Who Am I? Learning my Identity by knowing God as my Father

“The battle of the Christian life is to bring your own heart into alignment with Christ’s, that is, getting up each morning and replacing your natural orphan mindset with a mindset of full and free adoption into the family of God through the work of Christ your older brother, who loved you and gave himself for you out of the overflowing fullness of his gracious heart” (Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly).

Several years ago, after sharing a struggle with a good friend, she said to me, “You’re not finding your identity in Christ.” At the time, I wasn’t sure what she meant, and to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember the struggle that I shared with her that day. But her words stuck with me.

A few months ago, I was asked to speak at a Women’s Event at a sister church. The topic? Identity in Christ. The lady who called me and asked me to do it said these words to me, “Our pastor said that you’ve been writing a lot about Identity in Christ, so you would be a good person to ask.” The funny thing is, my reaction (in my mind) was, “I have?!?”

Later that evening, I shared all of this with my husband, David. He confirmed the pastor’s analysis, and I was left with this thought, “God works in mysterious and humorous ways.” You see, from the time of the conversation with my friend to the time I was asked to speak, God, my Father, was working on my heart and my mind, on my identity. He was working even when I didn’t know it. He is that good! He knows me much more than I know myself. Praise be to Him! This article is the written form of that talk. I pray that it helps some of you.

Identity in Christ Defined

While searching for a good definition of Christian identity, I found this one on the Desiring God website. 

“Christian selfhood is not defined in terms of who we are in and of ourselves. It’s defined in terms of what God does to us and the relationship he creates with us, and the destiny he appoints for us. God made us who we are to make known who he is. Our identity is for the sake of making known his identity.”

I will use this definition as the anchor for working out my story of growing my identity in Christ. I will break it down and apply it to my personal story.

What God Does to Us – God justifies Us

Justification is an act of God’s grace. It is a legal declaration in which God pardons the sinner of all his sins and accepts and accounts the sinner as righteous in His sight. God declares the sinner righteous at the very moment that the sinner puts his trust in Jesus Christ.

It is a legal declaration. You can probably picture the courtroom scene standing before God, the righteous judge, in all your guilt and shame. You are guilty, and you know it. But, the moment that He allows you to see your sinfulness and you can do nothing to defend yourself, He also allows you to see Christ. The innocent One has taken the punishment you deserve. Because of the free gift of faith, you can now declare Jesus is Lord! Stamped on all your legal documents is paid in full, not guilty, righteous. You are free. 

What a glorious day! You are forgiven! Your debt has been paid! This declaration is what God does to us. He justifies us.

Now, I want you to keep that courtroom scene in mind.

Several years ago, I was invited to a final adoption hearing with one of my daughters. Our close friends were adopting some children, and we were honored to attend. Neither my daughter nor I had ever been in a courtroom. We had seen courtrooms depicted on television and had images etched in our minds from books that we had read. I also had the Bible’s picture of the justification in my mind. I thought that this family would stand before the judge, and they would hammer the gavel and declare the children adopted. They would sign the legal documents and stamp ADOPTED on them. 

But what we experienced was something a bit different. There was a judge in a robe. We were in a courtroom. There were legal documents that would be signed. But to my genuine surprise, it was very personal. The judge knew this family. They had been in her courtroom several times over the years as they were moving from foster care to adoption. She spoke tenderly and with familiarity to both the children and parents. She asked the children questions like; Do you know what is happening today? Do you want to be adopted? Do you like your new name?

Then she turned to the parents. I don’t remember everything she said to them or all of the questions she asked them, but these two stuck with me. First, she asked them; Are you prepared to educate these children as your own? Secondly, she asked: Do you understand that once adopted, these children will have all the same inheritance rights as any child born to you?

This experience deeply moved me.

You may be asking yourself, what does all of this have to do with my identity in Christ?

