GOD’s perfect time.

– Roy Lessin

Perhaps a part of our identity is how self-reliant we are: in a culture of independence, society tells us that we must be self-sufficient in all situations. The freedom that this way of thinking gives is wonderful but this attitude can also be dangerous, leading us far from dependence on God. A Bolivian friend once told me that for a man in a culture in which men are fully self-reliant and in which dependence is seen as a sign of weakness, asking advice can be very difficult – as can depending on God. One certainly should never depend on any other man for anything – much less any woman – and on someone you can’t see…?! Perhaps we can relate to this, aware that people might consider us weak or incapable or even stupid if we depend on God rather than on our own understanding. May we surrender to God our pride, and our need for self-sufficiency, and may we allow Him to teach us to depend on Him the way He wants us to: loving Him, putting faith in Him, really trusting Him. In his book Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray writes, “The cause of weakness of your Christian life is that you want to work it out partly, and to let God help you. … It is when we sink down in utter helplessness that the everlasting God will reveal Himself in His power, and that our hearts will learn to trust God alone.” Recognition of our own weakness and inability brings us to depend on God, to find our identity and our strength and our help and our very life itself in Him – and to let Him shape us into His likeness.

Kathryn Kuhlman wrote, “I swell with pride when I can face the whole world and say, ‘I belong to Him. The mighty God of this universe is my heavenly Father. I’m His by adoption. I’m a joint-heir with His wonderful Son’. In that moment when you’re prone to be depressed, when you find yourself in the spirit of bondage, look up. Just pause and remember to whom you belong.” May we surrender to God our mindsets, our ways of thinking – and may we take on His own. God wants to shape our attitudes and outlooks, both towards situations and towards people: through surrender may we give Him liberty to do so. Then He can teach us to “make the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15-20), as He conforms our minds into His likeness and teaches us to think the ways He does.

A cell group that I was part of set us a challenge once a year to write down things that we would like God to do – and then a year later we would look at what was written and thank God for the things that had changed. It was interesting to leave those things in God’s hands and then a year later see what He had done with them. May we surrender to God the things that are on our minds and the ways we think about those things. May we give into God’s hands any selfishness that might be loitering in our minds, and any idolatry that we recognise in our lives – anything that takes a higher priority than God. May we surrender into His hands the things that affect our decision-making more than He does; anything that we respect more highly or want to please more than Him… If we are His, and our identity is in His hands, may He then be the number one in our lives – may we put Him before our own desires, and above every other priority. As we surrender our identity into His hands, may He take first place over everything in our lives, becoming ever more truly and securely our Lord.

Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

– 2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV

May we lay down before God any sin that is in our minds. The temptations that we struggle with on a daily basis – these things are not too big, too unimportant or too unholy to be of interest to God. May we surrender them to Him, along with all our shame. When our identity is in Christ, we have authority to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”, because Christ is the Lord of our minds. As we are instructed in Romans 12:2 (NIV), “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” If our identity is in Him may we think, speak and behave in a way that shows the transformation that He is doing within our minds. As we surrender our identity, then, may we surrender to Him the ways in which we think, speak and act – as His representatives on earth these things matter, as people will look at us and think of Him. A police officer in uniform has authority and people know to whom the officer is accountable – they know that the officer represents the police force, and the way that the officer behaves can reflect well or can reflect badly on the police force as a whole. Since our identity is in God and we represent Him, as His children, His agents, may we behave accordingly, so as to bring Him glory.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

– Philippians 4:8, NIV

I have met Christians who believe that as Christians we need to be able to provide answers to everything – never able to say “I don’t know”. As we surrender our identity into God’s hands, may we give over to Him any need that we feel to be able to provide all the answers – and may He free us to speak openly and honestly with people. May we give into God’s hands the questions that entrap our minds, and any confusion that frustrates us. May we surrender to Him our “why”s, and give Him our “wisdom”, our understanding. Ruth Bell Graham said, “I lay my ‘whys?’ before Your cross in worship kneeling, my mind beyond all hope, my heart beyond all feeling; and worshipping, realize that I, in knowing You, don’t need a ‘why?’.” We can do nothing without God and we can know nothing without Him – in Him is the fulness of truth, and we are fools if we believe ourselves able to live from our own understanding. May we surrender our identity into His hands, whether we like to be seen as intelligent or knowledgeable or in control – may He teach and shape us so that we can speak and answer people in ways that bring honour to Him, not just to ourselves. Perhaps God has given you wisdom and understanding – great! Surrender this to Him, so that He can build on it and shape it. May we give God our energy, our strength: in this act of surrender we allow God to refresh us and give us His strength, which is far more able to sustain us than our own. 

In Christ we have a love that can never be fathomed, a life that can never die, a peace that can never be understood, a rest that can never be disturbed, a joy that can never be diminished, a hope that can never be disappointed, a glory that can never be clouded, a light that can never be darkened, and a spiritual resource that can never be exhausted.

– Anonymous

May we surrender to God the ritual and rhythm of our lives. Our everyday behaviour and activities, our lifestyle – our identity is tied up in these things, in how we choose to spend our time. In The Message, Romans 12:1-2 says this, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” May we give God our comfort zones, our worldviews and the ways in which we understand life. As we surrender our identity into His hands may He bring us to maturity by building the values and ways of His Kingdom into our lives and into our everyday activities. May we surrender to God our lifestyles, and be open to Him molding and shaping them in a way that brings Him glory.

As we surrender to God our identity, may we surrender to Him our faith itself, and the level of trust that we have in who He is and in what He says. As we surrender may we allow Him to lead us to a place of deeper trust in Him, deeper love of Him, deeper intimacy with Him. May we give over to Him the thought processes that happen within us when we feel challenged by Him, perhaps when He asks us to take a step of faith. May we surrender to Him our obedience. If our identity is in His hands, may He teach us to listen to Him, to respond well to Him and to obey Him – and may He increase our faith and our trust in Him.

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

– 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, NIV

May we surrender to God the ways in which we mentally deal with situations. When things really don’t go our way, how do we respond? With peace? With frustration? With praise? With anger? With tears? May we give all this to God, and let Him shape our identity. Because “this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come”, as we surrender may God lead us to “offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name”. (Hebrews 12:13-14, NLT).

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

– 1 Peter 2:9-10, NIV

  

Holy God,

Thank You that I am made new in You and that You hold my identity.

Thank You for who You made me to be, and that You can show Yourself through me!

I surrender to You my identity.

I give you my image; the way people see me.

Please teach me to focus on Your glory rather than my own.

I give you any masks or veils that hide who You made me to be.

Please give me confidence in who I am in You – and freedom from the things that hide me.

I give You my pride and my self-sufficiency – teach me to trust You.

I give you my ways of thinking; my attitudes; my outlooks – please shape them into Your own.

May You be my number one priority in everything.

I give You the temptation and sin that I allow in my mind – please cleanse me and teach me.

Please, Father, take captive my thoughts and make them obey You.

I give You my questions, my confusion, my understanding – please give me Your wisdom.

I give you my strength, my energy – please refresh me with Your own.

I give You the ritual of my life; my comfort zones; my culture – please invade it with Yours.

I give You my needs – I trust You to provide, and to draw me to You.

I give You my obedience and my faith – please teach me to trust You.

I give You the way I honour people and the way I honour You – please help me.

I give you the ways I deal with situations – please shape my mind.

I choose You, with everything within me – and I surrender to You.

May I live in Your ways, thinking with Your mindsets and living in the identity You give me.

Amen

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