Man has been plagued with the desire to “play God” since Genesis 3. This includes promoting imago self rather than imago Dei. That is, culture is obsessed with representing self according to one’s own design. Although the created has always sinfully desired to be the Creator, contemporary culture is fraught with heightened forms of creating one’s identity. To be sure, we can easily and rapidly recreate our identities in both our real and virtual lives.
Online avatars permit us to create a virtual self where visual appearance, attributes, and behavior may be represented in any manner in the perceived risk-free environment of online spaces. This permits individuals to act out their personal fantasies without apparent consequences. Online screen names and profiles also permit us to self-represent ourselves in a particular manner that is often far from reality. Social media permits us to define facets of self with mere images and a few characters.
Gender fluidity is being promoted as a cultural norm. Individuals may now self-identify as someone or something else. Bookstores and blogs are rampant with self-help, self-awareness, and self-actualization topics. Tattoos have moved from expressing identity to defining identity. Advances in artificial intelligence are rapidly colliding with concepts of identity and personhood. TED talks provide unending lectures on personality, self-motivation, and humanity, all with the goal to assist us in defining our identity.
The Who’s 1978 classic “Who Are You” is the siren lament of contemporary culture. People do not know their identity. Culture has more adjectival labels for people now than one’s favorite cup of coffee at the boutique coffee shop. People are in an identity crisis, desperately trying to define themselves in a world that strangles uniqueness as it makes everything normative.
We, believers, have the answer! Our identity is not defined by a denomination or a church. It is not defined by what coffee we drink, clothes we wear, what political party we align with, whether we use an iOS or Android phone, sports team we root for, blogs we read, or whether or not we have a beard. Rather, the Apostle Paul clearly and succinctly defines our identity with the two-word prepositional phrase ἐν Χριστῷ—in Christ. He repeatedly uses this expression in his epistles (along with “in Him” and “in the Lord”), and it is critical to Paul’s, and our, theology. Our identity is a Gospel identity fully defined in Christ.
To be in Christ means we share in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The old us is dead, and we are a new creature placed under the headship of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1-2). Hence, our identity has been changed, and we think and act differently. We are adopted into the family of God (1 Corinthians 12:13). Having been justified, we are able to come boldly before the throne of God (Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 4:16) as a people set apart (1 Peter 2:9). Our identity comes with citizenship in heaven as we are changed to be in the world and not of the world (John 17:14-16; Romans 12:2).
Our identity does not depend on us or material things of this world, but solely on Christ. In Christ alone. We are united with Christ and are His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).
So, the next time someone asks who you are, answer them with “in Christ.” When they look at you strangely, begin a Gospel proclamation.