In 1782 Deborah Sampson, a Baptist from Massachusetts, dressed as a man to enlist in the Continental army and fight in the American War of Independence against the British. As Private Robert Shurtliff, she was wounded twice but her true identity remained undiscovered for over a year. When the war was over she married and bore three children, eventually receiving due recognition of her military service and was the only woman of her time to receive an army pension. Her church however were less sympathetic and excommunicated her for changing her identity and impersonating a man!
What a great story of female dedication and bravery! But it’s also a story of identity change and whether you think her church was too hard on her or not, that was something they took seriously. Because your identity is about who you are. And it’s your identity that informs your purpose, helping you know why you’re alive.
The bible says that human beings are meant to find their identity and purpose in a relationship with Jesus Christ. St Paul could not put it clearer in Ephesians 1:11 (MSG):
‘It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we’re living for.’
This tells us that:
– It’s good to know who you are and what you’re living for
Many go through life not knowing this. They don’t know who they are. They don’t know themselves. Or they try to be someone else (like Deborah Sampson). They are insecure in their identity. And purpose. If you don’t know who you are or what you’re living for then you will lack meaning and fulfilment. But if you know these things, then life will be satisfying. That’s why books and courses on leadership these days devote much space to knowing yourself. Eugene Peterson puts it like this: ‘The study and practice of leadership begins with our interior life. It is our identity and self-understanding that influences all other leadership behaviours and relationships.’ If a leader isn’t secure in him/herself, then they’re not going to do a good job of leading others.
– God wants you to know who you are and what you’re living for
Because God is good, he wants us to be secure in our identity and purpose. He desires all people to know they are loved by him. Forgiven. Welcomed. And commissioned. That they are his child. His servant. And his friend. Disciples of Christ are told they are chosen people, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Jesus said his followers are the light of world. And the salt of earth. All this shapes us in an incredible way! Peterson again expresses this really well when he says that ‘what we need is not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves but formational, shaping us into our true being.’
– It’s in Christ that you discover who you are and what you’re living for
So how do we find our true identity and purpose? The simple answer is ‘in Christ’. Being a Christian is often described as being in Christ. In the same way someone who dives into a pool is said to be in water, so followers of Jesus are in Christ. Immersed in him. Surrounded by him. When we come to Christ and give ourselves to him then we receive a new identity. We mark this in baptism – which Fred Wright rightly says ‘is not just getting people wet, but getting them transformed with new identity.’ Getting married is one of the nearest human pictures we have of this. Marriage should reshape our identity, which is why people traditionally changed their title at marriage from ‘Master’ to ‘Mr’ and ‘Miss’ to ‘Mrs’. If we are in Christ then that should, to an even greater extent than marriage, form our identity. It’s being in Christ that gives us security to be the person God has made us to be.
Earlier this week I spoke about this to the Parish Assistants who are about to leave us after working for nearly a year. And in the end all I could really say, was: remain in Christ! Stay close to him. In relationship with him. Following him. Walking with him. Listening to him. Obeying him. Do that, and you will have a great future.
And I closed with these words of commission: ‘Your true identity and purpose is found in Jesus Christ. He loves you. He died for you. He lives in you. He equips you. He sends you. So go. And remain in Christ.’