My Struggles with Who I Am

What are our identities and goals rooted in? Pastor Oliver reflects on his struggles in finding his identity when he first started his sabbatical rest. 

I have a confession to make.

I was struggling in the first six weeks of my sabbatical. I was on leave and had let go of all my work and ministry responsibilities. I woke up many mornings restless, wondering what I should be doing. Along with these thoughts, I had periods of lethargy and feeling low. I had far fewer things to do and so fewer opportunities for what I do to affirm my identity. “I cannot be going through a mid-life crisis now, can I?” I asked myself. Maybe. However, the greater part was the struggle was with “Who am I?”. Without work and ministry – what I regularly do – to give significance, I struggled with my identity.

In Singapore, one of the idols of our culture is that of 'meritocracy'. Meritocracy tells us that people selected by merit should govern society. It tells us that everyone with skill and hard work can achieve their aspirations and receive their rewards. This system is a good thing to have. However, this good thing can become an idol when it becomes the ultimate thing for a Christian’s life. It can when we think that we need to work hard to merit our salvation, rather than trusting in God’s grace that gives salvation freely to those who trust in Christ. This worship of meritocracy also works itself out in our identity. We start to think and feel that we are defined by what we do, that our 'merit' is based off what we achieved and that our identity is tied to what we accomplished.

So having little or no opportunity for work and ministry to give 'definition' to who I am, I struggled. I do not want to go into the discussions between 'doing' and 'being' – I think scriptures seem to tell us that both are important. Rather, my struggles drove me to reflect on what it means to say that “my identity is secure in Christ”. Galatians 2:20 was helpful in shaping my hearts and thoughts with regards to rooting who I am.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.”
- Galatians 2:20 (ESV)

I have been crucified with Christ…
Paul tells us, in this passage in Galatians, that his former self – the person before he trusted Christ had “died”. The person he was before he trusted Christ, with his self-centred goals, had come to a decisive end. The person that I was, in basing who I am on my accomplishments has been “crucified” with Christ. I now have freedom from needing to base my identity on what I do. I am free from the enslaving idolatry of my culture that tells me who I am is based off what I do (and how successful I was at doing it).

It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…
If this so, then how shall I now live? What shapes my identity, my goals and what I do? Paul tells us that Christ who lives in him now directs his goals and all that he does. The gospel of Jesus Christ is what governs Paul’s life. Christ lives in me. Christ should lead my desires and my goals. The Word of Christ (the Bible) should direct my thoughts and actions. Who I am is not defined by what I do but Christ who lives in me!

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…
How can I live this way? Paul tells us that he continually trust that Jesus daily shapes his heart and defines who he is and empowers all that he does. This trust means rather than listening to the voice within me that says my identity is based on what I do, I trust Christ when he tells me that I am already a child of God regardless of what I do. This faith means rather than paying heed to the culture that says that I am defined by what my accomplishment (or lack of achievement), I have faith in God’s Word that tells me God dearly loves me despite my lack of accomplishments.

…Who loved me and gave himself for me.
And what motivates me to live this way and to keep trusting in Jesus Christ? Paul tells us that he trusts Jesus Christ who loves him and gave himself as our substitute for sins. The cross is an expression of Christ’s love for his people. It is the truth that Jesus Christ loves you and me and gave himself for us that provides us with reasons for acting this way. My identity is based on who I am loved by, and the cross is a demonstration of Jesus’ love for me.

The gospel of Jesus Christ – that a holy God loves us so much that He gave us his Son to die on the cross on sinners’ behalf for the pardon of our sins, roots our identity. I can be secure of my identity in Christ because of this wonderful gospel. Once I comprehended again that “my identity is secure in Christ”, it gave me the freedom to enjoy the rest of the sabbatical, delighting in Jesus’ love for me – regardless of my accomplishments or lack of.

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The month of May is our Great Commission Month. You can read Deuteronomy 28:1-14 as you prepare your hearts to come to hear from God’s Word on Missions this Sunday. 

Also, this Sunday at Equip Class we will have Barnabas Lin sharing on “Student Ministry as a Platform for the Gospel”. After which, representatives from Singapore Bible College, Baptist Theological Seminary and East Asia School of Theology will be sharing on how they prepare students for the work of the Great Commission. So see you at 11 am this Sunday (20 May) in Room 310!