Do you know what it means to be authentically you, to live in a way that’s aligned with God’s purposes and the unique gifts and talents he’s given you? If you don’t, you’re not alone. People from all walks of life struggle to be true to themselves especially when they face real or perceived expectations.
The pressure to bend your values and actions to please others is pervasive today. Those in the public eye often find themselves under extra stress. Pop singer Shawn Mendes says he finds it hard to ignore the opinions of others and be his “100% true, honest, unique self.” This conflict has led to a long battle with anxiety and depression.
Is this a battle for you too? Maybe you’ve sacrificed your dreams and identity because you’re afraid the real you won’t be acceptable to people whose opinions you value? If you have, the way to contentment and authenticity is through trusting God’s opinion above all else.
Each of us needs to belong, to find love and unconditional acceptance. God offers that to all who yield their hearts and lives to him. He has plans and purposes for each of us that far exceed those of people who try to tell us who we should be and what path our lives should take. A young woman quoted on Biblical Counseling Center’s website says, “As a young teenager, I constantly sought for ways to define myself. I wanted to be the popular girl, the smart girl, the funny girl. Any option worked for me, as long as I had a place to fit in.” Such a mindset is called “people pleasing.” In her book Anywhere Faith, Heather King says people pleasing “means allowing the opinions of others to matter far more than God’s opinion of us.”
Identity Given, Identity Broken
Our original purpose was to be loved by God and to love him in return, to live in daily fellowship with him and with one another. He intended us to be his children fashioned in his image. This is stated twice in Genesis 1:27 as if to add weight to the truth that humankind is uniquely sacred, the crowning achievement of the Creator’s work. That Creator also commissioned us to care for the earth and the other wonderful living things around us (Genesis 1:28).
But beginning with Adam and Eve, we chose to disobey Father God and reject our divine purpose and identity. We formed our own valuation system, our own definition of right and wrong independent of God’s good and loving guidance. This changed our very nature to one of darkness and separated us not only from relationship with our Maker, but from who he designed us to be. It also took us away from the foundation upon which he intended us to build our purpose and identity (Genesis 3:8-11, 23-24). How we see God and others and how we approach life and relationships is turned upside down.
A Shaky Foundation
It’s as if our hearts and minds run what we see and hear through inner software designed and programmed by Satan. The interpretation of reality that results leads us to make judgements based upon a shaky foundation of ungodly principles:
“Look within yourself to find purpose.”
“This life is all there is, so find your meaning in the here and now.”
“Believe in yourself.”
“Image is everything”
“You can have it all.”
“Human beings are the center of all things, so become self-fulfilled.”
The Bible says a lot about such mindsets. We find one example in 1 Samuel 16. God commanded the prophet Samuel to go to the family of Jesse in Bethlehem and anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king over Israel. God said he would indicate which son he’d chosen to take the throne so Samuel had the young brothers appear before him one by one.
The first son in line was Eliab. Samuel said to God, “This man has got to be the one, Lord” (v. 6).
But God replied, “Don’t be impressed by tall, dark, and handsome. He’s not what I’m looking for. Man judges by a person’s appearance but I consider and judge by what’s in the heart” (v.7). Instead, God chose David, the youngest. His family had relegated him to the unenviable job of herding the family sheep and Jesse hadn’t even valued him enough to call him to be part of the official lineup. And yet, David was known forever after as a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). God indeed places highest value on hearts that resonate with passionate love for him and for his holiness.
Putting on Identity
In discussing how we allow people to shape our identity, it’s helpful to use the analogy of clothing because others often influence our fashion choices, sometimes for good reasons. When we are babies, we need our parents to dress us. As we grow we gradually learn to dress ourselves—button shirts, zip pants, tie shoes. Next, we’re allowed to decide what we want to wear, hopefully with some supervision. But our style or the “decency factor” of our attire, may still be deemed inappropriate by the authority figures in our lives, again often for reasons we may be too immature and inexperienced to appreciate.
When we become adults, we are finally free to wear what we want. Yet certain requirements such as those of our jobs or of certain events still dictate our choices: you wouldn’t wear ripped jeans and a t-shirt to a formal wedding or to your job as a lawyer or a nurse. But we can also feel pressured to make choices of attire that do not reflect our true selves. In much the same way, as the Holy Spirit helps us understand who the Father created us to be and the paths he wants our lives to take, we can be influenced by others into decisions that do not align with that knowledge.
This can occur even with the finer details of our daily experiences. In Anywhere Faith, Heather C. King tells of a visit to her eye doctor where she faced pressure from a staff person to buy a new set of eyeglass frames just because the style was supposed to be trendy and cool. “I would have hated them every time I put them on my face. I would have been mad at myself for purchasing them . . . for taking someone else’s opinion as truth without weighing it against the truth I know about myself.” Marilyn Meberg, author of The Zippered Heart, warns us that we can live out an adopted persona for so long that we lose any concept of who our authentic self really is.
