People today seem to be going through an identity crisis. This is especially true when in adolescence. In every direction we are being overwhelmed with different opinions regarding the proper grounding for identity and human value. Discussions of racial and ethnic identities, viewpoints regarding political identities, culture and social economic status are just a few of the places in which people have chosen to ground themselves. Although these are all aspects of personal identity, they fall short in providing a source for human value. They are incomplete because they provide no sure foundation that can weather difficult times.
In the past, people have looked outward as a source of identity. They would base their own value on their role to family and community. This meant being labeled by others and judged unfairly because of one’s particular place within a society. Today, in an effort to take charge of identity, and find personal freedom, many look inward. This approach causes people to be led by changing feelings and driven by competition. The person must compare themselves with others in order to judge his or her own value. The result is greater divisions within society. Both outward and inward sources of identity bind people us leaving them feeling insecure and confused. There is a third and much better option.
The Christian perspective regarding identity is neither to look outward nor inward but rather to look upward. Simply look up and consider that God created each individual, with great value and a divine purpose. He breathed life into each person and made us in his own image. This means that personal identity comes from God not man. It is not a matter of being labeled by others or led by feeling that change by the moment. He loves each individual from the moment of conception and continues to love past the last breath.
This upward focused identity is what Paul is alluding to in the letter to the Corinthian church. He writes, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:3-4). We would do well to take the same attitude that Paul takes here in regard to our own identity. He is not at all concerned about the judgment of others; they do not define him. He doesn’t take into account his own changing feelings, either. His identity is sourced in God alone.
It is for this reason that the Christian bases his or her identity and personal value in the reality of the cross. From the foot of the cross, we look upward and see a God that loved us and was willing to lay his own life down on our behalf. From the foot of the cross we find level ground knowing, as Paul writes, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This verse reminds the reader that, although we can take great pride in our heritage, we must remember that God loves each individual the same. Understanding this should cause the Christian to demonstrate that same love toward others. Looking upward from the cross gives us the truest sense of who we are and provides the strongest foundation on which to base our lives. It is the cross that demonstrates his great love for us.
In a time when identity and human value are regarded as fluid, the Christian world view reminds us to look upward in order to ground it. God loves each individual. This perspective will break the chains of identity confusion. Accepting it will put an end to the labels placed on us by others and replace them with the love shown in the gospel. It will allow the individual to be liberated by the cross instead of led by emotions. It is on the cross that the Christian grounds his or her identity and finds their great value.
Micheal Hurlbert is the pastor of Carson City’s First Christian Church.