Identity, Belief, Character
Our identity, our beliefs, and our character are all interconnected. This post is longer than usual, but I hope you’ll follow my muse all the way to the end.
Character is what results from a series of choices one makes. Character is a neutral word; you can be a person of good character or bad character. So, the quality of a person’s character isn’t defined by his or her abilities to do or NOT do good. That is, character is not defined by whether or not a person is capable of doing something right OR wrong because we know everyone is capable of doing both. Rather, it is defined by what one actually chooses to do in the situations they find themselves in.
That’s not new information to anybody. So, let’s take it further. All of us make choices based upon what we believe. We can see an example of this principle in Galatians chapter 2 when Paul recalls a story where he confronted Peter, a friend and fellow early church leader, about an issue involving Peter’s character. Peter had choices laid out before him, but according to Paul, the choice he made was, “not in line with the truth of the Gospel.”
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”
– Galatians 2:11-14
My personal commentary on Galatians 2:
Simply put, character = what you do with what you have
What did Peter have? As one of the original twelve disciples, Peter most assuredly had status. As an apostle appointed by Jesus Himself, he had position, authority, leadership, and respect. He also had gifts of teaching, preaching, and miraculous healing! The list could go on; the point is—he had a lot! But, what did Peter choose to do with what he had? He chose to enforce a legalistic, works-based or rules-based theology on the gentile believers instead of a faith-based theology, which is centered on the truth of the Gospel and grants the freedom to every believer (Jew and Gentile alike) to choose, in this example, whether or not to follow Jewish customs. The lesson here, by the way, has nothing to do with deciding which is better between Gentile or Jewish practices. If followed for the right reasons – both are acceptable to God (Read the ending of Romans and 1 Corinthians – different context, but the same principle can be applied). On one hand, the lesson is clearly about hypocrisy: in your freedom, you cannot live like a Gentile and teach others about their freedom in Christ to live like a Gentile, but then change your behavior AS WELL AS tell others to do the same, just because a group of conservative Jewish men walk in the room, whom you are insecure around. There may be faith-based reasons to change ones behavior for the sake of your brother in the faith, but this passage notes specifically that Peter was “afraid” of the circumcision group. On a deeper level, I see a lesson here on character and identity in Christ. Peter had everything he needed in Christ to do the right thing. I believe the right thing for him to do would have been to live consistently in his freedom along with the other Gentile believers and if the men who came from James took issue with it, he would have had a perfect opportunity to instruct them about how the truth of the Gospel is that believers in Christ are not obligated to follow dietary restrictions or laws; he would have had the chance to disciple them in their weak faith. Would that have been difficult? I’m sure. I bet Peter often felt insecure around these members of the Jewish community being that he was an uneducated fisherman and they were likely the ones with status, prestige, and power in the Jewish community. They also might have been older than him, “wiser,” and more educated, and considering their title (circumcision group) they were also likely more conservative than he was on a number of issues. So, all to say, he made a choice based on his fear and insecurity instead of his confidence of who he was in Christ and in the end, it was Paul who confronted HIM and called him out on his hypocrisy.
What you do in Christ does not determine or define who you are in Christ. Instead, who you are in Christ should determine and define what you do in Christ.
There’s a huge difference between the two. The first is a person whose identity is completely wrapped up in his or her own behavior and I would argue, is actually an example of bad character, regardless of how “moral” their behavior. Let me explain. For those whose identity is wrapped up in their behavior, I see two results. The first is the person who thinks their behavior is generally really good, they don’t make “too many mistakes”, they find their confidence in their own righteousness, they make choices based upon what others would approve or disapprove, they are constantly fearful of “sinning” and are highly influenced by what they perceive others think about them—they are the classic Pharisee. The second is a person who thinks their behavior is generally really bad, they think they make a lot of mistakes and likely have made a lot of mistakes in their past which they think are unforgivable, they are fearful of making more mistakes, they negatively compare themselves to other Christians who they think are “holy” and “righteous,” they see themselves as a failure who has no hope of improving and they perceive that others see them in this same way. One is prideful – the other is really depressed and suffers from low self-esteem.
