This is the first in a series of posts to demystify some of the most common gospel-isms we use in Christianity. While these sayings are good, sometimes they can feel confusing or easier said than done. Many of us wonder, “What does that really mean though?” We hope that these short blogs can help us all think about these phrases in context, considering how they impact our daily lives.
Although we’ve had the same food expectations for all of our kids, their tastes and preferences vary wildly. Our twins are connoisseurs of sauce, seasoned vegetables, and exotic foods. They are four-year-olds from Iowa who ask for smoked salmon and seaweed. It’s pretty incredible. On the other hand, our oldest son gags on any type macaroni and cheese that doesn’t look like it came from a Kraft box. So not long ago, we jokingly nicknamed our twins, “farm-to-table” and our oldest son, “Mickey” (in reference to his love of the McDonald’s cheeseburger). It was all fun and games … for awhile.
As the nicknames persisted, something strange happened. The more we emphasized and associated our twins with the name “farm-to-table,” making a big deal out of their love for root vegetables and fancy foods, we inadvertently reinforced to our older son that he wasn’t a lover of those things. After a couple of weeks it started affecting their behavior and excitement about different foods. When our firstborn pushed away his broccoli—not because he simply didn’t like it—but because he was “Mickey,” we decided the joke was over.This goes to show that what we call ourselves has power. The more we identified our children with these silly labels, the more they lived up to that identity. And now, you’d better believe we’re using that to our advantage, calling them all “farm-to-table” in hopes that they’ll live up to that name, loving vegetables and whole foods alongside cheeseburgers and sweets.
Just like my children quickly identified themselves with their food preferences, we naturally link ourselves to labels too. Some have been placed there by others (names we were called as children, rumors spread about us in high school, praises we’ve received) and some, we’ve placed on ourselves (sin patterns we fall into, mantras we repeat in our heads, ideas about who we think we should be). We don’t think of ourselves neutrally, but instead, we see ourselves through the lens of, “Mary, the angry mom,” or “Julie, the messy person,” or “Kayla, the A-type overachiever.” The more we repeat these and believe these labels, the more we live up to them. Identity is linked to behavior—who we are (who we think we are or who we want to be) determines what we do and how we live.
The power of personal identity is one of main reasons why God spends so much of the Bible telling us who we were created to be, who we are apart from him, and who we are in Christ. These foundational truths are the dot from which all the lines of our life flow. In Genesis, he tells us that we are image bearers, created as males and females, equal in worth but still distinct. Being an image bearer of the most high and holy God gives us inherent worth and value that no one can take away. As image bearers, we deserve dignity, respect, love, and life.
But in Genesis, we also see that Adam and Eve sin, which made them image bearers, yes, but now they were also identified with the unholy desires of the flesh. As sinners, we deserve guilt, condemnation, separation from God, and ultimately death. It feels normal for most of us (especially once we’ve heard and believed the gospel) to be horrified and ashamed about this sinful aspect of our identity.
If God left us like this—image bearers enslaved to sin—the narrative of our lives would be irredeemable. But he intervenes by sending his son, Jesus, to purchase us at an unimaginably high price so that we could part with our old identity and be raised with him, identified with Christ. Our new identity—in Christ—means that we are redeemed image bearers. As redeemed image bearers, we receive all of the promises of God, all of the righteousness of Christ, all of the joys of heaven, and the fullness of a relationship with God forever.
All of that sounds pretty heady, so this is where we need to make a connection between the oft-quoted, “Just remember your identity in Christ” with our present moment. Especially when I was a new believer, I remember saying the phrase to fit-in as a “right” answer to any problem I was facing, but actually having no clue what it really meant! An example, like “farm-to-table” children, helps us grasp this practically.
When we forget who we are in Christ (redeemed, unashamed, clean, full of hope, heirs of wonderful promises with access to God) and we only see ourselves as sinners, mad mamas, trying-so-hard-to-please-him wives, laid-back failures, used-to-sleep-around women, always-accomplishing-everything employees, organic-food moms, homeschoolers, and so-on, we become ruled by those labels. We live unto them. From those identities (and we like to wear several at once), we try hard, we hide, we posture, and we sulk away from the Father who loves us. We feel like our life rides on living up to that label or expectation … if we don’t, then who are we?!
This is why many New Testament letters repeat the gospel, taking great care to remind us of the wonderful good news that we are dead to sin and alive in Christ, because this makes all of our other identities (I-just-keep-blowing-it mom, whole-foods mom, and so on) invalid. From the basis of our new identity in Christ, we love well, we look out for the interests of others, we forgive, we submit, and we pursue peace. We are not “angry moms” trying to get our temper under control—we are redeemed image bearers in the process of becoming more like Jesus while we wait for our final restoration.
What if I could see the future, and I really knew my sons were going to grow up and co-own a farm-to-table restaurant? I wouldn’t be teasing them or labeling them prematurely, I would simply be stating a fact about them that I know will come true. So why not tell them and have them live it out now? Such is the same for us. God tells us who we are in Christ, not because we have arrived today, but because we will arrive when we meet Christ. The more we believe that—remembering our identity in Christ today—the more we can cast off lies and walk in the way we’ll walk for eternity.
So the next time you hear someone (or one of us at Risen Motherhood!) say, “Just remember your identity in Christ,” you can know that it means, “Even though right now it feels like you can’t do anything right—like you are discouraged and tired of the way you continually blow it when you try to do the right thing—that sin nature no longer defines you. Don’t start condemning yourself, repeat the truth: you are a saint. You are clean. You are redeemed. You are waiting for full restoration that is coming. You have the power of the Holy Spirit in you. No one can tarnish that or take it away.”
However you think of it, let it be a reminder that you are a new creation in Christ, which is definitely a label worth remembering.
Emily Jensen is the Content Director for Risen Motherhood, and the Co-Host of the weekly podcast. She’s a busy mom of five, a frequent downloader of audiobooks from the library, and a lover of Friday nights at home.