“I know, I know…” she said, “I just need to find my identity in Jesus.”
She seemed certain that this was the answer to her problems. She also seemed to despair of ever achieving the feat.
Many people have spoken to me of their burden to “find their identity in Jesus. It’s the subject of countless conferences, sermons, books and blogs. But when I try to picture exactly what finding my identity will look like, I draw a mental blank. Same with my concordance search… I type “identity” into my Bible software and nothing. So I go looking for verses on “finding myself” or other such phrases and I discover passages like this:
Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
According to Jesus, the trick is not “finding my identity in Jesus.” Instead, it’s losing my identity in Jesus. Certainly, the promise is that, then, I’ll find it. But the finding seems to be something that’s totally in Jesus’ gift. For me, the focus is the losing. Especially since it’s contrasted with those “losers” who are always trying to “find themselves”!
And then you read Jesus’ stories about lost and found and it’s very instructive. Jesus only seems interested in the lost (Luke 15). There’s the lost sheep and the lost coin – neither of which can be said to have found themselves. And then there’s the lost son. He definitely tried to “find himself” through experiences and ended up, flat on his face, in a pig sty. The older son tried to “find himself” in achievements and ended up, angry and excluded in outer darkness.
What’s the solution? Do they need to find their identity in their sonship? Well if that’s the goal then neither of them manage it. Obviously the older son fails here – in spite of the father’s heart-wrenching plea of v31: “My son!” Yet the younger son also fails. He had tried to come home as a household servant. He didn’t claim his identity with the father, his father claimed him. The prodigal was brought home not by the feelings of belonging he managed to muster. It was solely the love of the father that mattered.
So too with us. Our goal is not to try to feel loved. For our part we’re lost! All we can do is allow ourselves to be told again: Jesus loves you and has freed you from your sins by His blood (Rev 1:5). All we can do is put ourselves in the path of the Word as the lost sinners that we are. But then comes His voice: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ” (1 John 3:1) Suddenly, lost in Jesus, we hear the Father tell us what He tells His Son: “You are my child who I love, with you I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
And you, like me, say “But I’m not sure I properly feel this love. Every day I forget God’s love, I forget my privileges, I forget Jesus, and my insecurities and sins testify loud and clear that I fail to know my true identity in Christ.”
Amen, Amen. Me too! But the solution lies 100% out of my hands and in Jesus alone. It’s not about trying to get my flesh to feel saved. It’s about the Spirit (through the gospel Word) testifying to my spirit that I am God’s child – no matter what my flesh says (Romans 8:15). In other words, the Christian life is the life of faith. It’s the life of turning away from me and my identity and getting lost in Jesus and His identity. It’s about saying: “I’ve got nothing to my own account – not even the right feelings!! – but Jesus says He’s got me. And that’s enough.”
At that point, someone might say: “But Glen, that’s all we mean when we talk about finding our identity in Jesus!“ If so, brilliant.
But maybe, just maybe, “finding my identity in Jesus” has become something different. Maybe it’s become a way of focusing more on me and my complicated splendour. If that’s the case, then perhaps we should talk less about “finding my identity in Jesus” and more about “losing my identity in Jesus.”