“I am who You say I am.” -Ben Fielding & Reuben Morgan, Hillsong Worship
Our world is full of messages about who we are and where we come from. We grow up asking our families this from time to time. We look to our communities and culture to tell us who we are. We observe our parents, grandparents and friends to give us clues. We watch TV shows, movies and media to give us some ideas. We let our government, leaders and celebrities shape our image of ourselves. Our education and beliefs impact our views as well. While the messages we hear from these sources are not always wrong, they leave the picture of who we are incomplete and unsatisfying. Can these sources be fully trusted to tell us the truth? What do you think? If the world tells you you’re unsuccessful, does that make you a failure? The world may tell you you’re weak, but do they see your strengths? What about when your community tells you you’re worthless because you are caught up in addiction? Should you believe them? Are you worth more than what they see at face value? You are far more valuable than the sum of the messages you’ve heard in your life! Throughout our lives, we hear both truth and lies about who we really are. How do we discover the truth and reject the lies about our identity? I aim to answer this question over the next several weeks as we explore this topic of what our identity is and what it is not.
What is identity? A simple way to ask this question is: “Who am I?” Identity is a complex idea containing many facets of who we are. Some common external characteristics used to identify people are our names and faces. When searching for a friend in a crowd, we look for their face to make sure we’ve accurately identified them. Where we come from in the world, our cultural background, also helps us piece together our identity. Every country and people group have their own set of values and customs that help us understand who we are and where we’re from. A person from China will identify with a different set of values than someone from Brazil. At a deeper level though, our identity is comprised of far more than just what we look like or where we live. We each have a unique and individual personality. Think of your identity like a diamond. It’s one whole piece representing you, but it’s made up of many different beautiful facets representing the many parts of who you are. Since our identity is even more valuable than a diamond, it is worth protecting!
Would you carelessly leave your wallet or passport laying out in public and walk away? Of course not! Neither should we let the messages of just anyone or anything distort and steal our identity! Who exactly steals our identity? We have an enemy: Satan. 1 Peter 5:8 says that, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Jesus also warned us about him and those who operate with him when he said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus is the giver and protector of our life and identity. Satan, on the other hand, seeks to steal our identity through lies and destruction (John 8:44). As we learn the truth of our identity, we will be better equipped to detect the thief in his lies and stop him in his tracks.
Resisting the thief is not the only reason it’s important to know our true identity. Understanding who we really are is essential because our actions (what we say and do) flow out of what we believe about who we are. We manifest in reality what we believe. Proverbs 23:7 says of mankind, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Jesus also said, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45). Our beliefs about our identity spring up out of our hearts and souls. If you believe you are a joyful person, you are more likely to laugh often and be happy. If you believe you are a failure, you are more likely to perform poorly in multiple areas of your life. What do you believe about yourself? Is it a positive or negative view overall?
People have developed many different concepts and theories over time to attempt to illustrate a picture of one particular facet of our personalities. While we may have some facets of our identity in common with other people, no two people are identical. We are each a one-of-a-kind work of art. However, the idea that we can use these different concepts and various personality testing instruments to somehow understand parts of our identities fascinates me. While these concepts and tools are far from perfect, they still hold great value for us to begin to understand who we are and who others are as well. The quest to understand my own identity, led me to study the temperament theory of Dr. David Keirsey. In his book Please Understand Me II, he explains that, “Temperament is the inborn form of human nature,” which describes the set of personality traits you are born with (Keirsey, p. 20). Building upon the work of Isabel Myers, who created The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Dr. Keirsey developed the concept of The Four Temperaments along with his own test, The Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (KTS-II). The more I learned about my own temperament and personality, the more understanding, compassion and love I began to have for myself and for other people. Prior to learning these ideas, I was a very judgmental person. I wrote off most people who were different from me. Studying temperament and personality gave me a completely new lens to see people through… a lens of love and God’s wonderful design! My life was so radically changed by this new view that it led me to become a Temperament Certified Professional, enabling me to administer the KTS-II in professional settings and start my own consulting business (Conciliate Consulting). I love helping people see themselves and others in a fresh light that is full of love and understanding.
