By Jerry Harris
Identity is a major topic in American culture today. What do I identify as? Who do I identify with? There are hot debates about race, gender, sexual orientation, victimization, and how we
see ourselves and the world around us. The words we use or the words we are discouraged from using are all tied up in identity.
The American Medical Association just recommended that we not put gender on our birth certificates. An AMA report said, “Imposing such a categorization system risks stifling self-expression and self-identification and contributes to marginalization and minoritization.” Some doctors are recommending replacing “breastfeeding” with “chestfeeding” or “body feeding.” Why? Because words mean things and some people don’t want the blanks of our lives filled in by anyone else.
I did some research on how we arrive at our identity, and this is what it looks like. Your personal identity is how you view yourself, comprised of things you can control, like decisions and interests, and things you can’t control, like family and race. Your social identity is how others perceive you. It’s you in the context of your community, your school or career, and your marital, financial, educational, occupational, religious, or behavioral status.
These identities categorize us into groups. The world says our identities are constructed in three ways. Our core identity is our hard wiring as individuals, personality type, behaviors, values, and beliefs. Our chosen identity involves our status, traits, skills, residence, occupation, education, and affiliation. Our given identity consists of our gender, place of birth, race, and physical characteristics.
That all goes into the machine of society, family, ethnicity, location, opportunity, media, personal interest, appearance, self-expression, and life experiences. The world says that all we are is the sum of these things. Our friends, the place we live, our hairstyle, the
food we eat, the way we spend time and money—all of it comes from this.
But what if there was more? What if you had a hidden identity that was always there but of which you just weren’t aware? And what if that hidden identity was far more precious and wonderful than anything you might construct for yourself or that society would shape you into? What if something at your core was greater than all your “givens” and all your choices? Would you trade all your constructed identity for this hidden identity that you have discovered?
Ephesians 1:3-14 is just one Scripture passage of many that reveals your hidden identity. It describes who you really are and what you were created to be. You were chosen to be holy and blameless. This has nothing to do with your work since it was determined before the world was created, and it happens only “in him.” It describes who you are as God chooses to see you. You are adopted into his family, which is also his choice, and gives him great joy! God adopted you “in love”; you can’t earn this adoption, but he freely gives it. This describes you in the context of your spiritual family.
You are redeemed and forgiven, revealing that the reason we don’t know who we are is because of sin. It’s in us and all around us—the result of countless choices made by us and others against God’s will. God has already taken care of that amnesia and paid the debt for all we’ve done through Jesus. And he didn’t do it sparingly; he lavished it!
He has revealed our hidden identity, and a day will come when all he has promised his children will be put into effect. We are chosen, but we must choose this identity for ourselves. It happens when we hear this message and choose to believe it. He marks us with his Holy Spirit. The words deposit and inheritance in Ephesians 1:14 sound like terms from banking or probate court, but they are far more personal than that. These terms are used for betrothal or something like an engagement ring.
We are so much more than these identities we’ve constructed for ourselves; and interestingly, our hidden identity—our greatest identity—involves zero discrimination. This identity has nothing to do with how old you are, what race you are, what country you’re from, how much money you have, how much education you have, who your earthly family is, what’s on your birth certificate, your physical appearance, what you’ve done in your past, or anything else in your constructed identity. None of these things matter.
God says this is who you were meant to be! The question is, Are you willing to trade the identity you’ve constructed for yourself for the identity God has for you? That is a difficult choice—but shouldn’t be—because our constructed identities are so full of lies and we’ve been making agreements with lies our whole lives.
Carlos Whittaker’s book Kill the Spider says a “spider” is an agreement we make with a lie. Whittaker says we need to stop worrying about cleaning cobwebs and start killing these spiders. Ephesians 1 is like Raid for spiders that hide your true identity.
Randy Frazee’s book His Mighty Strength encourages us to give up the illusion of control. So much of our identity is bound to our need to control it, but control is an illusion. We don’t need to try harder; we need to yield harder. It’s when we surrender our constructed identity to our hidden identity that we truly begin to understand who we are, and that’s when we begin to experience what it means to be a new creation.
I am not who my parents say I am, who my teachers say I am, or who culture, my boss, my race, my body, my friends, my bank account, my address, my age, the media, politicians, or even who I myself say I am! Only one voice has the right to tell me who I am, and that voice belongs to the One who made me, loves me, forgave me, redeemed me, adopted me, lavished grace on me, chose me, cleansed me, and promised he will come and take me home someday. I choose who he says I am!