Identity

In this article, I would like to talk to you about identity—who we perceive ourselves to be, who we are, and who we are becoming. As Christians, this is of foremost importance for it is at the nucleus of our being. Everything we will do in our life, the path we follow and the journey we take is charted by our identity. 

America, and the world for that matter, is going through an identity crisis. For Americans, most are dealing, in one sense or another, with an inner struggle concerning who they are, who they want to be and who they think they’re supposed to be.  

This has led to a shift to self in culture and in the church. Original sin, which occurred at the fall of man shortly after man was created has resulted in a self-absorption problem, so we live in a comparatively narcissistic era. This is also supported by the influences of consumerism and the instant gratification of digital tools or the combination of these factors. Increasingly, more people are motivated by the “all about me” mentality and their own personal preferences and conveniences, and these motivational influences are just as present in the church today as they are in the secular world. Barna reports the following statistics concerning this shift to self:

• 84% of adults in the U.S., and 66% of practicing Christians, agree that “the highest goal for life is to enjoy it as much as possible.”

• 91% of adults, and 76% of practicing Christians, believe that “the best way to find yourself is to look inside yourself.” 

• 97% of adults, and 91% of practicing Christians, agree that “you have to be true to yourself.” [i]

Remarkably, even though a large percentage seems to agree one can discover their identity by looking within, very few can articulate exactly who they are or what motivates them. In this article, we will discuss some of the nuanced difficulties concerning identity formation, and how it contributes to many of the emotional problems people experience today. It is our hope that by bringing attention to this issue readers will gain greater awareness of identity issues and will be able to then take measures to resolve these issues in their own lives.  

To begin, I would like to point out two opposing viewpoints evidencing the varying extremes that result from one’s understanding of identity formation.  Please keep in mind, what we are seeing with these examples is the result of true and healthy identity formation verses unhealthy identity formation leading to a false self/false identity. Of course, there are other examples, but we will begin with these two so you can get a sense of what we’re talking about in this article. 

Eric Liddell and Harold Abrams

The 1981 British historical film, Chariots of Fire, tells the true story of two runners who compete in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrams, an English Jew, who many would say was running to overcome prejudice.[ii]

There are two quotes in the movie, one from each character, that have become famous. The first quote is from Eric Liddell who says, “When I run, I feel his pleasure,”[iii] The other quote is from Harold Abrams who makes this statement, “When that gun goes off, I have 10 seconds to justify my existence.” No matter how you look at the context—no matter how you slice it—both of these statements are statements about identity and how one views themselves and how they live their life because of it. Each statement represents two varying worldviews concerning identity formation, and these viewpoints exist and prevail with many of the people we meet today.

I came across an interesting quote the other day that was made by Oprah Winfrey. In an interview given at the Tribeca TV Festival Oprah states: 

“Everybody that I ever interviewed…at some point…would say, ‘How was that? Was that OK? How’d I do?’ Whether it was Barack Obama, Beyoncé, the guy who murdered his kids…At the end of every interview, somebody would say, ‘Was that ok?’”[iv]

While many would merely dismiss these statements as coming from overly conscientious people, even Oprah recognized them to be indicative of something much deeper, for these are cries for affirmation, “You’re ok!” “Well done!” The affirming of identity indicative of a search for a sense of validation from others. Even more striking is the fact that these remarks were made extremely successful people! 

Defining Identity

Before we go any further, we must define identity so we will all be informed concerning what it is we’re talking about. Robert Mulholland, in his article on Spirituality & Transformation, defines identity for us in his comments when he writes: 

Identity is the basic issue in transformation. Our character, our way of being in the world, our way of relating to others, our way of responding to the issues and circumstances of our lives all flow from our understanding of our identity. Our identity provides the foundation on which rests our worldview, our value system, and our behavior patterns.[v]

–Robert Mulholland, Spirituality and Transformation

We are social beings who need recognition, and the fact is, we need others to identify us and give us a name and identity. Someone whom we love, respect, approve and esteem must speak to us and recognize us, and this is where our identity comes from. We cannot do this for ourselves. Millions try every day to be noticed by others and it simply does not work and it is exhaustingly crushing. 

