What’s the first question most people ask when they’re introduced to someone? “What do you do for a living?” In other words, let me size you up based on the perceived importance of your job.
The Identity Roller Coaster
There’s a very real (and dangerous) temptation to attach your identity to your activity . . . that is, to draw your sense of worth from your career or ministry or even your role as a mother, husband, wife, or any other activity that you identify with as doing well.
This always places you on an emotional roller coaster of misery because you start working towards an identity rather than from one.
Whether or not you have a good day will start to depend on if you felt affirmed for the activity from which you derive your identity. If you feel like you’re getting the results you want out of life – and people affirm you for those results – you’re on a high! If you miss the mark, and the laundry is stacking up or your goals aren’t accomplished as fast as you planned, or you’re missing your quotas at work, you feel depressed, insecure, and your sense of self-worth is in the gutter. Usually we end up taking our insecurities out on our friends and family . . . and that only makes us feel worse!
I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I’m a pastor, and I can tell you that those in ministry aren’t immune to the temptation to base our worth on our performance. On the contrary, in many cases this attack from the enemy is magnified.
The quality of a ministry leader’s Monday is often connected to how well we think things went on Sunday. There’s a temptation to measure success by what we call “weekend metrics” (church attendance, number of commitments to Christ, baptisms, etc.). These are all important things and in my opinion are good to track, but if you look to them for your identity, it will always produce a broken heart because in the eyes of the leader, it’s never going to be enough – ever.
So you’ll start to feel discouraged. You’ll feel like a failure and start to question your own ability, calling, and sense of purpose. Eventually, you’ll hear voices of condemnation pointing out all of your shotcomings and trying to convince you to quit. Whether you’re a ministry leader, a stay at home mom, or business owner , if you’ve ever heard any of these voices in your life, it could be because you’re working from a performance based identity.
The next phase of this trap is peer comparison. You’ll start comparing yourself to friends, family, or other people in your line of work. Instead of looking to Jesus within you, you look to those around you for validation. This comparison causes you to view people as competition, which strains relationships that could be good and life giving but instead are full of indifference and suspicion because you see other people as a threat to your identity.
But here’s what I want you to know – your identity is not in your work, ministry, or the roles you play at home. Your identity is in Christ and Christ alone.
Galatians 2:20 (ESV) says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Whether you win or lose, succeed or fail, lose your temper with your spouse or exercise patience – Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. He’ll never be ashamed of you or turn His back on you. He’s the only One Who can keep seeing the best in you even when you feel like you’re at your worst.
The sink full of dishes or the sales calls that didn’t produce any sales have no bearing whatsoever on the fact that Jesus calls you His own and your value in His eyes will never change.
If you’re a pastor or serve in ministry, I want to speak to you for a minute...
You need to know that if not one single soul responded to your invitation to accept Christ on Sunday, God still loves you, affirms you, and calls you His own son or daughter. The size of your building, congregation, or children’s ministry have ZERO bearing on your value or worth because your identity isn’t in your activity . . . it’s in Christ. Regardless of where you think you’re missing it right now – you are called, chosen, anointed, favored, and full of destiny . . . not because of how good or bad your Sunday went but because of how unfailing, constant, and extravagant His love is.
Refuse to compare, compete, or cave to the voice of the enemy.
Your True Identity
Maybe you can’t relate to this because you’re living your best life. Maybe you’re killing it at work and at home, and you feel like you’re hitting your stride. Or, if you’re a pastor, maybe you had an incredible Sunday, and all the important numbers are up! In that case I have a message for you . . .
Your amazing weekend metrics and the number of compliments you received after the service have ZERO bearing on your value or worth because your identity isn’t in your activity . . . it’s in Christ. ‘Sound familiar? That’s right! Your identity is in Christ, not the good or bad results of your own efforts.
For an unguarded heart, the only thing more dangerous than a bad Sunday (if you’re a ministry leader) is a good one. Performance based affirmation can be more addictive than the world’s most powerful street drug, and once you’re addicted you’ll keep chasing that feeling even to the point of compromising your integrity to get it – and you’ll do it all in the name of Jesus.
And the joy and peace that Jesus wants to produce inside of us will become something we look for outside of us. It’s not that God is trying to hurt you . . . He’s actually protecting you. By delaying your success or promotion, the Father is teaching you to find your identity in His Son.
Stay focused on Jesus, and find your identity in Him and His affirmation lest you place your identity in your activity and end up leaving the place of God’s promised rest in order to chase after that feeling next week, and then the next week, and the next….
How to Keep Your Identity In Christ.
1 – Admit that we all have trouble keeping our identity in Christ.
From time to time, all of us struggle to find our identity in Christ. Sometimes you’ll keep it for awhile, but eventually you’ll be tempted once again to tie your identity to your activity.
That’s why I believe the first key to walking in this victory is transparency with other people we love and can trust with this struggle – because guess what? They are struggling with this too. In my opinion this is why the Bible tells us to keep meeting together and keep encouraging each other (Hebrews 10:25). Just like us, the early believers struggled with the New Covenant idea that God loves and accepts us and that we’re His by faith and faith alone. We no longer have to keep trying to earn His approval (aka tie your identity to your activity). There’s something so very healing about being honest about this struggle with others. This can be hard for many of us who have served the Lord for years and therefore feel embarrassed to admit that we wrestle to hold on to what feels like an elementary principle of faith . . . but the truth is that everyone has this same battle from time to time.
2 – Reacquaint yourself with the true Gospel.
I’ve never been more convinced that the church needs to reclaim the New Covenant reality of God’s unearned grace and favor (Ephesians 2:8-9). In this season of life and ministry, I’m spending most of my time studying this truth. I believe that the systemic problem with our identity in Christ can be traced back to our ingrained old covenant mentality of always feeling like we have to earn God’s love and approval – feeling like we’re never good enough. This spills into every other chamber of our hearts, impacting all of our relationships and how we see the world. Thank God for the Gospel and the New Covenant of grace!
3 – Reacquaint yourself with the Biblical model of spiritual fathers (and mothers).
So often we struggle to find security in our identity because we don’t have enough fathers and mothers in the faith to serve as a mouthpiece for God to speak through. The Apostle Paul said it this way, “Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Corinthians 4:15 NIV). I fear we still don’t have many fathers – and it shows. When the voice of a father is absent, deep-seated insecurity is present in sons and daughters. All throughout the Bible we see this model of leadership and mentoring. We see it in the relationship between Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy & Silas, and Elizabeth and Mary. Oftentimes people don’t experience Jesus in person until they experience Jesus in a person.
Fathers and Mothers in the faith play a different role from that of a mentor. While they do mentor us, they do so much more. They speak to the God-given potential within us; they always call us back to character and integrity; and they help us become who God called us to be. When we start to get off-track, they point us to Jesus and often serve as one of His chief voices of affirmation in our lives. If you don’t have a father or mother in the faith, I urge you to pray that God would help you identify one and help you build a dynamic relationship with them.
Jesus loves you. He’s proud of you and affirms you as a son or daughter. He’s with you and for you. That’s where your identity comes from, and there’s nothing the enemy or anyone else can do to change that – including you!
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1a NIV)