Have you noticed we’ve barely talked about you?
You started reading this series because you saw that it was about finding your identity and all we’ve done is talk about stuff you already know about Jesus, right?
Here’s my challenge: If you already know it, why aren’t you living it? If you’ve been set free from all of those things that I mentioned in part 4, why aren’t you living in that freedom every day?
In fact, why isn’t anyone really living in that freedom? If so many people call themselves Christians and fill the churches every Sunday, where are all the free people?
A Fancy Word Called Sanctification
In John 11, Jesus does something miraculous. Jesus arrives on the scene to a weeping and grieving family after the death of their brother Lazarus. Jesus weeps with them, comforts them, and then takes them to the grave site and asks them to do something that makes no sense. Jesus asked Mary and Martha to remove the stone that was lying against the cave where Lazarus was lying dead.
“ ‘Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days’ ” Martha says to Jesus (John 11:39). Why in the world would Jesus be asking them to do something like this?
Jesus then goes on to pray out loud to the Father and then, “he shouted with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unwrap him and let him go’ ” (John 11:43-44).
In parts 3 and 4 we talked about how we are dead apart from Christ and there is nothing we can do to make ourselves alive again. We have been severed from the source of life — but God intervened. He put on flesh and emptied himself of his power to die on a cross.
He died and then defeated death so that we could be given new life.
Jesus brings us from death to life!
The problem? We still look dead.
Just like how Lazarus walked out of that grave looking like a straight mummy, we may accept Christ during the high of a church camp and we return home feeling the same as we did before, talking the same, thinking the same, and looking the same to the rest of the world.
We are alive inside, but we still look dead.
So, just like how Jesus tasked Mary and Martha to remove Lazarus’s grave clothes, we need help removing our grave clothes after Jesus brings us to life.
This process is called sanctification: “But now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the outcome is eternal life!” (Romans 6:22).
This fancy word means the process of removing everything in us that looks like death instead of life. It’s removing the sin that has entangled and ensnared us in its grip. It’s removing thought and speech patterns that Jesus died to defeat. It’s the process of transformation to make us look more like Jesus and less like our sinful, selfish selves.
So many Christians have stopped their relationship with Jesus at “saved” and missed out on the freedom he gives because they didn’t go through the process of removing the grave clothes of death. Nothing about them has changed since being made alive by Jesus.
Jesus died not just so that we may be saved, but so that we may be utterly transformed.
Removing the Grave Clothes
So, what are our grave clothes?
Removing our grave clothes is honestly a life-long experience. We will not go through the process of sanctification without Jesus. In fact, it is entirely the work of Jesus—we just have to be willing to surrender to his work and lordship in our lives every day. We have to be willing to trust that what he has for us is “immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
There are 6 false sources that have wrapped us up in grave clothes of death. 6 places where we’ve found an identity and proceeded to let it rob us of who we really are. 6 places that have heaped on the grave clothes since the very beginning of our lives.
It’s time to start unwrapping.
- You Are Not Who The World Says You Are
The world is loud and confusing and contradicting. It tells us we need to lose weight, to work out more, to be successful, to make more money, to eat healthy food, to change our hair, to have better style, to be sexier, to be smarter, to be stronger, to be more independent, to be in a perfect relationship and to be awesome at everything we ever do (and be loved by everyone in the process).
The underlying message that the world gives us is that we are not any of those things and we need to work our hardest to be those things.
It’s in subliminal messages through the media. Think about it: How are women usually portrayed in movies and TV and music? Cute, sexy, strong, independent (but not too independent to where they aren’t still attractive to men).
The world tells us who we need to be and we strive for that picture without even thinking about it.
We can see it in the way we post on social media—are we aiming for that cute, sexy, strong, fun woman we see on TV? Are we aiming for that careless, reckless, fun guy we see on TV?
We’ve bought into the world’s idea of an identity by trying to become the best versions of ourselves. We’ve mimicked what we see in the media without even realizing it.
And still, we’re left feeling empty, alone, and unworthy despite our avid search for identity.
Take some time to pay attention to the shows you binge, the movies you watch, the YouTubers you follow, the music you listen to, the social media accounts you follow.
Then take a look at your own thought-patterns and decisions. How are you making small decisions to be like what you’re seeing every day? How are you letting the world determine who you are?
- You Are Not Who The Accuser Says You Are
The reality is that we have an enemy. An enemy greater than the person you’re most jealous of or that guy who keeps stealing the girls you like.
This enemy is called Satan and his name really just means “the accuser.” Don’t pay attention to the way TV portrays Satan. Satan is less about making you do bad things and more about destroying your identity so that you don’t live a life out of love for God.
If he can destroy your identity as a loved child of God, he’ll destroy your whole life. When we don’t know our identity in Christ, we live for ourselves. That’s exactly what the accuser wants.
Jesus warned us about the Accuser: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance” (John 10:10).
All the Accuser needs to do is feed us a little lie and we will run with it.
“You’re not good enough. Don’t even try.”
“No one cares about you.”
“You made enough mistakes, might as well keep going.”
“You ruined your life.”
“No one loves you.”
“You’ll never make it.”
“You need him to love you to be whole.”
“Jesus can’t heal you.”
“God doesn’t exist.”
“No one would care if you died.”
“This pain will never end.”
Revelation 12 says that the Accuser accuses us day and night (v. 10). The Accuser feeds us lies that make us question the love God has for us.
We take the lies and run away from God because we think they’re true.
As loud as the lies may be, you are not who the Accuser says you are. He has to flee when we fight those lies with the truth of God’s word. One way to fight these lies is to write them down, say them out loud, then find scripture that directly combats those lies. Memorize it. Write it everywhere.
Every night before falling a sleep, name three lies you believed today and combat it with three truths. We must get into the practice of fighting the sneaky lies that are stealing our freedom, killing our love, and destroying our relationship with Jesus.
- You Are Not Who People Say You Are
Have you ever taken the time to really think about what people have said about you? It’s not too hard to remember some of the most painful things that people have said, but it can be very difficult to remember the encouraging things people have said.
“I don’t like her. She’s too skinny.” — The boy I liked in 7th grade when asked if he liked me.
“Look at her little chicken legs run!” — The soccer coach at a camp I went to at the age of 9. I never went back.
What have people said to you? Maybe it was closer to home for you. Maybe some of the most painful things that have been said to you have come out of the mouth of your own family.
Many of us have heaps of grave clothes on us because of what people have said about us over the years. It may have been a small comment or a consistent lie over the course of years—either way, their words have etched deep scars into our souls.
What have people said about you? Do you believe it? No, really. Do you believe it?
Sure, I’m more content with the body that God has given me, but mention that I don’t eat much and I’ll have flashbacks to what people said to me in middle school. It hasn’t fully gone away. It still stings a little.
We’d be lying if we said we’re not affected by what people have said to us over the course of our lives — even if they ended up apologizing in the end.
What have people said about you? What still plays back in your head from time to time? What experiences or words trigger memories of painful things that have been said about you?
Take some time to examine this in your own life and ask yourself if you’ve been letting it define you.
You are not who people say you are.
- You Are Not Who Your Experiences Say You Are
Rejection. Abuse. Heartbreak. Death. Suffering. Failure. Divorce. Lies. Secrets. Loss. Trauma.
Or even success.
Our experiences shape who we are. But did you know that it’s not supposed to be that way?
Sure, our experiences can help us understand who we are, but they do not determine our identity.
When I was in middle school I quit soccer and started trying out for plays. During my first audition I was terrified as I performed a shaky monologue and awkward rendition of “Walking on Sunshine.”
I didn’t make it.
But J.K. Rowling was rejected. And wasn’t Michael Jordan also rejected at some point?
So I kept trying.
I tried out for 6 plays and didn’t make a single one. Failure became my identity. I believed I was a failure. I believed that I would never experience success. I cried in the audience every time I went to go see a play that I didn’t make. I backed away from my best friend because she got a big role in every play I didn’t make. I assumed I wasn’t good enough to be her friend anymore.
Our experiences threaten to give us a false identity. We experience something life-changing and immediately tack on an identity because of it. It can be a seemingly small and insignificant or an earth-shattering experience—we will always end up creating a false identity around our experiences.
What are your experiences saying about you? What experiences play in your head as you’re trying to fall asleep at night? What experiences have given you fear that you can’t seem to shake? Process them in prayer with God so that you may understand how your experiences have given you a false identity.
- You Are Not What You Do
This one may be the one we need to hear the most. But let me say it again: You are not what you do.
We all build identities around what we do. It’s the way the world works. Every one of us has fallen victim to finding our identity in what we do.
We find our identities in what sports we play, what after school activities we’re involved in, what role we got in the school play, the grades we get, how hard we work in school, what colleges we were accepted to, how often we volunteer at church, how good we are at something, how much we’ve pleased our parents, what we do for our friends.
When you find your identity in what you do, your joy is always contingent upon your success. If you lose your ability or fail or get injured or get cut from the team, it’s devastating because you built your entire identity on it.
You can know you are placing your identity in what you do if you experience anxiety because of it. You could also experience some form of devastation or even depression when you fail. It may consume your thoughts and keep you up at night. If you failed or stopped doing these things, you wouldn’t really know what to do or who you are.
I personally struggle to not find my identity in how good of a teacher I am or how much of my time I invest in student ministry. I pat myself on the back when people like me—it keeps me going and keeps me feeling good about myself. When a parent is remotely upset with how I teach, I’m devastated.
Where are you finding your identity? Dig into what you do and whether or not you’re finding your identity in those things. Then, boldly ask God to use those things for His glory and not yours. Then, ask Him to replace it with the identity He gave you.
- You Are Not Who You Want to Be
This is blatantly against what the world is telling you, so it might seem unnatural—but you are not who you want to be. I wrote an entire post on this idea and you can see it here.
The world says that you can choose what you want to be. The world says that you can be whoever you want to be if you just work hard enough to get there.
But the world is wrong.
Not that you can’t work hard to achieve a dream — I’m not a dream-killer — but you don’t get to decide who you are.
When you choose to follow Jesus with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength, you give up everything to let Jesus define you.
And that’s a very good thing.
Well, first of all, you didn’t create yourself. You didn’t carefully choose what gifts you would possess and how perfectly those gifts would be used in the lives of others around you at just the right time. You didn’t decide how your gifts would perfectly compliment other people so that God would be glorified when you join with other Christians. God did all of that.
And remember, on our own we are deeply selfish and sinful and broken and dead. It is only by the death and resurrection of Jesus that we’ve been given life. Jesus gives us an identity that is far beyond what we can ever imagine.
Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us.”
Jesus has given us an identity that goes beyond the love of a parent, the acceptance of a friend group, the success of a sport, the affection of a boyfriend, or all A’s on a report card.
If our identity is far beyond what we can imagine, then it’s best to let the Creator do his work and yield ourselves to the identity he gives us.
So, what exactly does it mean to have an identity in Christ? What is your identity if you’re following Jesus with your whole heart? What is this unimaginable identity that is far beyond what we could imagine?
We’ll learn that and practical steps to walk in it in part 6 of the Live Free series! Click here to move on to part 6.