This has been recognized by many sociologists and journalists as well and was recognized by Time Magazine some time ago in an article titled, The Year We Obsessed on Our Identity.[vi]  In the article, the writer, Wesley Morris, recognizes the nation’s struggle to discover who we are as individuals and as a country.[vii]

One’s identity is critical to emotional stability and spiritual health. It is unfortunate, but too often identity is mistaken for occupation or what we do. Unfortunately, we tend to evaluate our own meaning, value and purpose, as well as those of others, not by the quality of our being but by what we do and how effectively we do it. It is not uncommon when meeting someone for the first time to be asked what it is you do. When I am asked this question, what it is I do, I respond by telling the other person that I am a teacher and a counselor which both are true since I frequently teach at the Bible College and one of the courses I teach is biblical counseling and I counsel many people throughout the year. As soon as I tell them what I do, I can immediately tell by their body language whether I have their approval and whether they hold me in high regard or not. If they value the concept of teaching, then they will respond favorably toward me. But, within in a minute or so after me telling them that I am a teacher they will ask, “Where do you teach?”  or, “What subject do you teach?” As soon as I tell them I teach from the Bible, or that I teach at the Bible College, their body language will change; sometimes the response will be favorable and other times it will be negative in a non-verbal form of rejection based on their own personal value system. Every time this has happened, the person has not even known my name, yet I have been categorized, labeled, and pigeonholed according to their system of values simply by virtue of what I do.

I lead off with this, simply to emphasize my point, that if you think identity isn’t important or something you can disregard, you’ve got another thing coming. More than ever in this country, identity matters.

Identity Formation

The Western World and the American culture, with its form of identity formation, is probably one of the most psychologically crushing machines in the modern world. Let me give you a brief synopsis, so maybe you can understand what I mean. 

In the US, it is recognized that our teachers and schools, sometimes parents, begin to push us to decide on a particular vocation and course of study at a very early age. By the time we graduate High School, we are to know where we will be studying in college and what our major will be. This, of course, is because of the desire for us to create an identity for ourselves as soon as possible so we can begin our career and earn a living, contribute to the national economy and start a family. 

Conversely, in the Easter hemisphere and Eastern Cultures, the child simply follows in the footsteps of their family. Their family will be modeled after that of their parent’s family and the family household they were raised. They will pursue the same family education, trade and occupation and they receive their identity from the family. For example, if you are of the Chen family, you will follow this particular tradition and heritage. You will be of the same philosophical and religious tradition and follow the same vocation as your family whether it be military, medical/bio-pharmaceutical, engineering or some sort of trade. 

This is not so in the US. In the US, one must create and carve out an identity for themselves by getting an education and then entering into some sort of vocational work. With the advent of social media, we see an increasingly large number of people, particularly in the US, trying to circumvent this route to recognition and success. However, as you will see later in this article, these attempts, regardless of what wealth they may acquire, are artificial forms of identity formation that in the end will not satisfy the person’s psychological or spiritual requirements of fulfillment.  

We see a strong corollary to the Need for Significance we talked about in one of our previous articles with the need to self-identify as they go hand-in-hand contributing toward one another in the creation of the false-self. We call it the “false-self’ as it is not the true self made in the image of God who follows after the plan of God for their life and identity as every believer should find their “true” identity “in Christ.” 

Thomas Merton writes,

For the sinful self is not my real self, it is not the self You have wanted for me, only the self that I have wanted for myself. And I no longer want this false self. But now, Father, I come to You in your own Son’s self…and it is He Who presents me to You.[viii]

–Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 75.

This is my false self—the self of my own making. This self can never be transformed, because it is never willing to receive love in vulnerability. “When this pretend self receives love, it simply becomes stronger and I am even more deeply in bondage to my false ways of living,” writes David Benner.[ix] Therefore, the pursuit of a self-made falseidentity is very destructive, and it is emotionally crushing in a number of ways. For the brevity of time, I will just name a few. 

