Most of the world assumes that who we are flows out of what we do. We answer questions regarding our identity by describing our occupations, hobbies, interests, and skills. “I am a farmer.” Or, “I raised five children.” Or, “I am a student.” Building our identity in this way wreaks havoc in two ways, however.
First, building our identity on what we do leaves us vulnerable when what we do changes. Picture the recent retiree who suddenly doesn’t feel significant, because he no longer has a boss to impress, subordinates to lead, or a way to fill his life with “meaning.” Picture the recent graduate who suddenly feels adrift, because she has always derived meaning from making good grades, or impressing her coaches, or through her network of school friends. If our identity is built on what we do, we will inevitably struggle in life when what we do changes. And it will change.
Second, building our identity on what we do thrusts us into relational tension when others do what we do better than we do. When my identity is derived from my performance – in anything, my performance then becomes everything to me. My worth as a person hangs on it, and rises or falls with it. That is problematic enough on its own, but it guarantees trouble when I interact with someone who is better than I am at whatever I am building my identity on. We perceive such people as a threat to our relevance and significance as human beings. They are not simply a better parent, or employee, or whatever than me. I perceive them as a better human being than me by merit of their better performance as a parent, employee, etc. This mentality kills relational flourishing and leaves us isolated, paranoid, and miserable.
The good news: In Christ, our identity does not flow out of what we do – but out of what God has done for us in Christ. 1 Peter tells Christians: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession (1 Pet 2:9a). This is our identity if we are in Christ – and none of it is a fruit of what we do. All of it is a fruit of what God has already done through the perfect, finished work of his Son that is applied by his Spirit. Christian identity doesn’t come from what we do, it comes from what God has done.
In the Christian life, what we do flows out of who we are. Being always precedes doing.
Yet Christian identity gives us much “to do.” The Christian life should be characterized by the pursuit of personal holiness, by radical repentance and self-denial, by true, spiritual worship and devotion to Christ. None of this doing, however, will make us who we are. All of it is a fruit of who we are. In the Christian life, what we do flows out of who we are. Being always precedes doing.
This is an excerpt from the message, As Sojourners and Exiles, preached at Capitol City Christian Church on 5/20/2018. To hear the entire message, click here.