By Stephen Kendrick and Lawrence Kimbrough
Life can have a brutal way of stretching and fiercely testing who we are.
Unexpected loss. Unwanted pain. We’ve all seen it happen to us and the people around us. Someone loses their job or a precious relationship, only to feel like they’ve also lost their reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
A church member fails or stumbles into sin, and then is never heard from again, unable to rise above their own self-induced shame.
A ministry leader takes heat for making an unpopular decision, then feels paralyzed by the new lack of support and approval.
All of us—the people to whom we minister, as well as the person we see in the mirror—find ourselves dealing with a lifetime of tumultuous moments, seasons of unwanted change and struggles that can challenge us to question where our identity is actually grounded.
They can cause us to wonder, “Who even am I anymore?” Identity has emerged as perhaps the crucial question of a generation.
This is rooted in the fact that, as the Bible clearly demonstrates, our identity on earth can and will change multiple times throughout life.
You’ll remember from the life of Job, how he went from being the father of ten children, a respected and wealthy landowner—“the greatest man among all the people of the east” (Job 1:3)—to someone who lost everything of earthly value to him: his family, his financial holdings, his physical health, all of it. He was no longer recognizable to himself and others as the person they’d always known him to be.
But what we discover from watching Job suffer to the point of wishing he’d never been born at all (Job 3:1–3), is that Job actually had two identities: a temporary identity on earth and a lasting identity in heaven.
His earthly identity, we know, was fully capable of being rocked and ripped away, crushed to powder in front of his eyes. But Job’s heavenly identity was defined from God’s perspective as “my servant Job . . . a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8).
He was eternally loved and highly valued by the One who made him. He was infused with a God-given purpose that nothing in all the world could ever thwart or diminish.
One person; two identities.
The same is true of any believer in Christ. If we could ever fully discover and become convinced of our real, heavenly identity—our monumentally more important identity; our lasting identity—then we could finally take our eyes off our present disappointing circumstances.
We could stop staying focused on how we feel, what people are saying, as well as the implications of these circumstances on the various titles, roles, or reputations attached to our name. Instead we could see ourselves the way God sees us, the One who truly knows us, owns us, and maintains ultimate authority over us.
In other words, you’d be free to be the REAL YOU, the one God created and saved you to become. All day, every day. Under any conditions. Through criticism and betrayal. Through loss and failure. Through spiritual attack and temptation.
Consider this. Your true identity in heaven, your true identity in Christ, does not change when your earthly circumstances change. And when you choose to live inside of it, this true identity of yours can be counted on to drive your attitudes and behavior on a steady course through any challenge or obstacle in your way. Being strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
That’s why when Paul the apostle wrote out his prayers for the believers in Ephesus (Eph. 1:15–19; 3:14–19), he didn’t pray for their health, their jobs, their families, or their financial issues, though of course there’s nothing wrong with praying for any of those things.
Nor did he pray for them to clean up their lives and start acting like godly people, although there’s nothing wrong with praying that either.
Instead, in both prayers, he went straight to the core of what he knew they needed most.
He prayed that God’s Spirit would reveal specific truth deep within their hearts, giving them understanding about who they were in Christ, what they had as an inheritance from Him in Christ, and how much God loved them through their relationship with Christ.
If they could just grasp and be assured of these things, he knew they’d be changed at the center of their being. Then the truth of their heavenly identity could ripple outward and positively influence everything else in their lives.
Their thinking. Their speech. Their moral lives. Their marriages. Their other relationships. Their spiritual strength in the evil day and in intense spiritual battle.
Being certain of your true identity is still that important today.
You’ve noticed how certain kinds of events can affect you deeply—like being falsely judged or accused by other people, or being passed over for an honor or position that you thought you deserved.
Perhaps you can think of individuals in your church and family today who’ve reacted to these unwelcome situations in life by lashing out in anger, recoiling into bitterness, escaping into addiction, or caving under the weight of old doubts, questioning who they really are and what they’re really worth.
At some point, everything we hold dear in this short life will eventually be tested, altered, or taken away. But boil down all the reasons for why any of us might fall apart at times like these, and one answer becomes clear.
The core of our identity feels threatened. Who we are gets tested and questioned. It’s what Satan went after when Jesus was tempted. It’s how He was attacked when He stood before Pilate, Herod, and while He hung on the cross.
When you are attacked, are you basing the perception of your identity on changeable things or on what God says is true of you? When you put your trust in God and in what He says is eternally true of you, not in the fickle opinions of man, not in the shifting circumstances of the season, not in the normal feelings of disappointment or discouragement, you can stand firm instead of being derailed.
We must each come back to what Jesus said about anchoring ourselves on an unshakable foundation—“on the rock” (Matt. 7:24–25). We must lock into our core identity, found only in God and His unchanging Word.
When Job lost everything, he shaved his head, fell to the ground, and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
He had gotten down to the core of who he was, with nothing to hang onto but God. But because God’s opinion of Job was the only part of Job that was built to last, it was more than enough for him. And it’s more than enough for you.
When you’re barely hanging on, not sure if anything’s going to be left of you or your ministry whenever this is all over, lift your eyes and shepherd your own soul back to it’s eternal foundation, clinging to your heavenly identity—to the one Who created you, holds you, saved you, and will be faithful to complete what He lovingly began in you.
STEPHEN KENDRICK (@stephenandjill) is a co-writer and producer for Kendrick Brothers’ films and related resources.
LAWRENCE KIMBROUGH is a staff writer and editorial consultant for Lifeway Publishing.