The Destructive Impact of Creating a False-Identity

We see some of the horribly destructive dynamics of the false identity in our culture at two extremes. For a long time, we have all been aware of the tremendously high suicide rate among young people up to about the age of twenty-five. But very few are aware that the numbers corresponding to suicide of the elderly, particularly those over the age of eight-five, is even higher than that of younger generations. As far as I’m aware, this was first brought to the public’s eye by Time Magazine back in 1987 and this statistic has remained consistently high to the present day for seniors in the US and the Western world.[x]

Why is the suicide rate increasingly high among seniors? Of course, there are numerous reasons for any suicide. I am not suggesting identity is the sole reason for the problem, but I believe one of the underlying realities behind the epidemic of suicide among adolescents and senior citizens is that we are a culture that values people primarily for what they do rather than the quality of their being. In our culture, a persons’ value, meaning and purpose reside primarily in the nature of their work. Teenagers don’t “do” anything. Slinging hamburgers or bagging groceries isn’t “doing” anything—not in our culture’s value system. Therefore, our young adults are struggling to find their identity, struggling to find their personhood, struggling to find their personal integrity, struggling to find who they are in a culture that says you are what you do, but they are not yet ready to do much of anything. This problem is further exacerbated by the American addiction to celebrity and the rich and famous who are constantly paraded before the American public through the media. Every single person tries to measure up to what they see, and every time they sit down and turn on the television or go on the internet, they’re told they’re not good enough because they’re not like the celebrities who have hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter or Instagram, make millions of dollars each year, and have a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars.  This problem is even more frustrating for young people who are desperately trying to achieve yet find it difficult to meet their basic needs and support themselves. 

With our Seniors, what do you think happens to the person who wakes up one morning with a gold watch and a plaque expressing gratitude for forty years of service to the company and has nothing to do? Those who have worked with the newly retired have seen them experience the despair and despondency of suddenly having to wrestle with the reality that what has given their whole life meaning, value, identity and purpose is no longer there. They don’t know who they are anymore. For forty-five to fifty years they have been what they did, and now they don’t do anything anymore. Imagine the man who once commanded the Naval fleet, diminished to sitting at home watching Wheel of Fortune and Shuffleboard in the afternoon. 

Here we see some of the destructive dynamics of a perceptual framework that identifies our value, meaning, purpose and identity by what we do. We live in a culture that has reversed the biblical order of being and doing. 

Being and doing are integrally related, to be sure, but we have to have the order straight. 

Our doing flows out of our being, not the other way around.

As Christians, our identity should come from Christ, rather than the culture around us. If we allow our culture to identity us, then we’re in for a world of hurt and deception. 

Deceptive Cultural Influences on Identity Formation

Earlier in this article we quoted the Barna statistic of 91% of adults, and 76% of practicing Christians, who believe that “the best way to find yourself is to look inside yourself.”[xi] However, what if I told you the person you’re looking for within yourself is not the true you? It is deceptive to say my identity comes from my inner feelings. People say it all the time, “This is who I am—these feelings that I have—this is who I am, and nobody’s telling me who I am, I decide that for myself.” I’m here to tell you today that this particular sentiment is an illusion and deceptive, and here’s why. It is a fallacy to think you can find yourself within your own heart and being because we have discordantly arranged feelings, emotions and information inside, and we will decide to pick and choose which ones to portray at any given time. Your decision to project a particular identity is not what you are, it is simply a projection of information and emotions at the time of the portrayal. Therefore, the image you project to the world around you is not your true self, but a character you have chosen to play. What you must ask yourself is, “Why am I choosing this emotion over the other at this particular time?” You must ask yourself, “Why am I choosing this particular data set of emotions, information and image to project at this particular time in my life?” 

Let me further explain:

The world, media, our schools and families feed us information and inform our ideas and perceptions, and then based on what we know and the information we’re given, we then choose what to accept and believe and which identity and role to play. 

