Have you ever had a nickname? I’ve almost had one or two, but they never quite stuck. I had a marine radio call sign that was almost a nickname for a while but never translated into everyday life. One of those nicknames was one I was very happy did not stick.
When you think about it, not many people have nicknames, but a few stick like glue. You’ve likely known someone you knew by a nickname at some point in your life without even realising that it was a nickname.
People are given nicknames for different reasons, maybe a character trait or possibly a particular life event. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes not. A nickname is a way the people around a person identify that person. One consistent thing about a nickname is that it’s not an identity you choose for yourself. It’s given to you.
One of the things that has been discussed a lot in recent times is identity, particularly regarding gender. I heard someone say recently that historically, societies become obsessed with gender right before they collapse. That’s a concerning thought if it’s true.
As with most things, I believe there is a deeper issue underneath what we see on the surface regarding the cultural struggle with identity. My thoughts on identity are that the concern is less about how an individual identifies and more about where that identity is found. Another cultural problem is who decides how a person identifies. Is it the individual, the surrounding culture, or something else?
MY THOUGHTS ON IDENTITY ARE THAT THE CONCERN IS LESS ABOUT HOW AN INDIVIDUAL IDENTIFIES AND MORE ABOUT WHERE THAT IDENTITY IS FOUND.
In Exodus 3:14, God declares to Moses, "I AM who I AM." What do you think God means by that? I think God is clarifying and defining who He is. The cultural struggle we currently face regarding identity is that humans are trying to do the same thing. They are attempting to do something only God can do.
The important thing to recognise regarding the discussion on identity is that God is the only being capable of self-definition. He draws his identity from Himself. He is the only one capable of that; everyone else finds their identity outside themselves. God is the only being who is wholly self-defining, self-sustained and self-reliant. He doesn’t need anything but Himself.
GOD IS THE ONLY BEING CAPABLE OF SELF-DEFINITION.
That’s a lot to think about, but it highlights a stark contrast between our Creator and His creation. We, as humans, find our identity outside of ourselves. I am a pastor; you are a reader; neither of those things is self-determined. We might like to think they are, but in saying “I am a pastor,” I identify with a definition of a pastor created outside of myself, given to me by others. Whereas God says, “I AM who I AM”.
The Significance of Boundaries
Our cultural struggle with identity comes from it being intricately and inseparably tied to boundaries. For example, how culture identifies you determines which restroom culture is comfortable for you to walk into or who competes in a sporting event is determined by the culture, not the individual.
God exists independently, free from external influences or definitions. However, humans do not. Unlike God, we often grapple with external influences that shape our identities. Unlike God, our identity is ultimately determined by sources outside of ourselves. Even when we attempt to change our identity, the change we make must be accepted by the surrounding culture to be a recognised and valid identity.
Boundaries are an inherent part of human life and society. They provide structure and a sense of belonging. As the old saying goes, “Good fences make good neighbours”. We find our identity within boundaries, and we share that identity with others who share the same boundaries.
We can see that in the physical boundaries that define nations, the emotional boundaries that govern relationships, the cultural boundaries that define and shape our identities or the moral boundaries that govern our behaviour.
Without boundaries, there's nowhere to belong, no way of determining right, wrong, good or bad. Some want to remove boundaries because they see boundaries as negative. To be fair and reasonable, some boundaries may need to be removed, but the removal of boundaries is an undertaking that requires a tremendous amount of consideration and care. It’s not something to be done haphazardly or simply because someone doesn’t like the boundary.
If we remove too many boundaries, we will put ourselves in a situation similar to being in the middle of the ocean in a rowboat without any way to navigate.
Identity in a Christian Church
For Christians, our identity is formed and found in Jesus Christ. Our fellow Christians recognise and share the same identity. We share in the things Jesus taught and His love and grace.
FOR CHRISTIANS, OUR IDENTITY IS FORMED AND FOUND IN JESUS CHRIST.
We find unity in our shared identity. Here is something profound about finding your identity in Christ. In Christ, traditional boundaries like race, class, or social status become irrelevant.
One of the things that I’ve noticed about the current cultural struggle regarding identity is that it divides people into continually smaller groups. It becomes more and more difficult to find unity in a shared identity.
Jesus Christ and his followers stand as a beacon of unity and shared identity in a world determined to divide itself. A church is a place where people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life come together in unity in a shared identity in Jesus Christ.
That shared identity in Christ transcends all external divisions.
Breaking Down External Divisions
Regardless of our backgrounds, we look beyond external differences and see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. In Jesus, we discover who we are, first a lost person in need of a Saviour and then through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we can identify as a new creation in Him.
As Christians, we are privileged and responsible for sharing this with the world so others can find their identity in Christ.
In a world that often seeks to divide people into smaller and smaller groups, let us find our identity in Christ, not in the boundaries of race, gender, wealth, class, and social status.