God has done a tremendous work in his church over the last few decades. He has taught us the Father’s heart and how church should not be purely a religious experience, but it should be a place to have a relational encounter with the Lord. God taught us that revival is still for today and that we should pursue his presence as our most valuable resource on the earth. He also taught us very important lessons about identity, about who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us, and that’s what I want to talk about briefly today. Specifically: Is it wrong to have your identity in what you do?. What role does “works” play in identity? I hope I can help to answer this for you!
IS FOCUSING ON “WHAT YOU DO” WRONG WHEN IT COMES TO IDENTITY?
I’ve heard it said, as I’m sure you have if you’ve heard a few messages over the past thirty years on “identity”, that God is not nearly as interested in what we do compared to who we are. We have some phrases that have floated around the body of Christ and caught on such as, “We are human “beings” not human “doings”” (The implication once again being that God is much more concerned with who we are then He is with what we do). I see the truth in this idea, and I acknowledge it’s a needed truth, especially for people that are coming from a culture in the church dominated by the religious spirit which seems to be overly interested in performance in place of relationship. But I feel compelled to challenge this idea today and attempt to bring light to the subject so that a balance can be struck on this point. I feel that some damage has been done to the body of Christ by those that would take this idea to the extreme and not balance it out with wisdom.
IDENTITY IS BOTH REVEALED & STRENGTHENED BY WHAT WE DO
The truth is, “what we do” is just as important to our identity as understanding “who we are”. Let’s read these passages from a book called “Atomic Habits” by a man named James Clear. Mr. Clear is a very successful and respected teacher in the world in regards to behavioral science. He specializes in helping people establish good habits, and helping people break bad habits that hinder them and keep them from being the people they want to be. In these passages He’s talking about the importance of what we do in regards to who we believe we are. Check this out:
“True behavior change is identity change. You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity. Anyone can convince themselves to visit the gym or eat healthy once or twice, but if you don’t shift the belief behind behavior, then it is hard to stick with long-term changes. Improvements are only temporary until they become part of who you are. So the goal is not to read a book, the goal is to become a reader. The goal is not to run a marathon, the goal is to become a runner. The goal is not to learn an instrument, the goal is to become a musician.”
“Your identity emerges out of your habits. You are not born with preset beliefs. Every belief, including those about yourself, is learned and conditioned through experience. More precisely, your habits are how you embody your identity. When you make your bed each day, you embody the identity of an organized person. When you write each day, you embody the identity of a creative person. When you train each day, you embody the identity of an athletic person. The more you repeat a behavior, the more you reinforce the identity associated with that behavior. In fact, the word identity was originally derived from the Latin words “essentitas” (which means “being”), and “identidem” (which means repeatedly). Your identity is literally your repeated “beingness.” (James Clear, Atomic Habits, pg.34, 36-37).
Wow, what incredible information. I haven’t heard such profound statements on the relationship between what we do and who we are in a long time. If you need a scripture reference for the point being made here, there’s no need to look beyond (James 2:14-26). Faith without works is dead. In other words, if your actions do not align with what you believe about yourself then your belief in yourself is weak and dead. Your actions are both a revelation and a reinforcement of your identity, and they show yourself and the world around you who you really believe you are. If your works do not follow your beliefs then your faith in yourself has no life and no power. If your actions do not correspond to your held-to-identity then your identity is weak, and more than likely, deep down inside, you don’t really believe it.
Do you see how we’ve overcorrected in much of our identity teaching over the last 20-30 years in the church? I know people who were delivered from a performance driven religious culture when they discovered the Father’s heart revelation in the 90’s, but in an overreaction to being too performance driven they’ve become lazy and completely void of good works. What’s worse is they struggle with their identity, even though identity has been one of their strongest teachings for the past few decades. How is this possible? It’s because they’ve failed to understand the vital role that “works”, that daily and weekly action, that one’s lifestyle plays in all of this. It’s because much of what flies as “spirituality” in the charismatic church does not pass the wisdom test. If it does not practically work it’s way out in the real world and in our daily lives then we need to take another look at it. If your identity doesn’t produce a lifestyle that both reveals that identity and helps to reinforce that identity then something is probably wrong with your doctrine on identity.
Yes, I agree that we should rest in the finished work of the cross and that we should rest in our identity in Christ, but if we are really being empowered by the revelation of our identity in Christ then it will drive us into good works that are in line with that belief structure. The bible says that God labored and created for six days and then rested on the seventh (Gen.2:1-2). This is the pattern for the work week and day of rest (The Sabaoth) which later emerged in Jewish culture and has been passed on to our western culture today through Christian-Judeo values. This is a basic revelation of how our weeks should look as we walk through this life that God has gifted us with. The Sabbath is not supposed to be everyday. Otherwise you would never fulfill the great works that God has destined you for (Eph.2:10). Rest has its place in our days and our weeks, but so does work and “works”. Are you seeing what I’m getting at? Some people in the church have made everyday their Sabaoth, literally and in practice (not just spiritually, resting in Christ), and this has messed with their identity. This has hindered them from “being” who God has called them to be while on this earth. So sad.
If you let your works be fueled by a revelation of divine purpose then they will be healthy works which aid in establishing your identity everyday so you can be the person God has called you to be. If you let your works be powered by a divine revelation for why you’re here, then they will not be dead religious works. They will be works born of the grace and faith of our Lord within you! If God has called you to be a writer then you should write everyday. If God’s called you to be a leader, then you should find people to serve and people to lead through servant leadership every week. That’s not performance/works based Christianity, that is the natural outworking of your identity in Christ; the natural outworking of calling and purpose.
You will not find it written anywhere in the bible that God gives us exclusively the identity of family; that God only gives to us the identity of sons and daughters. That is a perversion of biblical teaching on identity. If our only identity was family in God then we could just sit around and have family game night all day long seven days a week and fulfill the purpose of God for our lives. No, we have been put here to do specific things, to be fruitful and multiply (Gen.1:28), to honor God with the works of our hands and to help the world around us. We have multiple identities in Christ which God is earnestly desiring to reveal to this world as people begin to walk out those identities with confidence and boldness knowing that it’s not evil “works” but the manifestation of the glory of God in and through us! Rise up today and truly take control of your identity. If your actions and your daily habits reveal that you identify as a lazy person that has no purpose, then change it. Take on the identity of a Son of God who has been created unto good works, who is called to do great things, and change the world around you for good. Identify specific things that you do well and identify gifts that you have from God and expand on those things. Take skills that you’ve developed, or skills that you feel called to develop, and go for it. If you feel you were put on this earth to play a musical instrument, then you need to start playing one everyday, and as you play one everyday your heart and soul will rise daily to say, “I am a musician, this is who I am”. Understand the importance of both your identity and the daily habits you adopt which both reveal and reinforce that identity. Don’t delay. Do it today and watch what God does with your life!
In His Service,