My wife and I took a trip “up north” to the sunrise side of the state in September. We met some friends up there and enjoyed biking and swimming in Lake Huron (at least two of us braved the cold water). As we drove around the East Tawas—Oscoda area I was thinking about how much I liked growing up there as a boy. I was an “up north” kid—that was my identity. My back yard was 75 feet of sandy beach and my pool was Lake Huron. The summers were filled with playing all day in the sand and lake. The winters were filled with miles of frozen water to skate, slide and explore. Out my front door were acres of woods. You could explore for miles and not see anything but woods and wildlife of all sorts. At age 12 we moved to “the city”—actually a suburb of Detroit, but to a 12-year-old “up north” kid it was a city! I looked around for water and only found a public swimming pool—that you had to pay money to enter! It was filled with kids elbowing and jostling each other. Ice skating? That turned out to be a small, walled oval rink packed with people jammed together and going around and around and around—no miles of ice to myself!. Woods and wildlife consisted of a few trees in the park and some lazy, fat squirrels. I didn’t know who I was—I lost my identity!
As humans the question, “Who am I?” is an important, but often confusing one. I have met a few people in my life that were adopted by parents that abused them. This is not a knock on adopted parents—I believe the majority are very loving. Just like anything in this fallen world there are a few that are not so loving. The question is sometimes asked by the adopted adult child, “Why go through the expense and energy to adopt a child only to abuse them?” I have heard some people in that situation conclude, “It must be because that is all I am worth.” They believe they do not deserve anything but abuse!
These are a few examples of identity crisis. But is there a RIGHT identity that one can build on that leads toward wholeness, fulfillment and meaning? The good news is YES! The gospel (good news) message is that humans that are separated from God due to sin can be forgiven and born (or born again) into God’s family. Paul the apostle says, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. . .” (Romans 8:15-16). This adopted father never calls his children worthless or abuses them! He would not do that because he made us! We are his creation. He tells us we are valuable, loved, thought about, secure, and safe in his care. He sent his son to die so that we, his creation, could have life and relationship with him.
Several years after my transition from “up north” kid to “city kid” I had another identity change. I accepted the gospel message, repented of my sins and received the gift of grace offered to all humans. I was born again into God’s family—adopted! This new family came with a new identity. I didn’t know much about my identity “in Christ” because the knowledge of our identities do not instantly fill our souls at conversion. I have had to learn and grow into my identity “in Christ.” That was almost 40 years ago and I am still learning about my identity “in Christ.” As a believer, a pastor and a counselor I am convinced that the more people learn and grow in their identity “in Christ” the more fulfilling and meaningful life becomes—not problem free of course.
HOW DO WE GROW?
Growing in our new identities “in Christ” means we need to be INTENTIONAL. I am offering 3 ways that can be helpful.
1) We need to approach learning about our identity as we would a treasure hunt. The book of Proverbs gives us a beautiful picture of learning about God (which is learning about our identity)
“My child, listen to me and treasure my instructions. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight and understanding. Search for them as you would for lost money or hidden treasure. Then you will understand what it means to fear the LORD, and you will gain knowledge of God. For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:1-6 NLT).
There are many great resources out there that can help us grow in that area. Below are a few starts:
2) A second resource is the Holy Spirit. We need power to grasp the dimensions of our faith because our finite minds are limited. Paul the apostle shows us how we can have intentional prayers to God the Holy Spirit that will help us.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:16-21).
3) A third way to grow is fellowship. The early church looked like this: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
Going to church on a regular basis, hearing God’s word and fellowship is a great way to grow in our identity “in Christ.” Many churches offer small groups fellowships. Or, you could start a group that focuses on our identity “in Christ.”
I am convinced that growing in one’s identity “in Christ” is one of the most beneficial and important things a person can do to gain well-being. I pray that God will help all of us who struggle with the question, “Who am I?” find peace, contentment, fulfillment, and meaning in the identity God designed for us.
– Dave Chatel, MA, LLP