Consumerism’s overwhelming dominance in our culture has made it hard to hear any other message. Our society defines us in terms of economic prosperity. The increasingly rapid pace of change can strain our identity.
The world's message
Previously the common thought was that we accept our place in the world, but it has now shifted to being told to reconstruct our identity by following our desires. We are encouraged to break away from any social constraints and discover "who we are".
Therefore, it's no surprise that many of us find it increasingly difficult to form a secure identity, and instead often associate with being a ‘nobody’. To numb the emptiness, we resort to a focus on success, substance abuse, consumerism, serial relationships etc.
Yet each remedy only lasts temporarily. From the time we are young, pressure by society, not to mention parents, teachers and friends, to attach our self-worth to achievement (whether academically, socially or on the sports field) conditions us to connect our self-worth with performance. So, when we finally come up against failure, we can have overwhelming feelings of self-despair.
This helps explain why many of us find it difficult to understand that our value is actually grounded in something extrinsic to ourselves: the simple, yet beautiful fact that God created us!
The very first book of the bible speaks of creation and our identity. Being made in the image of God (Genesis chapter 1 verses 26-27) reveals our innate value and dignity. God not only wanted us to reflect His glory but loved us so much He wanted us to dwell with Him. God knows us fully and we are fully accepted.
Christian identity is shaped with the end in sight – our flourishment is rooted in the hope of eternity and our dwelling with God. We are not simply determined by nature or external influences.
Rather, being “in Christ” is so critical to our identity that it is referred to over forty times in the 6 chapters of the book of Ephesians. When we find our worth in the redemptive work of Christ, in a God that loved us so much that he would send His son to die for us, we discover our worth is not attached to what we do, but who we are in Christ.
In contrast, secular identity has no end in sight, and this results in a lack of meaning. At best, one can only adapt (well or not so well) to certain circumstances, without the hope of transforming into what one was destined to become.
Sadly, over time the dominant thinking of our society slowly changed to relate our dignity to our level of dependence; the more self-sufficient, the more dignified we are and vice versa. Yet pre-Renaissance, human dignity was highly esteemed because of the widespread recognition that we were made in God’s image and Jesus became man!
Further, when we fully realise our identity in Christ and that we share in His humanity, it helps us accept suffering and death. The world constantly seeks to avoid pain and suffering; forgetting the vulnerable and hiding the unwell in institutions. But just as Jesus stood by the oppressed, the vulnerable and foreigner, so must we.
Christian identity traps
Our identity is therefore both a gift and task. The gift is that Christ is given to us and we are in Christ and the task is that we follow and become more like Him. This is seen in Paul’s call for us to “put on” Christ (Romans Chapter 13 verse 14). However, the trap that can arise from this is moralism; an attempt to deal with our spiritual failures through trying harder.
Moralism's fallacy is telling us that we are not dependent on God. Dallard Willard captures this sentiment, “God is not opposed to effort but to earning.” “Putting on Christ” is therefore not an act of pretence but instead is a call to an active participation in the new creation gifted to us by Christ. It is an experience of living in the kingdom of God and it is the process of being restored into what we are meant to be.
Another danger is many Christians, including myself, often identify only with the first Adam and the consequent failure instead of claiming our identity in the last Adam; Christ. Many of us are so defeated by our sinful nature that our only hope is in the second coming of Jesus where it will be renewed.
Instead, Paul says our identity in Christ makes us “saintly by calling” (1 Corinthians Chapter 1 verse 2). Here there is no mention of works, rather we are saints because God calls us to be. This is not to say that there is no sin in the believer but rather that God made Christians spiritual beings.
How many traps did you identify with? Has the world's message sneakily infiltrated you without knowing it? My prayer is that you will recognise the world's false and damaging messages and grasp your full worth and identity in Christ.
Melissa Ramoo is a physiotherapist, Pilates instructor and studying a Bachelor of
Theology at Morling College in Sydney. She’s married to her husband Roshan and
has a Boston Terrier named Hercules who is completely doted on.