Have you ever heard the term “identity crisis”? Most of us are familiar with this phrase and use it almost jokingly, but the truth is that many times Christians are in the middle of an identity crisis without even realizing it.
“Who am I?” “Who do I want to be?” These are questions that dig to our very core. We often feel pressure to define our identity. The problem—and a more dangerous one than most people are even aware—is when we build our identity on the wrong foundation.
As leaders in women's ministry, we will encounter no end of women who are building identities on foundations that can only crumble under pressure. And the fact that we are leaders doesn’t make us immune from this crisis in our own lives. We cannot lead our women to find the true source of their identity if we ourselves are in the middle of our own identity crisis.
Two Crumbling Foundations
So what are some of the wrong foundations for our identity?
1. We build our identity around sin.
That sounds a bit obvious, but let's think about it before we just dismiss it and move on. So many women have built an identity around their own sin. “I know I come across as gruff and harsh. You’ll have to overlook it when I do that; I just have that kind of personality.” “I know I should trust the Lord in this, but I’m just a worrier by nature.”
Taking our sin and incorporating it into our identity is so subtle, so easy to do, that we often don't even notice we've done it. But defining ourselves by sin has devastating results.
First, it can allow us to excuse that sin instead of working to kill it. We may recognize that worry, harsh speech, overspending, overeating, or any other sin in our lives is wrong, but when we start to believe that's just the way we are, we stop fighting against it.
We may tell ourselves that it's just our “cross to bear” and say we can't wait until Jesus comes to set us free from this sin. We turn our sin into a little, ugly, mangy dog on a chain. We don't really like it, it bites us every time we feed it, but we keep it in the family anyway.
The truth is Jesus has already set us free from our sin! To continue to identify ourselves with sin after we have placed all our trust in Jesus Christ is to tell a lie about Christ.
We claim that He has rescued us from our sin, then we continue to wallow in the mud from which He pulled us. The world knows we’ve claimed transformation in the name of Christ, so His reputation is at stake when we cling to the old life instead of walking in the new one. Jesus makes us completely new. In Christ, the chains of sin no longer bind us.
Romans 6:6–11 says:
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Whether we’re telling ourselves we can't change or just sending mixed signals to the watching world about whether God has really transformed us, building our identity on the foundation of sin tells lies about the redeeming, transforming power of God. This foundation will crumble every time.
On the flip side . . .
2. We also tend to build our identity around our own righteousness.
This is a pitfall that particularly traps the “good church ladies.” When we’re busy with good works, serving in the church, ministering in the community, training our children in righteousness, and caring for the suffering, we can slowly begin to lose sight of the work of Christ if we aren't careful. All of our own good works start to fill our field of vision.
Those who serve in leadership roles may be even more susceptible. We may receive praise and affirmation that polishes those good works and makes them appear more beautiful. The ladies we serve may tell us that we’ve changed their life, that we saved them from a desperate situation, that if not for us their life would be a mess right now.
If we’re not constantly careful to divert that praise away from us and give the glory to God to whom it belongs, we will begin to pile those good works into the foundation of our identity. Unfortunately, that foundation rests on sand. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:27).
There are many Scriptures that warn against building our identity with good works. Let's just look at two:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:8–10).
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isa. 64:6).
I hope that leaders in women's ministry would be quick to claim that salvation is by grace alone through faith and not of works. However, sometimes even when we affirm this we can still be basing our identity on our own works instead of on the work of Christ. These two Scriptures can help remedy that.
In Ephesians 2, we see not only that our works cannot save us but that any good works we do after salvation are God’s workmanship in our lives. God prepared these works for us to do and worked in us to make us able to carry them out. Nothing good in us is from ourselves. In fact, Isaiah says that even our most righteous deeds are like filthy rags compared to the righteousness of Christ. It is all His grace. Building our identity on a foundation of our own righteousness is very dangerous indeed. It will crumble, and great will be the fall of it.
The One, True Foundation
So what is our identity as women who have been rescued and redeemed by Jesus Christ? We are transformed. He makes all things new. He takes the story of self and sin and hurt and writes a new story of healing and righteousness in which He is the main character. He takes our slavery and gives us freedom. He takes our pitiful attempts at righteousness and offers us His own perfect record. Indeed, He takes our own crumbling efforts at building our own identity and offers us His identity. Consider the incredible promises in this passage:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the promise of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:3–14, emphasis added).
Look at all those promises. Meditate on them. Let them seep into every fiber of your being. If you are in Christ, they are all true for you. There is no identity we could build for ourselves that can come close to matching the one Christ offers us. Rest in Him today. Let your identity be Christ, and then you can help the women you serve find their identity in Christ as well.
Have you been building your identity on the wrong foundation? Do you see the women you serve suffering from identity crises? Ask the Lord to help you grasp the truth of His precious promises, for your own life and for the women you serve.