How often do you think about how you self-identify?
One of the big topics these days that’s causing a lot of debate is how people are choosing to self-identify.
So I’ve been thinking and praying about the idea of identity. I think it’s important to ask ourselves the question: How do I see myself? Take just a moment or two and ponder how you would answer that question. How do you see yourself? How do you identify yourself?
There may be multiple answers on different layers and levels, but I really want you to encourage you primarily to think about this on the deepest spiritual level. How do you identify yourself spiritually?
How do you see yourself? How do you self-identify?
Usually when someone answers the question, “How do you self-identify?” it has to do with what kind of human being they see themselves to be, based on origin, education, history, sexual orientation, and other external factors, as well as the internal emotional factors of how they see themselves.
Whatever these self-identifications may be, there’s actually a common denominator. People see themselves, identify themselves, as a human personality of one type or another, a mortal being beginning with birth and ending in death. This self-identification as a material being is the foundation that these other more specific self-identifications are built on.
But the basic premise, or foundation of their self-identification is that they are a mortal, material creature.
Paul rejects human identity labels
But Paul throws all these labels of self-identification, and the basic assumption that we are one type of mortal or another, out the window. He says
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26-28 NKJV
And to the Colossians he writes basically the same thing,
…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:10, 11 NIV
Paul shows us that all these ways we identify ourselves are not part of our true spiritual identity.
I’ve actually talked about this several times before on The Bible Speaks to You Podcast. Here are three in particular:
Episode 037 – You Are the Image and Likeness of God. What the Heck Does that Mean?
Episode 070 – Why Is It So Hard to Put Off the Old Self?
Episode 085 – Finding Your Identity in Christ
What does the bible say about our identity?
So let’s talk about what the Bible says about who we are, what our identity is.
Just as today, people in the Bible saw themselves as shaped by their culture, defined by their past sins and victories, victimized by people or circumstances, among other things. People identified themselves and others as either good or bad depending on whether they had lived in obedience to God’s commandments.
And then there were the folks who made no effort to obey God and self-identified as being able to do whatever they wanted to attain and stay in power. Think of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.
You might think the religious leaders would have a more spiritual way of identifying people as the children of God. There are few who do.
We are God’s children
The prophet Malachi asks the question
Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Malachi 2:10 NIV
If God is our Father, this implies and thus identifies us as God’s children.
Most of the religious leaders in the new Testament identified mankind as a bunch of miserable sinners, probably because they didn’t identify themselves correctly as children of God.
But the New Testament has lots of references which identify us as the sons and daughters of God.
Paul quotes God saying,
I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty. 2 Corinthians 6:18 NIV
How does God identify us?
So perhaps the question we really need to ask is, “How does God identify us?”
If you started reading the Bible from the very beginning to find an answer to this question, it wouldn’t take you very long to find it. In the very first chapter of Genesis, our true spiritual identity is revealed and established for all time. We are made in the image and likeness of God.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:26, 27 NKJV
There it is, plain and simple. God identifies us as His very own image and likeness. How often do we see ourselves that way?
I think more and more people are beginning to see the validity and importance of this view of ourselves. Unfortunately, there are still some churches which identify all mankind as miserable sinners, even after they have accepted Christ.
When God forgives your sins, He doesn’t hold onto them or even remember them.
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake;
And I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:25 NKJV
Your sins do not define you. Your sins are not your identity. You may self-identify with your sins, but that’s not the way God identifies you.
How do you self-identify?
Let’s come back to the original question: How do you self-identify?
There are lots of ways people self-identify, whether in more traditional ways that society is used to, or in ways that don’t fit society’s stereotypes.
Some people are very critical of all these non-stereotypical ways people are defining themselves. But I see it as mankind hungering and thirsting to figure out who they really are. It’s a search for their true identity. It’s a spiritual quest to find themselves and understand their relationship with God and all creation, even if they don’t put it in those terms.
It’s a journey. And we need to be patient with everyone on this journey, even if we don’t understand their perspectives or agree with what they’re doing. We all need the freedom to search for truth. And sometimes people need to break away from traditional stereotypes to look at things from a fresh perspective.
The best way to support others on this journey is to discover your own spiritual identity in Christ and live it in your daily life. Being judgmental of the choices other people make, doesn’t really do anyone any good.
Two problems with how people self-identify
There are a couple of inherent problems with the way most people self-identify. They either define themselves by all the internal and external conditions of their lives. Or they think they can choose who and what they are.
When the prophet Samuel was impressed with Eliab, Jesse’s oldest son, and thought he would make a good king, God rebuked him.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV
Samuel was identifying Eliab based on his physical appearance. That’s often how we self-identify. And how we see others too.
