Meaning, Purpose, and Identity: The Search for Significance in Life

The search for meaning, purpose, and identity can cause inner turmoil for many people, including Christians.  Many people will introspectively examine their lives, seeking to identify their unique, distinguishing characteristics and determining how to live in light of those distinctions.  People often wrestle to find unity between their beliefs and behavior, longing for the inner life to match the outer.  Such a struggle is known as an identity crisis, a conflict which can cause pain, distress, and a desire for change.[1]  An identity crisis can take place during phases of biological development, such as adolescence, and during periods of role change, such as in marriage or parenthood.  However, there is an identity crisis that can ensue on the spiritual plane as well: knowing and appropriating one’s identity in Christ.

A born-again believer is one who has placed his or her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin (John 3:3, 5; Rom 10:9-10; 1 John 3:1-3).  God supernaturally imparts righteousness (Eph 4:24; Phl 3:9; 2 Cor 5:21) and the believing person gains a new nature (2 Cor 5:17; 1 Cor 1:30-31).  With the imputation of righteousness, the believer also becomes the new Holy Place for the Spirit of God to dwell (Rom 8:1-11).  The new nature, aided by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the means by which the believer can overcome the flesh, the indwelling sin principle that influenced ungodly behavior (Rom 6:6).  Citing Galatians 5:16-22, R.L. Thomas avowed that one must “take into account the new nature that a believer has in Christ and the opportunity for that new nature to prevail over the flesh through the enablement of the Holy Spirit.”[2]  The shift in identity provided by Christ challenges Christians to see themselves as a saint who occasionally sins rather than a sinner saved by grace (1 Cor 3:17).  Bill Gillham observed that, “Jesus’s crucified and resurrected body is the means by which our identity was changed from rejected sinners into acceptable saints.”[3]  As new creatures that host the Spirit of God, victorious living is assured through the recognition of a strong spiritual identity epitomized by reliance upon Christ (Gal 2:20; Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 6:17; Rom 8:9).  Such a walk, described as a “walk in the newness of life” (Rom 6:4), is able to overcome the residual flesh patterns that plague many Christians (Gal 3:3).[4]

The identity crisis rages as Christians cognitively recognize righteous behavior but fail to match their behavior to their understanding (Rom 7:15-25).  For the myriad challenges presented by indwelling sin and the multiplicity of ways it reveals itself, the root issue is the thinking pattern of the Christian.  The Bible is careful to instruct Christians to monitor their thought life (1 Peter 1:13, Rom 12:2, Eph 4:23, Phl 4:8).  Adopting positive cognitions, that is, maintaining good thoughts, is one of the most challenging habits for Christians to develop.  Fundamentally, the thought life must revolve around the fact that a Christian is dead to sin and alive to God (Rom 6:11).  Sin was nailed to the cross of Christ, where each believer died with Christ to sin.  Simultaneously, the body of Christ appropriates a new identity wherein the life of Christ can flow through each believer (John 15:5; 1 Cor 6:17).  The indwelling sin principle influences one’s body, the only part of humanity still groaning to be redeemed (Rom 8:23).  As Christians await the ultimate redemption, they must learn to think of themselves as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:2).  Thomas observed that, “The New Testament consistently instructs us to think of ourselves as living corpses.”[5]  The Christian’s identity is in Christ, and Christ identifies with the Christian (Gal 2:20, 3:27-29).  Therefore, the Christian who appropriates their identity as “in Christ” is liberated to experience the life-giving grace that resolves any crisis and conflict of personal identity.

[1] J. Hunt, Biblical Counseling Keys on Identity: Who Are You? Do You Know Who You Really Are? (Dallas, TX: 2008), 2.

[2] R. L. Thomas, Who Am I?: The Christian Hunger for Self-Identity, (Fearn, UK: 2002), 11.

[3] Bill Gillham, What God Wishes Christians Knew About Christianity, (Eugene, OR: 1998), 25.

[4] Bill Gillham, “Lifetime Guarantee,” (Eugene, OR: 1991), 16.

[5] R. L. Thomas, Who Am I?: The Christian Hunger for Self-Identity, (Fearn, UK: 2002), 14.

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