The Power of Identity
Author Lance Phelps - 7 Minute Read
Identity is a powerful thing. Our identities inform our decisions as they permeate out from our hearts. Our identities shape the way we feel about the world around us which in turn shapes the way that we act in response to this world. When someone does something that we find reprehensible often times it is not just a general sense of right and wrong that causes that reprehension. Yes, God has given us all a sense of right and wrong by the knowledge of him that he has given all people, see Romans 1. But often our sense of right is only part of the reason that we declare certain things wrong, sometimes it plays no part. That is where our identity steps in and begins to inform us about what is a good and what is a bad action. This can be a good thing but I believe that most often this is the catalyst for the repression of truth and goodness that we read about in Romans 1. Again when ones identity is based on the truth than that sense of identity will be a force to prevent sin, not cause it. But when speaking of the world in general we see our sense of identity put to nefarious use more often than virtuous use.
What is Identity?
Our identifies are simple to define: they are who you are. But when this definition is applied to the individual person things can get a bit murky. So identity is something that is subjective to each person because each person must decide who they are. Or must they?
In the post-modern mindset we make a lot of fuss over the power to define oneself. In many ways this is the defining aspect of our latest culture. Charles Taylor calls it the Age of Authenticity. So we say, in no uncertain terms, that no person, or body of persons, can decide who we are. That is left for us alone to decide. You must find yourself, as it were. And this warms the hearts of oh so many. So it has to be correct, right?
This, rather shallow, idea then meets with the reality of community and belonging. It is no secret that communities are on the decline on the modern world so this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Except they are not. They are only changing. No longer do churches expect their members to actually leave the house and attend a service. However much of a problem this might be it is still a reality. And that moose lodge down the street is looking a little dilapidated. Oh, you do not know what a moose lodge is? How about Facebook? I rest my case.
Instead communities are becoming interconnected with the power of the web. Not perfectly, of course, there are still millions of people that meet in actual locations and call themselves a community. Yet the web is having a major impact on how that looks. What’s more the advance of tech altogether is having a major impact on how communities work. And community is further harmed by the philosophical shift towards a lone ranger mentality.
The community, however, still has a huge impact on how you form your identity. Keep in mind that your family is also a part of your community. So too is that TV show that you grew up watching. Cheesy as it was the messages of Saved by the Bell and Family Matters had an impact on the way that you feel about certain things and thus they helped to shape your identity. Would you call yourself a communist? A Christ follower? A capitalist? A homosexual? A feminist? The answers to these questions and more are all influenced, sometimes to an extreme degree, by the community in which you grew up and the community to which you cling to today.
Why Does This Matter?
If relativism is true, and subsequently we live is a universe of contradictions, this would be all just interesting speculations fit for the finest espresso shop. But relativism is, quite literally, ridiculous. And instead we live in a universe with hard truth permeating throughout. When Jesus looked at the Jewish community and said that they had to give up all that they had in order to follow him what he was saying was that they had to denounce their current identities and take on a whole new one. The Jews of his day scoffed at this and walked away. Their identities were too important to just throw away to follow some guy they met only minutes before. But something happened that changes the game: this random Jewish person who claimed to be God, proved it: he rose again just as he said that he would. Now he commands that everyone abandon their identity and take on his. He calls us to die to ourselves and live in him. This is nothing less then a total denial and a complete rebuild of our identity. We are his and his alone, if in fact we are his. There is no middle-ground here.
The Toughest Choice
So everyone must decide: do you cling to your current identity or abandon it for Christ. This is where this discussion becomes really helpful. All too often new, and sometimes even old, Christians will try to hold onto their previous identities. we might call ourselves a hyphenated Christian. We might be a Christian-Capitalist, or a Christian-Socialist, or a Christian-whatever. But this is merely to call into question Christs command to abandon all and follow him. This is not to say that Christians can’t believe in good things such as capitalism, I do. I am merely saying that all too often these things define us. This can’t be if we are to faithfully follow the King. If Christ alone does not define who we are than we are heading towards sin, if we are not there already.
So the question is: who are you?