The relationship He creates with Us – Adoption

The second point in the definition I’m using moves from what God does to us (justification) to the relationship He creates with us. We are adopted. Paul puts it like this in Ephesians 1:3-6:

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 to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 

I want you to go back to that first courtroom scene, the justification courtroom. The moment the righteous judge, God, declares you righteous, forgiven, justified, you look over and see Him beside you. He’s signing the adoption papers, giving you a new name, promising to love you like He has His own begotten son, Jesus, your Savior and your elder brother, and giving you the same inheritance. You are His child. No longer a slave, but a son. 

J.I. Packer says in his book, Knowing God, “To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater.”

He adopts us because He loves us.

Our identity, the relationship God creates with us, is that we are His children. He is our Father. This truth makes all the difference in the world.

After we are saved, justified, and adopted, we must learn to live out our new identity. You probably know something about adoption. Either you have adopted, you are adopted, you know someone who has been adopted, or you know someone who has adopted children. Most people don’t automatically and immediately assimilate to their new family. It takes some time. The same is true for us when God adopts us. As adopted children of God, we must work out our salvation, grow in sanctification and Christian maturity. 

I struggled in this area of assimilation for years. I had frequent bouts of questioning my salvation. How can I be saved if I struggle this much? How could God love me? Why would He?

Here’s a helpful illustration. We (my family & I) have some friends with biological and adopted children. From the time they brought her home, one of their adopted children would wake up earlier than everyone else, get dressed, and make up her bed. Every morning when her parents went to wake her up, they would find her fully dressed, bed made, sitting there waiting for them to tell her it was ok to come downstairs. She was 4-years-old. Here’s what they figured out over time. She didn’t really believe that they loved her. She felt like she had to earn it by being “good.” She didn’t realize the reality of her situation because she didn’t know her parents yet. The truth was, they adopted her to love her. She had to learn this.

I lived a lot of years like this little girl. I lived a lot of years “making up my bed.” The problem is that this way of thinking and living leads to pride, despair, comparisons, and fear. There is no feeling of assurance in this.

Through the words of the Apostle John, the Holy Spirit helped me to see this. In 1 John 4:16, John writes that “God is love.” This verse contained what I missed for many years.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (italics mine).

Do you see it? We have to come to know and believe God’s love for us. For some of His adopted children, this comes quickly, but it is a longer process for others, like me. So like that 4-year-old girl had to come to know and believe her parents’ love for her, I had to come to know and intimately accept my Father’s love for me.

But in one important way, my story deviates from the illustration. There was much joy in my adoptive friends’ home when their daughter finally woke up and came down to breakfast in her pj’s and left her bed unmade. My friends are good parents, but they are not perfect.
God is a perfect Father. J.I. Packer makes two points about God’s perfection in his book Knowing God,

  1. The family relationship must be an abiding one, lasting forever. Perfect parents do not cast off their children. Christians may act the prodigal, but God will never cease to act the prodigal’s father.
  2. God will go out of his way to make his children feel his love for them and know their privilege and security as members of his family. Adopted children need assurance that they belong, and a perfect parent will not withhold it.

God, our Father, meets us at our deepest need, to be fully known and fully loved for all eternity.

God, my Father, kept working on my heart. He went out of His way to make me feel His love. But, as I said, it was a process. I am stubborn. I can remember the day that I got so frustrated with myself that I looked at my husband, David, and said, “I’m so tired of dealing with this and feeling like this!” His loving response was, “Good!” And he was right. It was good. I was finally at a point of disgust with myself and humbled in a way that my Father could change me. I look for humility in my own children when they have been disciplined. A humility that leads to repentance.

My husband, David, has reminded me of this truth over the years; God is a far better parent than I am. If I, a sinner, want my children to know my love for them, how much more does God, the perfect parent, want His children to know this?

Once we are secure in our family relationship, we begin to change and take on more of our family identity. We begin to act more like our Father and our elder brother, the Lord Jesus.

Another illustration from earthly adoption helps us understand how this works. I have had the privilege to see several adoptions and adopted families go through this process. The children begin to talk like their new family. Dress like their new family. Cheer for the same family sports teams. Enjoy the same traditions and favorite foods. They are no longer orphans but beloved children. Their identity has changed.

