Ever since I was in college I have struggled with who I am. I have participated in and led Bible studies on identity in Christ and often felt like it was a concept too intangible to be grasped. Thankfully God is never far from us or our questions. And now, nearly two decades later, as I continue to grapple with this question, God has met me where I am. Here are five words I hear Him say to me when I ask Him who I am. If you listen close, He’ll say them to you as well.
Loved: Probably the most well-known, famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. Many of us who were raised in church can quote this one in our sleep. It’s behind the umpire on a hand-painted sign in every televised major league baseball game. It’s become synonymous with the Christian faith in many ways. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” For God so loved…it’s how the statement begins, still we often miss that part. Loved. He loved us. He loves us. He will always love us. He has loved us since the beginning of time. Even before we were, He loved us.
Both inside the church and outside there’s a real focus on sin. We often even say that’s the reason Jesus had to die -- because of our sin. And while God doesn’t mess around with sin and He does explicitly say in the Bible that there must be a blood atonement for our sins (Hebrews 9), that’s not why Jesus died. Sin doesn’t explain why He took the punishment upon Himself -- love does. Love explains why He sent His Son. Love explains why He died in place of us. Love explains His resurrection. Love explains the abundant life He offers us as a result of His death. It’s love. It’s always been love.
Valued: As a child of the Most High King of the Universe YOU are what He considers to be the most important thing in His life! “So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession,” (James 1:16-18 NLT). He birthed us and out of everything He ever created in the entire universe (what we can see and what we will never see), we, you and me, are His most prized possession. Take a moment and let that sink in. You are specifically and eternally valued by God.
But don’t let the word “possession” put any kind of wrench in your thinking on this topic. Possession here doesn’t mean He treats us like antique jewelry set aside in a locked box somewhere up in a closet for safe-keeping. Possession doesn’t refer to some kind of inanimate object. Possession as in belonging, not something you own. A child is a possession in the sense that she belongs, not in that she is owned. And that’s what God says about you. He values you as His belonging. You are His.
Included: It feels good to be included. A few years ago I was feeling pretty lonely, but didn’t even realize it until I received an invitation to a party. It was extended by some friends I hadn’t seen in a while and when it came I burst with excitement! My response actually kind of surprised me. I didn’t know I wanted to be included so badly until it happened. They wanted me there. They wanted me to be with them. They thought about me. I was included. It was an amazing feeling. But what’s even more amazing is that God invites each of us every day to be a part of what He’s doing. He wants us there. With Him. At His party. He just wants to hang out with us. He thinks of us and then He acts by extending invitation after invitation.
When Jesus was praying to His Father right before He was to be executed, He was thinking about this very invitation. About how He would include us. “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one -- as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 15:20-21 NLT). Our inclusion is so important to Him that it was literally His dying request. That we would come and be a part of what He is doing, alongside Him and His Dad. Unfathomable. Amazing.
Befriended: Have you ever been a part of an unlikely friendship? One where you look at each other and giggle and think, “What are the odds?” Maybe on the surface you have nothing in common, but you get along so well you can’t imagine being without each other. My relationship with God feels like that to me sometimes. He sought me out. Prayed for my friendship. Loves me at my most unlovable. Speaks to me gently. And listens, even when I yell. “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God,” (Romans 5:10-11 NLT).
And while our friendship with God is far from one-sided, its initiation wasn’t. He came after us. He came after you. You and I were walking around as an unlikely friendship candidates. Enemies really. And He saw us. He looked at you and said, “her.” I want to be her friend.
Hand-picked: I’m an adoptive parent and people often ask my husband and me what made us want to adopt. At this point we have kind of a canned, but truthful, answer. But if I’m honest, it feels a little awkward for me each time it comes up. I know people are just curious and I’m happy to field questions and talk about our family in this way, but I guess sometimes I feel like I don’t have a great answer for their introductory question.
Maybe the best answer for this question is actually God’s answer for why He adopted us -- Because He wanted to. Really! Because it was His desire. Most versions I have seen read something like this:
“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure,” (Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT).
Why did He adopt us? Why did He hand-pick each and every one of His sons and daughters? Because it gave Him great pleasure to do so! Because He likes having a houseful of kids running around. Because He can’t stand to see anyone be lonely so He sets them in families, specifically in His own family (Psalm 68:6). You are hand-picked by God, my friend, to be in His family. You have a place in His house, one that He’s prepared just for you. Even before you made the journey home, He was nesting. It gives Him great pleasure as a dad to have you as His very own.
So if you find yourself struggling with your identity, with who you are or who you were meant to be, start with these five words. But you don’t have to take my word for it, ask Him for yourself. He never tires of answering this request. His face is beaming and He will share with you through smiling lips about the place you hold in His heart and just who you are to Him.