Timothy Keller, to illustrate this point, uses the following example in his book, Making Sense of God:

Imagine twelve hundred years ago an Anglo-warrior sees something and feels the emotion of aggression—he likes to smash people, and he looks at himself and he likes this feeling of aggression and he says to himself, “That’s me, I’m going to express myself through acts of aggression.” On the other hand, he also feels another emotion inside and that is the feeling of same-sex attraction. However, he denies that feeling and says, “That’s not me. I will deny that feeling.” Now on the other hand, for example, you have a man living in 21st century Manhattan, and he looks into his heart and discovers these same emotions the Anglo-warrior dealt with. He looks inside and recognizes the feeling of aggression and the urge to smash people. He sees that and he says to himself, “I need therapy!  I need anger management!” But then he looks into his heart and finds same-sex attraction and says, “That’s me!” “I must be gay!  I must be homosexual!” the person says to his or herself.[xii]

–Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, 126.

Now why is that? What’s going on?  Here’s what’s going on. 

The Anglo-warrior is from a Shame and Honor culture, and that culture was based on the thought that society will fall apart if we don’t respect strength and power. Therefore, they had the idea that the best thing you can do for society is that if someone crosses you is to kill them. Because otherwise the social fabric will unravel! His identity and actions were supported by his culture that was telling him that his acts of aggression were authorized and approved because they were good for his community. 

But guess what? Our modern culture is doing the same thing concerning homosexuality, and guess what, when you look inside you’re not just looking at yourself, but you’re looking through a grid that, whether you like it or not, has been forced upon you by your culture and worldview and that influences and authorizes you to be what you are. 

Next time you hear about another elementary aged child deciding their homosexual or transgenders in the school bathroom, remember this talk. This is why we have this problem of rising numbers of individuals struggling with issues of identity. If you talk to them about their identity, particularly after they have already decided their homosexual, they will deny that they have an identity problem as they feel fairly self-assured that they know who they are, but they do not. They have no idea how deceived they are. 

You, when you look inside, are merely deciding which character to play today. This is why we find so many choosing to be one thing for a few years, and then later change their mind a go a completely different direction. They laugh it off and call it a phase, but really this is at the root of it. It’s an illusion to think you can name yourself—to think that you decide who you are. Whether you like it or not, your family and/or your culture does that for you. Your identity comes from outside yourself. 

We must get our beliefs from somewhere, and most are picked up unconsciously from our culture or our community—whether ethnic or academic, professional or familial. Every community has “a set of understandings and evaluations [about life] that it has worked out over time.” 

Robert Bellah in his book, Habits of the Heart, says rather profoundly, 

The irony is that here, too, just where we [modern people] think we are most free, we are most coerced by the dominant beliefs of our own culture. For it is a powerful cultural fiction that we not only can, but must, make up our deepest beliefs in the isolation of our private selves.[xiii]

–Robert Bellah, Habits of the Heart, 65.

He goes on to say that modern people simply cannot see how much of their identities they owe to others. 

Crushing

It has been argued by many from the Western world that older, non-western cultures are suffocating because you have to be what your parents tell you to be. But at least if all you have to do is be a good son or daughter, that doesn’t have the pressure associated with it that having to figure out who you are places on a person today. In the Western culture today, you have to figure out who you are all on your own, you have to have a dream and then you have to set out to achieve it. As if it all were within the power and control of the individual to fulfill every lofty thought that enters into their head. No wonder suicide stats are through the roof in America. It’s exhausting and it is crushing!

Remember Harold Abrams, of Chariots of Fire fame. Remember his statement about running the 100-metre race and how he defended all of his hard work and training toward his goal. 

Abrams said: 

When that gun goes off, I’ve got 10 seconds to justify my existence.” 

–Harold Abrams, Chariots of Fire

For Abrams, his identity was derived through his athletic performance on the track. It is crushing for one’s total existence to be justified by their performance, as if to say, they either live or die based on the next 10-seconds or the passing of some contest.

