Expanding Your Identity
In the Christian world we often talk about identity, and more specifically, a change in identity. We talk about moving from death to life, and that our new identity is an identity of life and not an identity of death. We talk about changing our identity from being a slave to sin, to being a child of God. These are all familiar topics for those who have been involved in Christianity for any length of time. But what about a development of identity and expansion of identity? Do we ever talk about that?
The first big names in the story of God re-establishing a relationship with humanity – his covenant making agenda – are Abraham and Sarah. Yes, there were minor luminaries like Noah and Enoch but in terms of being at the center stage of God's purposes Abraham and Sarah are the first lead actors. However, they began life as Abram and Sarai. The Lord didn't so much change their names – and therefore their identities – as he did extend them.
In Genesis 17 the Lord tells Abram and Sarai that their names are now Abraham and Sarah. Abram will no longer be known as 'exalted father' now he will be known as Abraham – 'father of many nations'.
Bible commentators and scholars, all the way back to the Jewish rabbinic tradition, have suggested that the original text indicates that God took one of the letters (the 'H', pronounced HEY) from the name Yahweh (written in Hebrew using only the consonants YHWH) and gave it to Abram so that his name would become Abraham.
Interestingly, so as to establish equality between the sexes from this point onwards, God did the same thing for Sarai (which means 'princess') and gave her the other 'HEY’ naming her Sarah. Now she was not simply a princess on earth but was a princess in the household of heaven.
This got me thinking, because we don't often reflect on the idea that our identity can not only be changed as we become children of God, but can be expanded as we discover more of what it is that he intends for us.
But quite honestly, I think the idea of an expanded identity is really important.
I can remember when I began to teach – way back in the mid-1990s – that everyone in the Body of Christ has been given one of the five ministries identified in Ephesians 4. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are not gifts restricted to the leadership of the church but are available to everyone. The biggest change that I noticed in the people who received and applied this teaching was the growth in their confidence, and this in turn led to great breakthroughs in the mission of the church. It was almost as though this newly expanded identity gave them not only a bigger and more complete view of themselves but a greater sense of their own personal worth and value to God's kingdom.
Of course in many ways what I'm talking about is simply what we call Christian maturity. But I'm convinced that as we mature as Christians – often an 'inner' work of the Spirit – God wants our expectations and confidence to grow also.
Would you like your confidence and courage as a Christian to grow? Perhaps you should ask God to reveal to you an expansion in your understanding of who you are.
Perhaps you will grow in your understanding of what it means to be a 'child of God' and realize that it also means a member of the royal household of heaven.
Perhaps you will grow in your knowledge of what it means to be a Christian who 'serves ' and realize that you too carry one of the fivefold ministries of Jesus.
As you do this who knows, perhaps you will go beyond the mediocre expectations of the people around you and expand your horizons to believe that a great God can do great things through you.
The Lord's covenant with you means that your identity is tied up with him. All that is true of him is now deeply connected to everything that you are. Why not allow him to take that truth and expand your understanding of who you are? The results could be truly amazing.