Who are you?
Seems like an easy enough question.
But the answer is far from simple.
Most cultural arguments about identity (for example, sexual identity, racial identity, gender identity), are political in nature and focus on personal rights and freedoms. What they’re really about is the nature of life and reality.
Many Christian are afraid and confused. We see people identify with a sex, race, age, or even species other than their own. And we feel the social pressure to affirm these choices, since failure to do so is considered an act of hate. And, in some cases, is even punishable by law!
This article will help give you understanding and confidence to respond truthfully and wisely.
First, we want to pull back the curtain and show you why the world thinks as it does. And second, we want to lay a firm foundation from God’s truth, so you can know and show others where true identity is found.
When did “humans” become “persons”?
Public debate over abortion has raged for decades now and is showing no sign of letting up. Historically, pro-life arguments focused on evidence that life begins at conception, while the pro-abortion arguments focused on women’s rights. That’s quickly changing.
In 2007, Miranda Sawyer, a self-described liberal, feminist, and pro-choice defender, had a dramatic change in beliefs after becoming pregnant. Suddenly faced with the reality of a human life growing inside her, she began a journey of questioning the rationality of her pro-choice position.
In the end, Sawyer was forced to agree with the pro-life view. Life clearly begins at conception. Therefore, abortion clearly means ending a human life.
If you find her admission encouraging, however, you’ll be disappointed. Her position on abortion remained unchanged. She concluded,
But perhaps the fact of life isn’t what’s important. It’s whether that life has grown enough to take on human characteristics, to start becoming a person.
In other words, human life is disposable, but a person is not. The ethical implications of her words are confusing and frankly, terrifying. In one breath, she declares personhood sacred and human life worthless.
When humanity and personhood got a divorce
How did we get to this point? When did being a human and being a person become separate things?
It’s a long and interesting journey in the development of ideas. In general, we can trace the path back to Darwin who summed up his theory of natural selection in one idea: “Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”
The impact of Darwin’s idea on Western beliefs and culture can’t be overstated.
Suddenly, divinely created human beings became mere biological organisms. People lovingly created with an eternal purpose became a species caused by unguided, purposeless natural processes. In short, being human was reduced from a “who” to a “what”.
Re-inventing the self
Darwin’s theory was seen as a liberation. Modern man had been freed from the supposedly antiquated and oppressive notions of owing his existence to God.
However, there were consequences. Without God, where would humanity find the meaning and self-understanding so necessary to live?
The answer came from the question. Meaning and self-understanding would have to come from…ourselves.
Friedrich Nietzsche saw this as an implication from Darwin’s theory. He put it most clearly by saying that without belief in God as the Creator to give us our lives meaning, we would have to become those “who create themselves.”
From created to self-created
This spirit of “self-creation” took a firm hold on western thinking throughout the 20th century. Influential feminist thinker and activist, Simone de Beauvoir summed it up well, saying, “Man is defined as a being who is not fixed, who makes himself what he is.”
With this belief in self-creation firmly in place, so much of public discussion around identity these days tends to revolve around two main themes:
- our right to create our identity as we see fit, and
- our need to be free from anyone who would prevent us from doing so.
Redeeming the search for identity
Unfortunately, Christians are more often than not viewed as trying to prevent people from being who they “truly are”. Christianity is portrayed as a religious system of “oppression” designed to conform people to someone else’s desires.
Admittedly, there are ample instances of abuses done in “Jesus name” that make arguing otherwise an uphill battle. This is entirely unfair, but the apostle Peter wisely instructs our attitude in response:
Live such good lives among the Gentiles that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)
Our concern in Christian witness, then, ought not focus on trying to recover the majority position, correct misguided opinions, or win people over to “seeing things our way”. Rather, living lives of Spirit-filled gentleness and respect, we must allow the light of Christ to shine by speaking gospel truth into people’s quest for identity—whatever shape it may take.
The truth about identity
The apostle Paul shows us that our search for identity is not a natural one. In our original created state, we knew exactly who we were because we knew who God was. Our turn from God in sin darkened our minds and made every thought futile, including and perhaps especially, our thoughts about who we are (see Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:18).
Piercing this darkness is a work that only God can do. It’s his Holy Spirit alone who can enlighten a darkened mind to the truth. However, the truth that the Holy Spirit enlightens, is the truth of the gospel that he’s given us to proclaim.
We’ve got a job to do!
3 principles for addressing identity with the gospel
Principle 1: Help people think by asking good questions
Remember, all ideas about creating or deciding our own identity come from a worldview denying God as Creator. Even if that worldview is religious, when boiled right down, it locates the true source of our identity inside of ourselves. Our task is to help people look outside of themselves. As the prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).
One of the best ways to help a person begin looking outside themselves is to help them begin questioning their beliefs and views about the world. Learning to ask good questions and listen is one of the best ways to begin this process.
Principle 2: Learn and use the identity language of the gospel
The goal of the gospel could be summed up in the first four words of the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Jesus came so that his Father might become our Father, plain and simple (John 17:23-26). It’s a story about
- our adoption (Galatians 4:4-5)
- whereby the God of the universe makes lost and sinful souls his very own children (Romans 8:16), and
- part of his eternal family (John 1:12; Mark 10:29-30; Hebrews 2:11).
Father, adoptions, children, family. What more identity-forming words could we use to express what Jesus has done for us?
Effective witness, then, involves not only knowing what words to say, but living out the language of the gospel. Making a careful study of these identity-forming realities of the gospel will enrich our lives and witness.
Principle 3: Know your own gospel identity story and pursue God’s help to live it out
Learning to use gospel identity language is not just so we can be accurate in sharing the gospel, but so that our witness is real. After all, we can’t pass on what we don’t possess.
The joy of knowing God as Father, Christ as Brother, and the church as family, is not something we can fake or manufacture. It ought to spill over into everything we do and say. And because it’s true, it will, so long as we learn to make it real.
The good news is that Jesus has already prayed this for us. Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17 is one of the most beautiful passages of the Bible. In it, the Son of God actually prays for us. And what he prays is marvelous!
Action to take: Go and read this passage in John 17, and then claim everything that Jesus prayed for. Won’t God most certainly answer the prayers of his own Son?
Identity confusion will only continue as our culture drinks deeper and deeper from the “hollow and deceptive philosophies” of self-creation that have dominated for nearly a century (see Colossians 2:8). We must pray that God will graciously intervene to minimize the damage that this deception can bring to individual lives.
But we must not lose heart. The yearning of human hearts that leads people to chase after such hollow answers will only find satisfaction and rest when hearts come to recognize the glory of God displayed in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
We must simply proclaim and display Christ for the world to see. When we do, God can and will rescue lost and yearning souls from darkness.
 Miranda Sawyer, “I knew where I stood on abortion. But I had to rethink,” The Guardian, April 7, 2007.
 Charles Darwin, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, (London, UK, Collins, 1958), p.87.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, (Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press, 2001), p 120.
 Ibid, p 189.
 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, (Vintage Books, 1989), p. 267.
- What Do You Do When People Aren’t Interested In Hearing About Jesus?
- Culture and Spirituality – FAQ Guide
- Faith and Reason – FAQ Guide