Identity & Security
Identity & Security
Who am I? I am a disciple of Christ, called by Him to Himself and called consequently “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,” that is, conduct life in a way that is consistent with, or compatible with, who Christ is and who we are in Christ (Col 1:10). This identity defines who I am and consequently how I believe, and even where I belong.
Otto Friedrich, in his book Iron & Blood, tells about an incident in his father’s childhood in Germany. When the time came for his tonsils to be removed the doctor approached him with his shiny stainless steel surgical scissors and asked, “Now are you a brave German boy or are you somebody who cries and has to be put to sleep?” “What did you answer?” Friedrich asks his father squeamishly. “I said I was a brave German boy and that was that.” Identity, as we can see, has much to say about behavior.
Winston Churchill’s matchless speeches of the World War II era often involved identity as a motivation for resistance. He referred in his post-Munich Pact speech to a recovery of the “moral strength and martial vigor” that would enable Britain to stand against moral evil, as it had so often in “olden times.” Had they not stood alone against the Spanish Armada, against Napoleon, and the Kaiser? “We shall never surrender” was an invocation of British identity, British courage, British determination to resist the forces of tyranny. We are British, and this is what we have always done, and what we will now do, whatever the cost.
Less eloquently, yet appealing to the same principle, Nikki Giovanni, an official at Virginia Tech University, encouraged a strong response to the campus massacre in April 2007 by repeating time and again, “We are Virginia Tech!” She invoked identity. Because we are, she urged, we will not allow this tragedy to defeat us, or deflect us from our mission.
The crisis of identity is also a crisis of belonging. Who am I? I am first and foremost a disciple of Christ, “in Christ” (a favorite New Testament designation). Where do I belong? I am a citizen of heaven (Phil 3:20), a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12; Rom 12), the church, the separated people of God (2 Cor 6:14-18). Who are we? We are a holy people called out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9-12), mocked (1 Pet 4:3-5), and hated by the world (Jn 15:18-25). We are fools for Christ’s sake (1 Cor 4:9-13), who in turn reject friendship with the world (Jas 4:4,5), who love not the world (1 Jn 2:15-17), who have fixed our minds on things above and not things below (Col 3:2; 2 Cor 4:18), who love our neighbors, love our enemies, and love one another (Mt 5:38-48). All of this (and much, much more) is wrapped up in our identity. Because of what Christ has done we have a new identity. We are the people of God. We stand in a long line of heroes and martyrs of faith, a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 11:1–12:1). Our identity plants us among a particular people and dictates a way of life consistent with our leader (Jesus) and His people all through the ages.
On the eve of USC–Notre Dame football games the ghosts of heroes and heroic exploits are resurrected in pep rallies, to remind present athletes and fans that our side wins at all times and against all odds. Notre Dame invokes Knute Rockne, the Gipper, and the Four Horsemen. USC hauls out the legendary Howard Jones, John McKay, Frank Gifford, Mike Garrett (we won’t mention O.J.), and the other Heisman winners. What’s the point of these rituals, repeated everywhere throughout the college football world? They are exercises in identity, in who we are. We are winners. We are big, tough, relentless, fleet of foot, defensive stone walls and offensive tidal waves. We never quit. We always prevail. What we have achieved before we will again.
I am not primarily a Johnson. I am not primarily a minister. I am not primarily an American. I am not primarily a Californian. I am not defined primarily by a given class, race, or social group. I’m not even my own person. I’ve been “bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19,20). I’ve been crucified and I no longer live (Gal 2:20). I lost my life, having surrendered it to Christ (Mt 16:24,25). My life now belongs to Jesus.
Taken on their own terms, there is nothing wrong with any of the above sources of identity. However, I must never allow a secondary identity to overtake the primary. If I do so, I make an idol of that identity and open the door to all manner of trouble. Who am I? It’s simple. I am a Christian, a sinner saved by grace, a disciple of Christ,