I Am Not Who I Once Was: The Theology of Identity

I am not who I once was.  Correction.  I am not who I once believed myself to be.  Let me explain.  For years I worked to define myself through a projected image.  Throughout my 20 years of life I have worn a variety of masks.  This was especially true during my high school years not so long ago.  While many destructive thoughts , insecurities, and issues with anxiety started long before this time, they manifested themselves in new ways during these years.  I ended up trapped in the lies and did things that fed my feelings of guilt and shame.  During this time my mask of perfection was on and believable…. Until I was alone.  Towards the end of my high school years and the first two years of my moody career a dark depression and crippling anxiety controlled my life.  If you would have known me during this time you most likely would not have known.  On the surface I was happy and carefree; the model church girl serving in the church nursery, mentoring middle school girls, and an active member of the youth group… again, until I was alone.  I always worked so hard to portray myself in a certain way.  I was the missions and Haiti obsessed girl, a graceful dancer, a model student, and the girl who loved working with kids.  The picture perfect church girl that reflected well on my parents.  But that was me on the surface.  (To be honest, wanting to keep and preserve me and my family’s image is why I have been silent about these struggles of mine for so long.)  On the inside I was controlled by negative emotions from past events and extreme anxiety.  I was believing the lie that I had been told for so long that I was not good enough; that I needed to be perfect.  At my core, my depression permeated into my identity and slowly drove me away from those whom I loved and who loved me as well, including my wonderful and loving Creator.  With these issues now being dealt with in really big ways and not holding me as captive as they once did, I can look at these horrid years and just shake my head.  Until recently, if you would have asked me who I was, what my identity was, my first thought would have been “messed up”.  In my Discipleship and Spiritual Transformation class we are in the middle of an ongoing discussion about how we view our identity and who we truly are in Christ.  In the midst of pondering this topic I spent a week sitting and listening to fantastic preachers and speakers for Moody’s annual Founder’s Week.  The theme of this year’s conference was “Heirs with Christ”.  Over and over; from different perspectives and angles; countless speakers took on multiple perspectives on what this phrase means.  Dr. Nyquist started off the week by looking at what Romans 8 has to say on this subject.  He explained that as heirs we are the children of God and our inheritance as children is a relationship with Him.  As I was thinking through this topic in relation to what was discussed in my class, I had a meeting with my wonderful mentor.  At one point he brought the discussion back to Romans 7 and the section of verses in Romans 8 that precede the section of Romans 8 that speaks about us as heirs with Christ, (the chapters he has brought up many times over the last year).  These verses speak into our identity in our flesh verses our identity in the Spirit.  As he paraphrased the text, the gears in my mind started clicking into place.  Here is what I finally understan:.  On the surface I am, or once was, one image or mask.  This comes from me in the flesh.  In my flesh I am my anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, and past mistakes.  This life in the flesh is not who I am.  This is not what I was created for.  Paul gives great albeit a rather confusing explanation of this in Romans 7:13-25:

“Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

 

I give the whole passage, since I fully believe in taking and explaining verses in context.  Paul is really confusing here, but what he is saying is that he alone is not good.  He alone is his sin (which is also called “flesh” throughout the epistles).  In his humanity (also could be called flesh) he is evil and sinful, just as we all are.  However, as believers we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  We are still human, evil, and sinful at our core, however this is not our identity in Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit we are made one with Christ and can have a relationship with the Father.  Since we were not created in our sin, sin came after the fall, we were not created to be controlled by sin or our inherited (from the fall of Adam) sin.  We were created to have perfect community with Christ where there is no sin.

This means: I was not created to be depressed or anxious.  I was not created to be filled with guilt and shame.  These things may be a part of my story but they are not what I was created for.  I was created as a Daughter of the King (a bit cliché I know, but hear me out), with a loving and perfect Heavenly Father who created me to be in peace and comfort with Him.  Because of Christ I can have a relationship with my Father who loves me deeply and did not create me to be filled with guilt and shame.  This is true of all believers.  Which brings us to Romans 8: 9-11:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

 

Alone I am my flesh.  Outside of my relationship with Christ I am my past, present, and future sins.  In Christ, I have freedom through the Spirit and can have a relationship with my heavenly Father who made me perfect in spite of my failings.

I could (and will) continue this discussion, since many people ask why bad things happen to good people and those who believe in Christ if this is not what we were created for (a quick but true answer is that we have free will and live in a fallen world that cannot be perfect).  But for now, this is a small part of my story and what I am learning.  By the grace of God, I am not who I once was or believed myself to be.

 

 

 

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