When I was in college, I read a Jerry Bridges book with some friends and learned one of the most important disciplines of my life: preach the gospel to yourself every day.
One of the reasons this discipline is so important is because we all have gospel amnesia—we’re prone to forget our identity in Christ. This tendency is tragic because the most important thing about you is where you find your identity. An unshakable identity leads to an unstable life and an uncertain eternity.
When it comes to your identity, you’ve really got two choices: You’re either going to receive an identity from God or you’re going to create an identity for yourself.
Our modern western culture is categorically opposed to the idea of receiving an identity. We hear things like you’ve got to “be true to yourself” or “find your true self.” This notion is all about breaking free from anyone imposing any identity on you, and finding your own identity. In other words, modern people don’t receive an identity, they create an identity.
While this may sound liberating, it’s actually exhausting. If you have to create your own identity by deciding who you want to be and then achieving it, that’s a crushing weight. You’ve got to be brilliant, beautiful, attractive, hip, successful—you’ve got to be those things all the time. It’s all up to you.
Let me give you some examples:
If you decide you’re going to be known as “the funny guy,” you’ve always got to be on your game, you’ve got to be funny at all times. If you’re not funny, then who are you? You can’t appreciate people who are funnier than you because they’re stealing your thunder. If they’re the big noise at the party and you’re not, it’s crushing. If you can drum up a few laughs, that’s great for a moment, but then you’ve got to keep on making people laugh or you run the risk of irrelevance.
If you decide that you’re going to be known as “the pretty girl,” then you’ve always got to be beautiful. Gaining weight or aging is becomes a nightmare. So you’ll have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in order to keep that identity alive. At some point, when your outward beauty fades, you’ll be driven to vicariously live through your daughter and try to establish her identity on beauty too. But at some point, it all fades and you’ll be crushed.
If you decide you’re going to be known as “the athlete,” then it’s near impossible to recover if you lose the big game, especially if your athletic prowess comes up short. Eventually your glory days will soon fade and you will try to live vicariously through your son—and if he’s into art instead of sports, you will be crushed. Why? Because your identity has failed.
If you decide you find your identity in being “the perfect parent,” then it’s only a matter of time until you smother your kids because you’re forcing them to be something that they can’t be—the basis of your identity. You’ll never really enjoy your kids, you’ll just worry whether or not you’re being a bad parent. In fact, not too long ago, I read an article in Time magazine on how the Millennial generation has now become parents. Nearly 80% of millennial moms say it’s important to be “the perfect mom.” In this article, Ali Deplatchett, a 31-year-old mom from Cleveland, says, “social media just feeds into this mentality.” She says, “I’m like, ugh, there’s a 7-month-old walking on Facebook. What are you doing, Liam?” So, she worries that her son is behind and that she’s not a good mom. That’s an identity issue.
The problem with trying to find your identity in anything other than God, is that you will never experience true rest. It never ends. It’s never enough.
But the gospel is not about creating your own identity, rather it’s about receiving an identity—one that will never be taken away. And that’s good news for us.
The gospel secures an identity for us that is based not on our performance (accomplishing/maintaining something), but based solely on what God has declared us to be in Christ. As J.D. Greear says, “In Christ, there is nothing you can do that would make God love you more, and nothing you have done that makes God love you less.” And in Christ, God has declared us His sons and daughters. We are royalty. We are righteous. We are His—and He is all we’ll ever need for everlasting joy. In the gospel, we are finally free. In the gospel, we can finally rest.
Jesus Is the Great Example
Even as a boy, Jesus was constantly aware of his identity.
Jesus was twelve years old when he speaks for the first time in the Gospel of Luke. This is the only time we hear him speak as a child, but what he says is profound. Having lost Jesus, his parents frantically searched for him and when they finally found him, he responded, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). The phrase, “Be in my Father’s house” could also be understood as, “Be about my Father’s business.” In other words, even at the age of twelve, Jesus understood his identity as the Son of God.
Years later at his baptism, Jesus heard his Father’s public affirmation, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). Not long after that, Satan tried to thwart his confidence in his identity saying, “If you are the Son of God…” (Luke 4:3, 9). If we listen closely, we hear a hint of doubt. You’ve got to imagine that Satan is on his “A-Game” here when he tempts Jesus. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that one of Satan’s chief schemes is to confuse you in regard to your identity. Although Jesus was tempted and tried, he came away victorious. He remained secure in His Father’s declaration of Sonship. Therefore, Jesus continually trusted His Father and obeyed him to the point of death, even death on a cross. But this Roman cross is our catalyst for a secure identity.
You see, the cross was the only way that God could offer forgiveness and salvation to sinners. At the cross the debt was paid and Jesus makes slaves into sons (Gal 4:7).
When you turn from your sin and trust in Jesus, you become God’s masterpiece (Eph 2:10). You are accepted by God, loved by God, prized by God. You belong to Him and He’s never leaving you. As a Christian, your identity is based not on your unreliable performance, but on God’s unshakable grace. Revel in that truth and worship the God of all grace. And never cease to preach the gospel to yourself.