How do you identify yourself? In my previous post, I made a brief observation about the way we identify ourselves: “You’re not defined by your sin. You shouldn’t identify yourself based on the sins you struggle with.” I want to take this post to explore that concept in greater depth.
One of the hallmarks of twelve step programs is the statement members make before they address the group: “Hi. My name is _________, and I’m an alcoholic.” Or an addict. Or whatever the program is focused on. In many ways, this is healthy. As I understand it, the heart behind this greeting is the realization that alcohol (or whatever) is something I struggle with, and I may always have this struggle. Rather than trying to convince myself or anyone else that I am beyond this struggle, I’m going to own up to it. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve got it all together. I’m always a work in progress.
So far so good.
But I also see a danger in this. Should people who have had trouble with alcohol in their past really spend the rest of their lives identifying themselves in terms of this struggle? Wouldn’t it sound strange if I always identified myself in terms of my pride? Or my critical spirit? Or my lack of love for the people around me? Those are all things that I struggle with, and I do see value in acknowledging that I will never be so spiritual that I can’t be tempted to fall into these sins. Paul warns us: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
But this brings us back to the point I made yesterday. Who I was is not who I am. I am a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Though in my flesh I am prone to sin and death, I have been given the omnipotent Spirit of God:
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9-11)
So how should you identify yourself? How about this: “Hi. My name is ________, and I’m a child of God.”
In no way is this meant to belittle our struggle with sin or suggest that we are too good to be tempted. But if you have to identify yourself in only a few words, are you really going to choose the word “addict”? Even “former addict”? “Prideful person”?
In a word, tell me who you are. Until the only answer you can give to this question is “Christian,” you don’t understand what it means to belong to Jesus Christ. As we talk to people more, it will be healthy to identify our struggles, tell them about the ways in which the Spirit is helping us overcome these things, and ask for prayer and support. But read Ephesians 1. Notice how many times Paul declares that we are “in Christ.” If that reality doesn’t shape our identity, then we’re missing something huge.