Dr. Keirsey’s temperament and personality concepts are not the only facets of our identity that are worth exploring. I’m sure most of you have heard of the Enneagram by now, as it’s become wildly popular. For those of you who have not heard much about it, it’s a personality concept which aims to define the inner motivations of people. Nine numbers represent the types. It’s a concept that’s been around a very long time with a mysterious origin, but I’ve found it to be a helpful and an interesting tool, even if it’s a bit more difficult to understand. Another piece of identity that is fun to explore is the concept of The 5 Love Languages, which was developed by Dr. Gary Chapman. Although it’s surfaced more recently than the other two methodologies I’ve mentioned, it’s become a very popular idea. It’s easy to understand and extremely practical regarding our relationships with others. When we know our own love language, we can learn to communicate more effectively about our needs. When we understand the love languages of our friends, family members and spouses, we can communicate our love and care for them in truly meaningful ways. Knowing these ideas and choosing to implement them in my everyday life, has really blessed my relationships with friends and family.
As wonderful and helpful as these personality instruments can be, they do not have the ability to complete the full picture of who we are. No aspect of our identity is more important than what God has to say about us! Not only did God create you physically, but he formed your distinct personality as well! In my very favorite Psalm, David writes, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14). Our “inmost being” is not just our internal organs, but I believe he is also speaking of our identity. Since God made us who we are, he is the expert on every facet of our being. Therefore, what he has to say about us trumps what anyone else says!
Did you know we are made in the image of God? Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Every person on the planet, both men and women, are created to reflect what God looks like and who he is! Therefore, we have inherent value just because we bear God’s image. What a beautiful design! The Bible is full of incredible descriptions about who we are in Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). From this verse alone, we learn that we are the “handiwork” of God. We are God’s masterpieces! He has fashioned us for “good works!” If these words apply to the whole Body of Christ, what about our identity as individuals? What does God have to say about who you are?
When we encounter Jesus, who is one with the Father God, he tells us who we are. He defines our unique identity and purpose in life. After Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Son of God, Jesus told Peter who he was. In Matthew 16:17, Jesus says, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” For any of us who know about Peter, he wasn’t exactly the most dependable kind of guy. Perhaps his family and community thought of him as flaky and unpredictable. Jesus, however, saw something in Peter that he probably did not even see in himself: a solid rock on which to build his church. Romans 4:17 tells us that God “calls the things that are not, as though they were.” God sees the very best in us and calls that identity forth regardless of whether we currently fit the description or not. He’s just that good!
God first began speaking to me about my own identity over a decade ago when I was in college. While on an Alpha weekend retreat, an older man from church, who I did not know well, told me I am a “Beacon of Light.” God continued to confirm this identity to me. Before one of my Grandmother’s passed away, she prayed over me, calling me a “Lighthouse.” I cannot count how many times God has told me directly and through others that I am a Lighthouse or a Beacon of Light and Hope. Now just like everyone else, I have bad days. Some days I feel so gloomy that I wonder if I’m being more of a black rain cloud rather than a bright light. The beautiful thing about knowing your identity in Jesus though, is that who you are does not change depending on how you feel, what actions you take or what your circumstances are. You are who you are just because God says so! These words from God give me great purpose for my life and help me step out to be a blessing to others. In fact, God has continued to add several other pieces to my identity, such as being: an Oak of Righteousness, a Butterfly, a Star and an Overcomer! I wonder what good things God has to say about you?
The messages of the world contain both the truth of God and the lies of the thief. When we choose to believe what God says about us, we begin to grow a loving and healthy view of ourselves and others. When we choose to believe the enemy’s lies, we allow our true identity to be stolen from us. Over the coming weeks, I will expose the clever lies many of us believe about ourselves, which have robbed us from living the abundant life Jesus talks about. In place of lies, I will share the truth to help us break free! Let’s take back our true God-given identity and step into our promised abundant life!