If we don’t look to God, if we don’t look to community and we only look to ourselves to achieve our identity—it sounds like freedom but really it’s only a crushing burden that we place on ourselves because, if this is the case, we now have to do it all on our own, and the expectation we place on ourselves is crushing. “I’ve got 10 seconds to justify my existence.” This is simply horrifying!

You may dismiss this as being a singular isolated incident, but it is not. This same logic—this same thought pattern—rolls through the minds of millions of people repeatedly throughout every day of their existence.

When we make anything—a career, or a particular vocation, or a body type, or a relationship our identity, those things stop being good things and they begin to crush you. Abrams was an excellent runner, but he was running for the wrong reason and it was killing him.

The Source of Identity

Every culture has a way of instilling a sense of self and worth through stories, songs, slogans and traditions. It is a way you get yourself and it is self-evident. We cannot fabricate our own identity. As mentioned earlier, our culture, family and others have to name us and give us our identity. 

JRR Tolkien picks up on this concept when he writes: “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”[xiv]

Someone from outside yourself, that you respect and value their opinion, must name you and give you your identity. We look to schools, pastors, doctors, parents—but someone held in esteem must identify you. 

Personal Story

One of the reasons I feel the need for Christians and counselors of all types to recognize the importance of the issue of identity is because I have personally experienced much of what I am talking about in my own personal life. 

I was raised by very good American middle-class parents with good morals and ethics. However, they were also the product of their culture, so Elvis was king, and the Beetles were like royalty in our home. I was enrolled in music courses at a fairly young age and was encouraged to continue into my adult years. The subliminal message I received from my family and culture was that if you wanted to be someone, you would be an entertainer, a musician or something like that. Eventually, I ran my course with it and the Lord delivered me from that weight.

One night I played a concert with a well-known Jazz orchestra at the Disneyland Hotel at a benefit for Carl Karcher of the Carl’s Jr fast-food chain. The orchestra sounded great that night, and I played a number of sax solos over the course of the evening. When Carl was called to the podium to give his acceptance speech, he made it a point to walk all the way around the room to the bandstand on the side of the room. He walked up to me and pointed at me and said, “You’re good!” He told me he really enjoyed my playing and thanked me for praying at the event that night. Man, regardless of critics or what anyone else thought about my playing that night, it really made my day that someone noteworthy like Carl Karcher told me I was a good musician. 

A number of years later, while at a seminar at the Calvary Chapel Bible College I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Norman Geisler. I was minding my own business, but Dr. Geisler had seen me taking notes during his presentation and sought me out. He spent a few hours with me that day. He was very insistent I go back to school and seminary and pursue my interests in theology. Because of Dr. Geisler, I later did just that. I did not realize how our talk that day would so shape the course of the rest of my life but it has in significant ways. Someone has to name you. Someone, outside yourself, shapes and gives you an identity. It is not something that we fabricate on our own. “The praises of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”[xv]

Dr. Geisler was a great Christian man and an incredible theologian, so his investment of time with me that day impacted me in ways others could not. However, while doctor Geisler was no slouch and certainly a great man, he was no match in comparison to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the creator of heaven and earth, has named me as His chosen elect and bestowed upon me the status of son and made me heir to His eternal kingdom.  So, I must ask myself, and you should ask yourself the same question: “If Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe, confers upon me the status of co-heir to His eternal kingdom, then how much more should I regard His gift of adoption and live in the reality of the new identity that has been bestowed upon me by Him?”

Once you get what Jesus Christ has done for you down to a naming level, and that love associated with it wells up inside you, then He will be in your heart and impact your identity and life. You will no longer feel the need to prove yourself or create an identity for yourself, because your identity will be found in Him! 

The Bible Teaches that Identity Comes from Outside the Person

As I read through Scripture, I find that this principle of a person’s identity being imparted by someone else is given to us very early on. But one of the more profound examples, for me, is from the life of King David. 