Purpose and Identity
We all want to know not only who we are but why we are here. We want to make a difference for good. We want to leave a legacy. God does have a purpose for each of us, one often tied to our talents (Ephesians 2:10), to the desires of our heart, and sometimes even our temperaments. But it can be all too easy to link our purpose, our self-value, to our identity or achievements. If we do, we can be devastated and cut adrift if that purpose is taken from us.
Our heavenly Father is the only one who can give us the unconditional love and acceptance we crave. We gain our real purpose, our identity, from him alone. But all this happens only when we believe that the Bible is God’s true message to us. It happens when we accept the fact that Jesus Christ is who he said he is: God in the flesh sent to die on the cross to take our punishment because we’ve followed our own selfish ways. We must also believe he then came back from the dead to give us eternal life in heaven. That belief transforms our lives as it leads us to abandon those selfish ways because we’ve seen the destructive, futile path they are leading us down. We realize that what God has for us to do is far better than anything the world could offer and the identity he gives us is infinitely superior to anything anyone can manipulate us into being.
The apostle John offers some valuable advice in 1 John 2:15-17 NLT: “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”
This does not mean we become hermits who go around barefoot and dressed in black robes, living on one meal a day in homes without heat. God has given us many good things to enjoy: family and friends, church life and ministry opportunities, hobbies, our talents and avenues to use them, his wonderful creation, food, material possessions, etc. He delights in seeing us enjoy these things as well as the glory he gets through their proper uses. But if these good things become the main focus of our heart’s affection and life goals, rather than intimacy with Christ and a life lived in obedience to him and his purposes, we will topple under the unbalanced load of our own vain ambitions.
Paul’s teachings reflected the proper focus for Christ followers. He tells us in Galatians 2:20 that he was so yielded to Christ and Christ’s purposes that, “My ego is no longer central . . . The life you see me living is not mine, but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (The Message Bible). And John the Baptist said in John 3:30, “He (Jesus the Messiah) must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
As Jesus followers today, we die to our own self-promotion and enthrone Jesus and his purposes in our hearts. We make our work, play, family life, giftings, everything about us reflect him as the center. This means we know Jesus and his word so well that we respond as he would in each situation we encounter.
As always, Scripture provides solid guidelines to help us do that. Colossians 3:23 says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” NLT. Do we use our talents to reflect Biblical principles? Do we ensure the words of our mouth and the intentions of our hearts are pleasing to God according to Psalms 19:14? 1 Timothy 5:8 commands us to be sure the needs of our families are met and warns us that if we don’t, we’ve
denied “the faith” and are worse than pagans. Also in his letter to Timothy, Paul said we should not trust in our wealth but in God “who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.” Instead we should share with others and thus store up a “good foundation for the future” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Living out our identity and purpose as Jesus followers does not mean we miss out on good things but that we have his abundant, overflowing life instead (John 10:10).
Putting On God’s Identity For Us
The Bible is full of descriptions of the wonders of the new person we become as followers of Jesus. Romans 8:28-30 NLT says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Ephesians 2:10 NLT says we are “God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” John 1:12-13 declares we are given the right (some translations say “the power”) to become God’s children. Colossians 1:22, and 3:12 describe us as God’s chosen people, holy, blameless, and dearly loved. We are God’s prized possessions, his precious treasures according to James 1:18, and Romans 8:37 assures us that through Christ, we are more than conquerors.
Allowing these truths to transform our minds through the power of God’s Holy Spirit brings lasting peace, joy, and satisfaction. We experience freedom from the expectations of others as we settle into the arms of a Father who loves us eternally and unconditionally despite our failures and weaknesses.
It takes plenty of courage for me to be who I believe God made me to be. I am highly creative and sensitive. My emotions are intense and I am funny, quirky, and dramatic. I still love to swing on swings, run through rain puddles in bare feet, and visit petting zoos without the requisite child. I love theater improv games and once did stand-up comedy; people actually laughed.
When I believe in something, I cling to it with bulldog tenacity and don’t apologize for that belief. I have been called by God to be a storyteller and have given up a dependable income more than once to be that “penniless” missionary. Still, I strive to be my authentic self, a common struggle for so many of us.
Yet God delights in guiding us into our identity and his purposes. 1924 Olympic Gold medalist runner Eric Liddell once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” The person God intends us to be is uniquely expressed through his purposes and plans for our lives and through our own special combination of temperament, passions, and talents. Living that out equips us to bless the world in ways no one else can and offers up to God one of our greatest acts of worship.