Identity in Translation

identityOne of the most potent life-shaping beliefs is that of identity. Who you think you are has the power to drive your actions and attitudes. It can shape your response to both successes and failures, to blessings and cursings, and life and death. We all ask that most basic of existential questions, “who am I.” We ask it multiple times over the course of our lives and at different stages of life. Often we are looking for a simplistic and reductionist answer, but the truth is a bit more complex. It is exceedingly important that we realize in this life identity is always in translation.

People are often in pursuit of an identity. In America in particular what we are often looking for a simple label that defines who we are, that summarizes our values and ideals. So we learn in high school to define ourselves by our subcultural category: jock, prep, Goth, cheerleader, etc.  We carry this into adulthood. As adults we try to define ourselves by our jobs, our relationships, our roles. We want clean and simple explanations of ourselves. Rarely, however, do these explanations actually produce security and confidence. This is true even as Christians.

We tell Christians your identity is bound up in Christ. Who you are is “Christian.” This is, of course, absolutely true. I believe this and communicate this to others. A problem arises, however, as we experience the frustration of continuing to live with and battle sin. We say to ourselves, “who I am is follower of Christ, yet look at my life.” Often we do not look like our identity. Many conclude, somewhat rightly, that what we do does not necessarily determine who we are. There’s some truth to that, but behavior and identity are not completely separated. There is some relationship here that matters, the Apostle James certainly sees a relationship between behavior and identity. He asks:

11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:11)

Things produce according to their nature. Jesus makes the same point when he says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Our behavior is at some level related to our identity. We must acknowledge this and be honest about it. But what, then, does this mean for our identity? How are we to think about who we are?

The reality of identity is, like most theology and all of life, complex. We must understand and see even our identity as a process. We will never, in this life, understand ourselves and know ourselves fully, completely. This is because our identity as Christians is Christ (Rom. 8:29), and our becoming like Christ is a process. It is a “becoming.” So, the apostle Paul writes, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Paul says we are being transformed into the image of Christ in degrees. It’s a process of unfolding throughout life and as we continue in our relationship to Christ. Our identity is not fully realized in this broken world, it is taking shape in significant ways, but it is not fully consummated.

There is a reason for this unfolding process. The apostle Paul speaks of sanctification as a process, but it is a process because we have not yet fully seen Jesus as He is. So, John writes:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

What we will be has not yet appeared. The realization of our full identity awaits us. It has not yet appeared, but when we see “him as he is,” then we “shall be like him.” In this life our identity is in translation, it is exceedingly important that we accept this and understand it.

It is important that we understand this truth for two key reasons. First, we must understand that our identity is in translation because otherwise we will settle for simplistic answers. The desire for a full comprehension of ourselves will lead us to settle for insufficient labels. Who am I? I am lawyer, pastor, mother, healthy, hippie, Baptist, Anglican, etc. We accept labels as the full expression of our identity, but our identity is still taking shape in this life. When we settle for the simplistic we miss out on all the beauty and complexity of who we are in Christ and who we are becoming.

Secondly, if we don’t understand that our identity is in translation we will give into depression and despair. The insecurity we carry about ourselves, when not supplemented with an awareness of progressive sanctification becomes too much to bear. We settle for different labels then: addict, depressed, unwanted, unlovable, dysfunctional, and broken – to name a few. Recognizing that our identity is still in process, that it is unfolding as we come to know Christ more and deeper can keep us from buying into these lies. We know that our being conformed to the image of Christ is happening, sometimes slowly, but it is happening. That gives us continual hope and confidence.

This is not to suggest that we don’t know true things about ourselves. The apostle Paul describes who we are “in Christ” throughout all of Ephesians chapter 1. We know many things. Things that we can cling to with confidence, things that can fuel us towards greater change and growth. Things that can give us hope and keep us motivated. Yet, we recognize there is still more to learn about who we are, because there is still more to learn about Christ. When we see Him as He is, then we will know ourselves. Until then, we remember, identity is in translation.



    I noticed this article…
    don’t call it biblical when it is not.
    Male leadership looks like submission?- if so then you are in effect saying that the Church submits to Christ, so Christ also submits to the church- bible nowhere says men submit toyyour wives, yet it keeps telling women to- thus it is obvious that it is NOT the same- if it were why would they even use different words…

    Bible gives no more ideas on manhood and womanhood? you are a Pastor, so I am sure you read your bible…
    Men are called to provide ( Nourish in Ephesians 5 is the word for provide) and then there is the curse of burden in provision-specifically for Adam

    women are called to be oriented to the home ( P31- go to any culture of those days and this is the average description of an upper class housewife..) and Titus 2:5.- yes oriented – complementarians do not say women cannot work- lot of women working at CBMW itself and a lot of men LEARNING from them

    so yeah if men were called to do the same things as women because you imagine the bible does not say much- it is you who is adapting to culture, NOT complementarians…

    I also notice the blog CAPC where you write also advocates house husbands by calling that position biblical- really name me one house husband in the bible or one place where women are exhorted to work and men be workers at home?

    funny how you guys then oppose same sex marriage when you say men and women can just do whatever they like in marriage and swap everything, without realizing that that is in essence the foundation of gay marriage- no gender difference!!

    makes me so sad both the 1950’s idealists and people like you, both are doing the same thing- using culture

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