Ask: When you are describing yourself to someone, what are the things that tend to come to your mind first?
By Regina Pei-Chan, edited for this format by TJ Poon
Identity asks the questions, “Who am I? What makes me, me?” There are numerous grids out there for understanding one’s identity and each will emphasize different facets. For Christians, one of those facets is our identity in Christ, or the things which are true of each of us when we join God’s family. Many passages from the New Testament describe how we are accepted, secure, and significant as his children – powerful truths to take hold of and meditate on.
There are faith communities where it is still common to insist that this identity is the only one that matters. Other identity markers that come from our context – things such as ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic background and so on – are seen as secondary.
Ask: Which has been more emphasized in your spiritual upbringing?
While our identity in Christ provides important theological anchoring for us, and is not to be minimized, in Epic we see two aspects of identity as deeply and inseparably connected – that our identity in Christ informs our identity in context, and vice versa.
Our identity in context influences how we experience and comprehend our identity in Christ. At the same time, our identity in Christ, especially as understood in the greater context of God’s story in the Bible, also informs our identity in context. While the variables of our identity in context (several of which are listed in the original article) are themselves morally neutral, they can be marred by sin – our own sin and the sins others commit against us – and also be the vehicles for God’s redemptive work in the world.
In the Scriptures, we see God work through humans in their particularity, meaning that God moves in specific ways that are unique to the context yet in line with redemptive themes. Nearly every story of God working through humans involves working through different facets of their unique identity in context. A few notable examples include Joseph, Esther, Moses and Ruth. While we can struggle with accepting different parts of our identity that don’t seem as favorable to us, diving into these stories can remind us that what seems less desirable to us can be what ultimately reveals great beauty and purpose.
Bible Study and Discussion
Take some time to read Ruth 1-4 together. You can also watch this video summary as a refresher.
The 9 Elements article on Identity lists a number of variables that shape our identity in context, such as family dynamics, geography of residency, significant experiences, ethnicity and culture, socioeconomic class, status of power and privilege, organizational influences, and more.
- Using these variables, how would you describe Ruth’s identity?
- Do any aspects of her identity change as the story progresses, and if so, how?
- How do you see the work of God uniquely through these aspects?
- Using the same list from the article, reflect on how God has used 2-3 of these to shape you and your leadership today.
- Take a look at one of these lists of truths about our identity in Christ, (or feel free to use a similar list of your choice).
- How have the 2-3 variables you just reflected on (in the previous question) shaped your understanding of some of these truths, for better or worse?
- In turn, how do the truths about your identity in Christ affirm or challenge these 2-3 aspects of your identity in context?
An immigrant and ethnic outsider, barren and widowed, a woman without the protection and provision that was traditionally expected from a husband or son – these markers of identity not only relegated Ruth to the margins of her community, they also rendered her powerless and vulnerable to the cruelty and carelessness of others. Yet, as the story unfolds, we see Ruth’s strength, tenacity, and faith propel her – and Naomi – above and beyond what someone in her position could “reasonably” hope for. The uniqueness of her identity in context illuminates distinctive ways that she experiences and comprehends her identity as a member of God’s chosen people (or identity “in Christ”) – ways that may not be immediately obvious to people of other backgrounds. Simultaneously, the various aspects of her identity in context witness and undergo God’s healing and redemption as she embraces and lives out the truths of her identity “in Christ,” with a lasting impact on her and those around her. Our stories may or may not resemble Ruth’s, even remotely, but nonetheless, we can be confident that like Ruth, our identity in context and identity in Christ mutually inform each other – that they both matter deeply, and must be considered together as we pursue growth toward maturity as ministry leaders, fellow believers, and followers of Christ.