After many struggles and much bloodshed, David finally begins to reign over Israel. But we read just prior to the conquest of Jerusalem this exchange that takes place between David and the Elders of the Tribes of Israel. In 2 Samuel 5:1-3 Scripture states:

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, ‘Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel, and your will be a ruler over Israel.’” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the Lord at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel.[xvi]

–2 Samuel 5:1-3

Please note:

  • The exchange took place between Elders from every Tribe
  • The Elders acknowledged David’s familial heritage
  • They recognize David’s leadership of their people and nation
  • They acknowledge God’s anointing of David as a Shepherd over His people
  • They make a covenant with David, and anoint him as their King

But there is more. If we read further, verses 11-12 say:

Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David. And David realized that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.

–2 Samuel 5:11-12

What we find is the King of Tyre sent messengers and craftsman as a gift to build him a house. Then it says, 

And David realized that the Lord had established him as King over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel.

–2 Samuel 5:12

This is amazing!  In other words, even though David had previously been anointed by the prophet Samuel, it was not until the people themselves and neighboring rulers recognized him that his kingdom was validated and what God predicted was fulfilled in David’s eyes. 

God promised he would be king, but the people had to recognize him as king before it was so. The recognition of others led to ratification or realization of the promises of God! 

I remember Tim Keller using this quote from Annie Dillard and I think it is appropriate. 

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”[xvii] 

–Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

When David’s people and neighboring nations recognized David’s calling and anointing to be king, it was validated in David’s heart and he knew it was time to rise to the occasion and fulfill his role as the nation’s king. With this we see that Scripture affirms the concept that identity as being given to us from outside ourselves. 

Someone in your life must say, “I see you and I know who you are!”  

Many seek to gain an identity through various relationships. This is really the same as “self-identifying” or doing it for yourself, rather than legitimate identity formation. 

An identity is only as sure as the one who imparts it on the individual. If the relationship the identity is derived from is founded on sinking sand, then the identity is not as sure as one may hope. 

There’s only one Person who can truly authorize you. Somebody who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you…I love you.”

The gospels depict this truth about Jesus. In the garden, that first morning when Jesus was resurrected, and the woman encounters Jesus at the empty tomb. 

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher).[xviii] 

–John 20:16

Notice, Jesus doesn’t say, “Come here, slave!” But He calls her by name, “Mary…”  

 “My sheep know my voice. I call them by name, and I lead them out,” Jesus said (John 10:3).

Jesus said, “He calls His sheep out by name and… He is the good shepherd” “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:3, 14). 

We have all heard for several decades now, psychologists talking about self-esteem. 

Think about this. If it’s really true that “the praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards,” as suggested by Tolkien in the Two Towers.[xix] This would have to mean that it is only when you have the esteem of someone you esteem that you will truly have your own sense of self-esteem. In other words, only if you have the adoration of someone who you hold in high regard and who adores you, that you will receive an identity of self-worth. 

Then, to know God loves you, the Lord of the Universe loves you, that would have to give you the most powerful basis for an identity that is possible. 

Much more, the acceptance of God and the identity He provides is not based on performance, so it is sustainable and does not involve competition against others to prove ourselves. 

The apostle Paul writes: 

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

–Titus 3:5-7

Believers have a rich inheritance in Christ as a result of the finished work (salvific work / atoning work) of Christ.

New Testament believers—lovers of God through Jesus Christ—have been adopted into the family of God.

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

–Galatians 4:1-7

The Apostle John writes, 

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

–John 1:12-13

As C. S. Lewis memorably put it:

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”[xx]

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 62.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, famous British Preacher, was known for presenting this question to people who had doubts about their faith. He would ask, “right now are you a Christian? Are you a child of God?”  If the person said “Well, I’m trying…” Lloyd-Jones knew they didn’t really understand what it means to be a Christian at all (Lloyd-Jones, The Assurance of Salvation, 423).

In other words, here’s a person who still relates to God as a hired hand, rather than a Son. They don’t understand Sonship at all. A son doesn’t have to earn his identity. He is either a son or he is not a son. It has nothing to do with earning a place in the family. 

So many in the church today view themselves more like hired hands or stepchildren, rather than being a Son or child of God. This in and of itself is evident that they have no comprehension of their Christian identity. 

