Imagine for a moment that you’re at a big gathering of people from all over. Maybe it’s a work conference, a family reunion, or a wedding. Whatever it is, you don’t know anyone there, so you will have to introduce yourself to every person you meet. So, what do you say when you shake hands with the person in front of you? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve introduced myself by my job, who my parents are, or where I grew up. There are so many labels that we can place on ourselves, but how do we know what our identity really is?
Merriam Webster defines identity as:
the distinguishing character or personality of an individual: INDIVIDUALITY
b: the relation established by psychological identification
2: the condition of being the same with something described or asserted establish the identity of stolen goods
3a: sameness of essential or generic character in different instances
b: sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing: ONENESS
Essentially, our identity is a combination of our beliefs, values, and personality that all add up to who we are. Our identity is what makes us an individual and defines how we live our lives. We use so many labels to identify ourselves, and they keep changing and shifting throughout our lives.
We live in a society that’s constantly telling us to “find ourselves,” “live our truth,” and “be our own person,” but it can be exhausting to always be trying to figure out who we are. And that’s because we’re always looking for answers in the wrong places. The world is a fickle place, and we’ll never feel secure in our identity if we rely on them to tell us who we are. The only firm foundation for us to build our identity on is God because he is unchanging, and the same is true for what he says about us.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”2 Corinthians 5:17
A common theme throughout all of Paul’s letters in the Bible is identity. He talks about how our identity is found in Christ 202 times throughout 13 books. He really wants to make sure that we know that nothing else matters apart from being in Christ. This verse in 2 Corinthians is just one of those 202 times.
The Greek word for “old” here is ἀρχαῖα (archaia) which means original, primitive, or ancient. Our old selves are like shadows of who we were created and called to be. God has so much for us to take hold of, but we can’t do that while we’re clinging to who we used to be. We are all sinful, and we have no way of redeeming ourselves on our own. But thanks to what Jesus did on the cross – dying for an eternity of human sins and rising again to bring us new life – we can put the ways of man to death and walk forward into the wild freedom of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
The only way that we can put off our old ways of life is to surrender them to Christ, to put them to death and walk forward into the freedom Jesus’ death and resurrection bought for us. The Greek word here for “in” is ἐν (en), and it means a relation of rest, to be inside or within, or to be in the sphere of. So if we take that definition and relate it to being in Christ, we see that being in Christ means that we are within the sphere of God’s family. When we’re adopted into the family of God, we begin to change and start to see the world and our lives through the lens of God’s love and divine plan for us. Instead of figuring everything out on our own, we can look to God’s Word and turn to Him in prayer for answers. As we seek after God, we realize that our identity is found in Christ and not in the labels that the world puts on us.
The clearest example I have of looking past labels is working with horses. When you buy a horse, you’re told all kinds of things about them, they can neck rein, they have lots of buttons, are great for kids, used to compete, have some quirks, and the list goes on and on. But you don’t know the horse until you look past those labels and start to work with them yourself. Sometimes the packaging can be misleading when it comes to horses, just as it can be for people. It can take days, weeks, months, or even years to help a horse move from its old self into its new self. But there comes the point when you can look at a horse a see that they are no longer living in old patterns but are comfortable and confident in who they are. They know that they are loved and are secure in that knowledge. There is a line drawn in their lives between who they were before and who they are now. Who they were before no longer defines them. However, those labels are not their identity but rather part of their testimony. And the same is true for us.
When we become a new creation in Christ, who we were before doesn’t define who we are but instead points to whose we are. Being in Christ doesn’t just become a part of our identity; it becomes our whole identity because we are made whole in Him. And by choosing to remain in him, we continue to grow into who he has created us to be. Don’t get so caught up in the labels that the world tries to pin on you. You are so much more than what you do or how you look. You were created intentionally and with a purpose. So walk out of the boxes that the world tries to put you in and step into who the Lord says you are.