What is it? What is it composed of? Is it right or wrong or is it amoral, neutral?
What does it mean to be 'in Christ'? How does this affect my identity? Totally? Partially? Not at all?
Identity seems to be composed primarily of two elements: character and personality.
Character is largely if not entirely, having to do with moral traits.
Personality has to do with amoral traits, the uniqueness of how I relate to others that distinguishes me from other people.
Personality is not right or wrong, it is just the inherent and creative part of me that makes me special and different from others, the way in which I contribute to the diversity of the groups in which I participate.
Character on the other hand is made up of the moral fiber that is revealed during times of testing, temptation and stress. It is built over time through repeated choices I make, the thoughts I choose to dwell on, the atmosphere with which I surround myself that affects what is encouraged inside of me and the habits that result from these activities.
How is all of this affected when a person begins to experience what is called living 'in Christ'? I believe this is a very misunderstood part of Christianity which contributes to much of the confusion and the weakness of Christians. Because we do not grasp our true identity and what that really means in our lives, we fail to have a potent witness for Christ that could attract others to want to experience the life-changing power of the gospel. As with nearly everything in religion, we have made this teaching superficial, external, intellectual and nearly impotent when it comes to what really should be going on inside of our souls.
I believe it is vitally important to grapple with coming to know for ourselves what Jesus really had in mind when He talked about abiding in Him. I think it is safe to assume that this is the same as what it means to live 'in Christ', abiding in Him and He in us. But all of these phrases have become so religified, so much just a cliché, that most of us fail to enter into the experience that Jesus intends for us to have and that is taught by the Bible. But until we take this life 'in Christ' seriously and seek to untangle our confusion about our true identity, we will continue to act out the dysfunction that always occurs when we feel at our gut level that our identity is defined by mistaken ideas and other sources.
Is my identity largely determined by the big mistakes or sins that I have committed in the past?
Is my identity defined by my external advantages or disadvantages socially, economically, intellectually?
Who has the right to determine for me what my true identity really is?
Who do I allow to define my own sense of identity?
Is my reputation in other people's minds a safe way to discover my identity? Most likely not, especially when the teachings and example of Jesus are taken seriously.
Are my feelings about myself, either good or bad, reliable enough for me to accept to define my true identity? If not, how can I escape the overwhelming tendency to act out from my perceived identity projected in my heart by my feelings, my moods and my circumstances that shape my emotions?
What is the true and authentic way to discover my true identity? Is that different for one who is 'in Christ' from a person who is not living 'in Christ'? Don't answer that too quickly without careful consideration and reexamination of what the Scriptures may be really saying to us about this.
When I am truly 'in Christ', I am abiding in Him, relying on Him, believing and trusting in His righteousness that He brings with Him as He abides in me. The character and moral part of my identity must be based solely on who Jesus is, on His identity and value and not at all on anything I think I am based on my past behavior, mistakes and weaknesses or my achievements.
On the other hand, my personality which is not part of my moral makeup, may be the part of my identity which can be amplified, drawn out of me and sanctified by the presence of Jesus in my life. But this part of me is not so much defined by Jesus as it is highlighted and transformed by the power of His love working in my life. My personality contains some of the aspects of God's personality that are uniquely expressed through me as a person created in His image, yet an incomplete image of Him without interaction and cooperation with the rest of His family that help to fill out the picture of what God is like. My personality is the part of me that God wants to use in conjunction with others to better reflect and compliment the beauty of the collective reflection of God in His church or body.
Together, my character which must be solidly rooted and growing from the living Christ living within me, and my personality which was designed into me uniquely when I was conceived, make up my true identity, the identity that very likely I am yet unfamiliar with but is gradually coming into the open like a flower emerging from a small bud.
Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1 John 3:2 NRSV)
The what we will be mentioned here certainly is something not outside of still being God's children. So whatever that is, I suspect that what will be fully revealed when He comes is a fuller manifestation of our true, unique identity that we are now just beginning to sense in our spirit. This is the balance seen between the unity part and the diversity part of belonging to the family of God.
The unity produced from all of us being God's children and also living our lives 'in Christ' is produced by each of us depending totally on the indwelling Christ to shape our characters.
The diversity part of the family is formed by the individuality and uniqueness of our personalities that are the expressions of God's creativity and love.
The first is an issue of morality because our moral natures were permanently ruined at the fall when sin corrupted our natural desires and integrity. We each come to live our lives 'in Christ' and we allow Christ to live in us exercising His full authority in our lives. We have to daily die to self and its attempts to assert control and usurp Christ's authority inside of us. We have to guard constantly against thinking that we have any merit, any inherent moral value that we can incorporate into our characters. It is in this arena that much of our confusion still keeps us severely handicapped in our Christian growth.
But in the area of personality, I believe we have yet to embrace and allow ourselves to experience more fully the uniqueness of how God designed us to reflect Him. We also need to learn to respect and encourage the unique expression of God's personality in the lives of those around us without confusing personality with moral character. For some it is too easy to judge others because their personalities are different or make us uncomfortable, to feel that certain personality traits are somehow inherently bad.
But most of all, we need to better comprehend the real truth about identity, for if we fail to properly understand and encourage growth in this vital area of our lives without inhibiting either ourselves or others in this development, we will struggle to make sense of much of what the plan of salvation is designed to accomplish in us.