Do you know what’s shaping your identity?
It’s hard to go long when speaking in a Christian context and not hear the word “identity.” It’s more than a buzzword in evangelical circles. It’s become one of the most commonly used words when speaking on discipleship issues. But apparently the non-Christian world likes the word too. Just a few years ago, dictionary.com chose “identity” as their number one word of the year. You can say that the word identity is widely used by Christians and secular people alike.
What do we mean when we use the word “identity?”
A broad and general definition of identity can be defined as follows: your identity is what you believe to be true about yourself at the deepest core of your being. This is important because what you believe about yourself affects the way you live. If you think too highly of yourself, you’ll be demeaning toward others. If you think too lowly of yourself, you’ll regularly succumb to the fear of man. As it’s been said, your activity follows your identity.
In order to grow in self-awareness, you have to understand the factors that mold your identity, the factors that have shaped you into the person you are today. In his book, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority, Clay Scroggins suggests five factors that shape your identity: your past, your people, your personality, your purpose, and your priorities. Building on these five, I’ll describe how each affects your identity as a Christian.
Let’s start with the first P: your past.
5 Factors That Shape Your Identity
1. Your Past
Some of you don’t like to talk about your past. Perhaps you grew up in an unbelieving home and life was far from enjoyable. Maybe you’ve experienced much trauma, and you don’t want to think about those days anymore. You may have a memory or two that you try hard to block out. No doubt, nobody wants to be stuck in the past. And there’s some wisdom in just forgetting about the past and moving on with your life. But if not properly handled, some of those small wounds from the past may eventually fester into bigger ones.
How can you deal with life’s previous blows? It may mean that you sign-up for professional counseling. Or it could be that you fill-out a genogram to seek to better understand your family history. Whether you like it or not, your wounds and your family shapes your identity. And you need to know your past to know yourself.
2. Your People
In other words, the people you intentionally do life with. That’s why it’s crucial to have godly voices speaking into your life – to encourage you where you are strong, but also to call you out on your bluff. Those who insist only on surrounding themselves with people who stroke their pride will eventually become insufferable egoists. Both the sincere affirmation and constructive criticism will shape your identity.
3. Your Personality
If your character is who you are, then your personality is what you’re like. What you’re like – and what you think of yourself, as a result – shapes your identity.
You know you’ve taken a personality test too far when you use the feedback from the test to excuse your sin. Conversely, you know you have a deficient view of common grace if you think every personality test is absolutely worthless. Of course, some evangelical churches take personality tests too far. Some search committees are more interested in finding an INTJ than a godly, qualified pastor. This is a mistake. But all things considered, personality tests provide useful information about yourself that you would otherwise not consider.
Take multiple personality tests– especially the Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, and StrengthsFinder. Read the strengths and weaknesses of your results. Take it seriously. Discuss the results with a trusted friend and ask if they think the feedback from the test is right. The personality tests will give you a decent understanding of why you behave the way you do. In other words, they’ll better help you understand your identity
4. Your Purpose
John Calvin is one of my favorite dead guys. I’ve tried to read as much about him as I can. When you study his life, you notice something: he was utterly driven by the majesty of God. The majesty of God shaped his writings and his work. Calvin’s theology was governed by a high view of God and a sober assessment of man. It must be said, however, that Calvin, like the rest of us, was flawed. He could be ruthless at times with his opponents or even his friends. But although his social skills weren’t always the most sophisticated, you get a sense that even in his weakest moments the reason why he did what he did or said what he said is because the majesty of God was threatened; because he viewed his identity as one called by God to defend it in every way possible.
5. Your Priorities
We always make time for the things in life we value most.
What you believe about yourself will affect the way you live. If you believe you can handle the Christian life independently, then practicing dependence on God through the spiritual disciplines will be an afterthought. But if you rightly believe that apart from God you can do nothing, you will make time to spend with him, regardless of how busy your life is. And the more you know Christ and walk with him, the more he will mold your identity.
These are five factors that can and will configure your identity.
Now let’s discuss what your identity should like.
Basically, both humility and confidence should characterize the way you view yourself. Why? The gospel. Listen to these words by Tim Keller: “The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time.”
If the gospel changes your heart, you won’t think of yourself as worthless or good for nothing. Your past failures or your current shortcomings won’t define you. On the flip side, if the gospel does the life-changing work in your heart that it is capable of doing, you won’t be arrogant or abrasive. Your strengths and accomplishments won’t define you either. If the gospel transforms your heart, you won’t walk into a room and demand that everyone greets you, but you won’t feel overlooked if nobody does. You’ll be both humble and confident. The deeper you go into the gospel, the more this will be true of you.