I recently shared some thoughts on how “what you do” doesn’t define “who you are,” and how sometimes we allow our roles to cloud the truth about who we are in Christ. Yet there’s an even bigger danger we face when it comes to our identities. It is basing “who we are” on “what we did”.
I don’t get many opportunities to tell my story on how I came to know Christ. My hope is that it helps to lay a foundation for why I think it’s so important we don’t allow our past to identify who we are right now and who we are yet to become.
I’m not aware of any church history in my family. What I do know is we have a history of mental illness, addiction, suicide and yes, even murder. When I was just two months old, my maternal grandfather killed my maternal grandmother. Of course, growing up I didn’t give much thought to my family’s history. I certainly didn’t understand the impact it would have on me.
Needless to say, my childhood wasn’t ideal. The result was an insecure, scared little girl who didn’t understand boundaries. That turned into an attention seeking, reckless teenager…which then turned into an angry, promiscuous, controlling woman.
You can probably guess there were some struggles with finding my identity in Christ. Coming to know Him was the most wonderful, freeing experience of my life. Yet the “who I was” seemed to overshadow the “who I am” in Christ.
My initial response to the gospel message was like a kid in the candy store. I couldn’t get enough of it. The realization that all of the icky stuff I’d done was forgiven—nailed to the cross—began the process of finding deliverance from shame. Long “churchy” dresses replaced short skirts. A fun night no longer consisted of a brandy and coke at a bar but coffee and sweets at a Bible study. My speakers now blasted the likes of Steven Curtis Chapman and Point of Grace, instead of Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi.
Maybe it’s not glaringly obvious—but as “good” as these changes might have been in my life—they did little to address the deep-rooted shame that laid the foundation of who I was. In my head I could say I was new in Christ. But in my heart, I still felt like the old me, especially when I continued to battle with some of my past struggles.
Despite ongoing years of Bible study, church teachings, and doing my best to be the right kind of Christian wife, mother and friend…”who I was” continued to be “who I am.” I wasn’t living in the freedom of being a new creation in Christ. When I looked in the mirror I still saw the unredeemed me. The broken, messed up, lost soul who yes, was saved by the grace of God…but just couldn’t believe I was loved and accepted. How could One so holy accept the likes of me?!
There is a danger in identifying ourselves as “who we were” rather than “who we are” (in Christ). On the most surface level, it keeps us from reaching our potential as a believer. But on a deeper level, it chains us to the past. That eliminates freedom of movement in the things that God has for us.
One of my favorite bloggers is a perfect example of someone who doesn’t allow “who she was” to identify “who she is.” At “Beauty Beyond Bones,” you will meet a young lady who overcame her eating disorder and now offers hope and encouragement to others. While I have never struggled with this particular issue, her blog feeds my soul. I can relate to the journey she has taken in learning to love herself.
No, we can’t erase our past. We can’t pretend it never happened. Nor can we deny its impact on our lives. But we can embrace what’s in front of us. We can learn from the struggles of our past. And we can finally find freedom in Christ.