This identity change happens to us as Christians. As we read and study our Bibles, listen to and trust the voice of our Father, He changes us.  This change is the process of sanctification and Christian maturity. He is moving in us and changing us by the Holy Spirit conforming us to the image of His Son. Through the words of Scripture, we see His character, and He reveals Himself to us. The Holy Spirit gives us understanding, and through it, we cry out, Abba! Father! We can see our sin clearly, but without condemnation. He disciplines and chastises us when we need it. He shows us who we are and reveals His steadfast love. We can trust Him for all of our circumstances because we know that He is good and He is for us! He is our perfect Father.

He appoints for us a Destiny

The next point in the definition of Christian identity is that He appoints for us a destiny. Destiny here means a predetermined course of events. As Christians, our predetermined course of events is eternity. An eternity with God our Father, Christ our brother, surrounded by the Holy Spirit of God, and all the saints who have believed in Jesus for salvation. Consider the following verses:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. –  1 John 3:2

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. –  1 Corinthians 13:12

we will always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:17

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.- Ephesians 1:11-12
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. – Hebrews 4:9-10

Our future is secure. We have promises; we shall be like him, we shall know God’s love fully, we have an inheritance, and we will have glorious rest in Him. He gives us the freedom to love and be loved. Freedom from sin and all its bondage. Freedom from self and self-absorption. Freedom from all that inhibits our worship. Completely, gloriously, unimaginably free! God is a good, good Father.

Our Purpose – Making Him Known

The last part of the definition that I’m using on Christian identity says that God made us who we are to make known who He is. So our identity is for the sake of making known His identity. 

Our challenge is fleshing this out in the daily-ness of life. If the purpose of my identity as a beloved child of God is to make His identity known, how do I do this? A couple of verses in Ephesians help us answer this question:

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. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

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. [10] For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

If you are a Christian, your life right now is filled with good works that God has prepared that you should walk in them. Not only has God saved you by grace, He graciously uses your life and gives it purpose. One problem is that we think we can rightly judge these works and decide what is important. The truth is God has called us to be faithful in the things He puts before us. He is the giver of life, abilities, and opportunities. 

Our purpose is to live the life He has given us; the blessings, trials, hardships, triumphs, and everything in between, and to see them as being sifted through our good Father’s hands. So no matter your job, marital status, age, health, circumstance, etc.…your purpose in life is to make His name known.

C.H. Spurgeon has put it like this:

To a man who lives unto God nothing is secular, everything is sacred. He puts on his workday garment and it is a vestment to Him. He sits down to his meal and it is a sacrament. He goes forth to his labor, and therein exercises the office of the priesthood. His breath is incense and his life a sacrifice. He sleeps on the bosom of God, and lives and moves in the divine presence. …The Lord hath cleansed your houses, He has cleansed your bed chambers, your tables, your shops, He has made the bells upon your horses holiness to the Lord, He has made the common pots and pans of your kitchens to be as the bowls before the altar, if you know what you are and live according to your high calling. You housemaids, you cooks, you nurses, you ploughmen, you housewives, you traders, you sailors, your labor is holy if you serve the Lord Christ in it, by living unto Him as you ought to live. The sacred has absorbed the secular.

Did you catch that? If you know what you are (or who you are, God’s beloved child) and live (walk in those good works) according to your high calling (to make His name known), then your labor is holy if you serve Christ in it.

Who am I?

J.I. Packer in Knowing God suggests that we should remind ourselves of our identity in Christ every day. He wrote:

Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, anytime when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of – a happy life? – yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life, and of a God-honoring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.”

Who am I? I am unbelievably, steadfastly, unchangeably, wonderfully, sacrificially, intentionally, eternally, unworthily fully known, and fully loved by my perfect Father. And if you are a Christian today, so are you. May we come to know it and to believe it.

By |December 8th, 2021|Categories: Blog, Featured|

About the Author:

Judi H. Prince is married to pastor David E. Prince, an active member of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, and is a stay-at-home mom of eight children. Her husband, David, is the author of the book In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship.