Embracing Your Core Identity
Unsettled. A church a couple of hours away invited me to speak, but panic began to set in as I pulled up: the parking lot was already full! I thought I was half an hour early. Had I got the time wrong?
I had. I walked in the front doors as the service began, feeling embarrassed, incompetent, and exposed in front of a couple hundred people.
Everything turned out okay. Of course, I’m sure the pastor of that church nervous, but nothing bad happened. I don’t want to repeat that mistake; it threatened one of my false identities: that I’m a competent, professional person who never makes mistakes. When I couldn’t sustain that self-image, I felt crushed.
The Danger of False Identities
False identities are limitless and easy to embrace. The world tells us that we can embrace any identity we want. As a result, we settle on identities usually based on our performance and/or appearance: successful, competent, polished, and popular.
Most of the time, we’re able to maintain these false identities. I generally show up on time. I prepare well and usually do a pretty good job. But sometimes I fail, and when I do, that identity cracks, and it can feel like I’ve lost everything.
According to a personality test, I fear exposure as or thought incompetent or failing to appear successful. My core desire is to be admired and respected. In other words, it’s tempting to build my identity on how I appear to others, which is bad news when I can’t keep up appearances.
When we live a false identity, we build our lives on a foundation that’s guaranteed to crumble. Leaving us in a state of mental, emotional, and spiritual turmoil.
Discovering our Core Identity
The solution is simple: embrace my core identity as a child of God. Doing that requires that I identify and relinquish any false identities that might be causing me to be less than (or sometimes try to appear more than) who and what I am. Accepting my identity in Christ brings freedom, resting in the security that’s found in Jesus alone.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, your core identity is that you are a child of God. “He predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he lavished on us in the Beloved One,” writes Paul in Ephesians 1:5-6. John 1:12 reminds us: “But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God.”
Your core identity is that God chose you. He knew everything about you, yes, even what you don’t like to admit to yourself, and chose you. As Adam Ramsay says, “Jesus is not disillusioned with you, because he never had any illusions about who you ever were in the first place.”1
Not only that, but our standing with God isn’t based on our performance. It’s based on His grace, grace that has been lavished on us. God isn’t stingy with grace; He will never hold out on giving us the grace that we need, and our need for His grace will never exhaust His supply. All of this is based on Jesus’s performance, not our imperfect ones.
To be a child of God means that we enjoy an intimate and affectionate relationship with God. God loves us, and His love isn’t based on what we do, but who we are in Jesus. I love what my grandson does, but I don’t love him because of what he does. I simply love him because he’s my grandson.
We must find our core identity core identity in who God says we are. It’s based on who you are in Christ, not on how well you measure up.
How to Live Out of Your Core Identity
I’ve found two practices helpful.
First, I try to recognize when I begin to live out of a false identity. So, whenever I begin to think that I matter because of my performance — which I often do — I try to catch myself. The goal isn’t to feel bad about my tendency to do this; it’s to recognize that I’m beginning to believe a lie that will hurt me. I still try to perform well, but I try to avoid basing my value on my performance.
Second, I try to regularly remind myself of what’s true no matter what else changes: I am God’s child. He loves me not because of anything I’ve done, but simply because He’s gracious. Even in my worst moments, His love for me is changeless.
In the end, our identity isn’t about what we do or about how well we perform. God loves us and chose us, and that changes everything.