Jesus says to his followers
Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly. John 7:24 NLT
The second mistake people make is to think they can decide who they are, that they can self-identify however they want to and that will make it so. If they decide to self-identify as someone or something else, then that’s who they will be, and it will be so. At least to them.
But just because you identify yourself based on outward appearances or who you have decided you are does not mean you are right. It’s not your ultimate spiritual identity in the eyes of God. It may be how you see yourself right now, but your true identity is how God defines you.
How people in the Bible self-identify
Let’s look at some examples of this in the Bible.
Remember when Jesus healed the man who had been born blind? See John Chapter 9.
This man self-identified as someone who had been born blind. In fact, everyone else did too, even Jesus’s disciples. He saw himself defined by his past circumstances, all the way up until the moment when Jesus healed him.
If Jesus’s disciples were wondering if this man’s sins or his parents’ sins had caused the blindness, it’s likely the man himself had wondered this as well. He may have also self-identified as somehow guilty of something which caused his problem. We still do that today. We blame ourselves for things that are not our fault. We’re identifying with things that aren’t true.
Jesus cut through all that. He saw this man – he identified him – as a child of God. Jesus saw the blindness was not part of this man’s true spiritual identity and didn’t attach it to him. The result was the man was healed.
Matthew and Zacchaeus
What about someone who thought they could choose who they were? The two examples I’m thinking about are Matthew and Zacchaeus. They had both chosen to be tax collectors. And this went totally against the stereotypes of what Jews were expected to do. It was actually a moral offense because as a whole, the Jews despised tax collectors and didn’t consider them loyal to God because they had collaborated with the Roman.
But is that what Jesus saw? How did Jesus identify these two men? I believe he saw through the outward appearance of things and looked on the heart. He saw the original child of God created in God’s image and likeness. And he must have discerned some receptivity to that.
Just think about it for a minute. Jesus went out his way to invite Matthew to follow him as a disciple and he made a point of inviting himself over to Zacchaeus’s house for a meal. He did not identify these two men the way they had self-identified, they way they had chosen to see themselves. (See below: Matthew 9:9 and Luke 19:2-5)
Results of how you self-identify
What was the result of the way the man born blind, Mathew, and Zacchaeus self-identified?
They were stuck in how they saw themselves.
What was the result of how Jesus identified them, or saw how God identified them? They were healed and redeemed.
How do you see yourself?
So how does this apply to you and me?
However you see yourself, however you self-identify, that’s not in line with how God sees and identifies you, it will keep you from discovering your deep authentic and ultimate spiritual identity.
So what if you’ve been self-identifying in a way that God does not see you?
First, it takes some humility to admit you’re not the one who has the ultimate power or authority to define yourself. It takes humility to ask God to show you how He identifies you.
And that’s the next step actually. Ask God to show you how He sees you, how He identifies you, how He made you in His image and likeness. And then listen for the answer. This also takes humility.
Paul to the rescue
Paul gives a step by step process of what to do next.
Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT
When you accept the truth that comes from Christ – the fact that you are the image and likeness of God – you can throw off the way you used to identify yourself. The point Paul makes here is that you can’t do this on your own. You can only do it with the help of truth which comes from Christ.
And then you let the Spirit of God renew your thoughts and attitudes. Once you have let go of a material way of seeing yourself based on outward appearances and self-imposed choices, the Spirit gives you a whole new view of yourself, gives you a whole new way to think, a spiritual perspective of who you are and how you fit in with God and all creation.
It’s at this point that what seems to be your new God-like nature appears. But it’s actually been there all along. You just haven’t seen it yet. You see yourself as God sees you, how He originally created you in His image and likeness, “truly righteous and holy.”
If you’ve been identifying yourself in any way that is less than how God identifies, you can begin right this minute to see yourself the way God does.
And if you meet or hear about anyone who self-identifies in any way that is not the way God sees them, you can this very minute cherish how God identifies them spiritually as His image and likeness, “created to be like God–truly righteous and holy.”
Your true identity, their true identity, is the image and likeness of God.
Photo credit: John Thomas
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
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Galatians 3:26-28 NKJV
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Colossians 3:10, 11 NIV
10 put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Malachi 2:10 NIV
10 Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?
2 Corinthians 6:18 NIV
18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
Genesis 1:26, 27 NKJV
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Isaiah 43:25 NKJV
25 I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake;
And I will not remember your sins.
1 Samuel 16:7 NIV
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
John 7:24 NLT
24 Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.
Matthew 9:9 NIV
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
Luke 19:2-5 NIV
2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.”
3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.
4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT
21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him,
22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.
23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.
24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.