A close reading of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son helps to clear this up. 

Application for Christian Counseling and Discipleship

Christian identity resolves many of contemporary societies psychological, emotional and spiritual problems:

  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Violence / Aggression
  • Schizophrenia (mental breakdown and withdrawal from reality)
  • Depression
  • Narcissism
  • Adultery

Once the person’s identity is realized, they will truly fall in love with the Lord, and their relationship in Christ will become the default position and their “go to” posture, then they will be able to overcome many of the sins of the flesh and their emotional problems. 


[i] Ventura Barna Group CA, The State of DISCIPLESHIP: A Barna Report Produced in Partnership with The Navigators, 2015.

[ii] The Jewish Telegraph article explains how the producers of Chariots of Fire envisioned the films depiction of an English Jew who battled against prejudice through his running, Jewish Telegraph (2012), accessed on June 13, 2020, https://www.jewishtelegraph.com/greatf_6.html. See also Simon Round, “Ben Cross: the challenges of playing Harold Abrams in Chariots of Fire,” The Jewish Chronicle (July 12, 2012), accessed June 13, 2020, https://www.thejc.com/lifestyle/interviews/ben-cross-the-challenges-of-playing-harold-abrahams-in-chariots-of-fire-1.34320

[iii] Nikolai Berdyaev, “Testimony: The Making of an Original,” Christianity Today (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2000), 59.

[iv] Oprah Winfrey quoted in the blog Article: A Love Supreme: By Faith Alone, Romans 3:23 (Oct 1, 2017), accessed on May 30, 2020, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5851d4ed1b631b55ebaed251/t/59cd1a8290badefdc2508843/1506613892047/SermonStudy_October1_2017.pdf

[v] M. Robert Mulholland Jr., “Spirituality and Transformation,” ed. Glen G. Scorgie, Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 216.

[vi] Wesley Morris, The Year We Obsessed Over Identity (October 6, 2015) the New York Times Magazine, accessed February 9, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/11/magazine/the-year-we-obsessed-over-identity.html

[vii] Ibid. 

[viii] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1958), 75. 

[ix] David G. Benner and M. Basil Pennington, Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2015).

[x] Suicide rates are particularly high among older men, with men aged 75 and older having the highest suicide rate of any group in the nation, at 39.7 deaths per 100,000 adults compared to women aged 75 and older who have a suicide rate of 4.0 per 100,000 adults in 2017. In general, rates of suicide are higher among men than in women at all ages despite depression being higher in women of all ages. Senior Report, America’s Health Rankings: United Health Foundation. Data Source: CDC WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death, Multiple Cause of Death files, 2017, accessed May 14, 2020, https://www.americashealthrankings.org/explore/senior/measure/Suicide_sr_a/state/ALL  See also (Modern Maturity, June-July 1987, 13 cited by M. Robert Mulholland Jr and Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2016).

[xi] Ventura Barna Group CA, The State of DISCIPLESHIP: A Barna Report Produced in Partnership with The Navigators, 2015.

[xii] Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (New York: Redeemer; Viking, 2016), 126–128.

[xiii] Robert Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan and Ann Swidler, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life(Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), 65. “The American understanding of the autonomy of the self, places the burden of one’s own deepest self-definitions on one’s own individual choice.… The notion that one discovers one’s deepest beliefs in, and through, tradition and community is not very congenial to Americans. Most of us imagine an autonomous self, existing independently, entirely outside any tradition and community.”

[xiv] Tolkien, J.R.R.. “The Two Towers,” The Lord of the Rings: One Volume. HMH Books, p. 682. Kindle Edition.

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] All Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995, 2 Samuel 5:1-3. 

[xvii] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, (HarperCollins e-books, 2009) quoted by Timothy Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).

[xviii] John 20:16

[xix] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers: The Lord of the Rings: One Volume. HMH Books, p. 682. Kindle Edition.

[xx] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 178 in Jonathan Landry Cruse, The Christian’s True Identity: What It Means to Be in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 62.