Updated: Nov 2, 2020
WHO AM I?
Who am I? One of the deepest and most profound questions that we ever ask, wrestle with, and search for answers to as human beings. How we answer this question impacts our identity, our priorities, our aspirations, our energies, and how we view others as well as the world in which we live. Psychologist Erik Erikson once said, “In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.” We’re all looking for what it means to know who we really are, to be alive.
The challenge for us all is that our world offers us an overwhelming amount of ways to answer the question: Who am I? Our family, where we grew up, our gender, our abilities or lack-there-of, who we’re attracted to, who we hang around with, who we look like or don’t, the amount of money we have, the amount of accolades we receive, what we do and what we don’t do, how we’ve changed, our past, present, and future, the political party we side with, the religion/s we engage with or don’t, the agendas we fight for, and the soap boxes we stand on. This seemingly endless list goes on and on.
So is there any hope in finding out who I really am? Is there any help available to make sense of the multitude of voices that exist in my life thrusting their definitions upon me? Yes, we believe there is hope and help, but these are not found in institutions, ideologies, individuals, income or any other earthly thing. Our help and hope in answering this question is in Someone, not somewhere or something. The Someone we’re talking about is the God who loves each and every one of us. This God who created the world and uniquely created humanity in His image (Genesis 1, Psalm 139) decided to bring us freedom through the perfect human Jesus. It is in Jesus that we live, move, and have our very being (Acts 17:27-28). We were created through him and are held together by him (Colossians 1:16-17). Because he has created us and loves us, he refuses to leave us to the world and it’s multitude of definitions for us that we somehow need to find or work for. It is in Jesus, and because of Jesus, that we are able to discover who we really are, and able to live from an identity that’s already been gifted to us because of God’s love for us.
"Because he has created us and loves us, he refuses to leave us to the world and its multitude of definitions for us that we somehow need to find or work for."
JESUS' BAPTISM & OURS
There may be no better story in the life of Jesus that can help us understand not only Jesus’ identity, but our own. In Matthew chapter 3, John the Baptist, who was Jesus’ cousin was out in the wilderness announcing that God’s kingdom was breaking into the world, that people needed to repent (change or turn from) of their old thinking and behaviors and to be baptized (a ritual washing) which would be a sign of this new reality. People were coming from all over to see and hear John, as well as to be baptized including Jesus.
When Jesus showed up, his cousin John was surprised. He was even more surprised when Jesus asked to be baptized. How is it that the king of the world whose kingdom John was proclaiming would need to be baptized? He shouldn’t be waiting in line like the others. Jesus certainly didn’t have to turn from anything. John figured he was now the one who should be baptized, but that wasn’t Jesus’ plan.
He waded and washed in the same water that was intended to wash away other’s sin... showing us His mission was to take our mess upon Himself.
Jesus, as he often did, changed the conversation and the story. In the same way he entered the world, Jesus entered the water. God, in His perfection and power, came to our level, entered into our mess. He waded and washed in the same water that was intended to wash away other’s sin and shame, brokenness and pain. He would show in this one action that His mission was to take our mess upon Himself and give us His rightness (righteousness) as a gift. As Jesus did this, further associating and connecting himself with us, something spectacular happened.
The skies opened, a voice thundered, and a dove descended. The triune God (Father, Son and Spirit) fully revealed Himself to the world. In a moment like this one would expect something profound to follow, and something did. The voice spoke these words:
This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17)
LIVING FROM INSTEAD OF FOR
And so what do these words spoken to Jesus by the Father have to do with the question: Who am I? Please note the placement of these words in Jesus’ life. They were spoken on the front end of Jesus’ ministry. At the moment Jesus heard these affirming words of love, he had yet to teach, heal, multiply food, eat with the broken, rebuke the religious or drop a parable. In other words, these words of love and belonging were true of Jesus before he ever did a single thing to deserve them or earn them. In Christ, these words became true of us.
"Instead of living from an identity gifted from above, we live for an identity earned on earth."
Why is this so profound? What makes these words so important? In case you haven’t noticed, the world around us tends to operate in reverse of this beautiful scene. Instead of living from an identity gifted from above, we live for an identity earned on earth. We work, study, practice, train, sweat, invest, risk, and strive our way to our desired positions — the place we think rest and enoughness are found. Madonna captured this mindset well when she said...
“My drive in life comes from a fear of being mediocre. That is always pushing me. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being but then I feel I am still mediocre and uninteresting unless I do something else. Because even though I have become somebody, I still have to prove that I am somebody. My struggle has never ended and I guess it never will.”
We live in a world running ragged trying to find and live for our identity, trying to find and prove our worth, trying to belong. The good news is that the relentless struggle can end, because in Christ we encounter a God who loves us as we are, not as we should be. We are invited to rest in a reality that already is, not something that will happen one day if we’re lucky enough to find it.
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