On the other hand, the person whose identity is completely wrapped up in who they are in Christ makes choices based upon that core belief. Their choices are a genuine display of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. They experience a freedom and satisfaction in their choices, their faith, and their life that others are often mystified about and attracted to. They have less regard for people’s opinions on various matters compared to their regard for the Holy Spirit’s leading in their lives. They are not insecure when they are around other believers whose opinions or convictions differ from their own. Instead, they remain confident in their convictions, while at the same time putting relationships before personal preference or substance. They are not afraid to step out in faith, which OFTEN requires going against the flow. Their choices stem from the inspiration and guidance they receive from Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s leading and prompting in their lives.
Was that a rabbit trail? Not at all. You see, I believe that just like the pattern of growth for a nautilus, (the logarithmic spiral!) our spiritual formation and growth happens outward, from OUR center – our heart and soul, regardless of what you believe. That’s why it is so critical to make sure what you believe at the core of your being… is actually true… so you can be sure your spiritual development stays true as well. So for me, the most important question to wrestle with in life is essentially—what or who is at MY core? What have I placed my faith in? What do I believe? Because the choices you make on a daily basis are actually a reflection of what you believe. And the result of even one choice based on a false or twisted belief could have devastating consequences for your life. Could. Depending on how serious the choice. But, even more important is to think about what might result in your life after a series of a hundred or a thousand choices that were all based on false or twisted beliefs. By the end of the trail of choices, you’re no longer slightly off like you were way back at choice #1. You’re now, WAY off because of the compounded distance between you and the truth which sets you free.
It comes down to this: I think that reaching your greatest potential in life is ultimately determined by what you believe about God and what you believe about who you are in relation to Him. Your beliefs affect your choices. Your choices will define your character. So, if you want to be a person of godly character, i.e. live the way you were created to live, you have to believe in Jesus, and anchor your identity first and foremost in Him. Otherwise, what hope do you have when faced with your personal sins and weaknesses?
“We fail, so we see ourselves as failures, which only leads to more failure. We sin, so we see ourselves as sinners, which only leads to more sin. We have been deceived into believing that what we do determines who we are. That false belief sends us into a downward spiral of hopelessness and more defeat. On the other hand, Romans 8:16 says, “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” God wants us to KNOW who we are so we can start living how we were created to live (Neil T. Anderson, Victory Over The Darkness).”
So, going back to the beginning, if character really is simply “what you do with what you have”–lets take a look at a few examples of “what we have” in Christ and think about what the results would be if we ACTUALLY believed these things to be true.
Taken from the book, “Victory Over The Darkness” by Neil T. Anderson.
|I HAVE ACCEPTANCE|
|John 1:12||I am God’s child|
|John 15:15||I am Christ’s friend|
|Romans 5:1||I have been justified|
|1 Corinthians 6:17||I am united with the Lord and I am one spirit with Him|
|1 Corinthians 6:20||I have been bought with a price. I belong to God|
|1 Corinthians 12:27||I am a member of Christ’s Body|
|Ephesians 1:5||I have been adopted as God’s child|
|Ephesians 2:18||I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit|
|Colossians 1:14||I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins|
|Colossians 2:10||I am complete in Christ|
|I HAVE SECURITY|
|Romans 8:1-2||I am free from condemnation|
|Romans 8:28||I am assured that all things work together for good|
|Romans 8:31-34||I am free from condemning charges against me|
|Romans 8:35-39||I cannot be separated from the love of God|
|2 Corinthians 1:21-22||I have been established, anointed and sealed by God|
|Philippians 1:6||I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be perfected|
|Philippians 3:20||I am a citizen of heaven|
|Colossians 3:3||I am hidden with Christ in God|
|2 Timothy 1:7||I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and sound mind|
|Hebrews 4:16||I can find grace and mercy in time of need|
|1 John 5:18||I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me|
|I HAVE SIGNIFICANCE|
|Matthew 5:13-14||I am the salt and light of the earth|
|John 15:1, 5||I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of His life|
|John 15:16||I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit|
|1 Corinthians 3:16||I am God’s temple|
|2 Corinthians 5:17-21||I am minister of reconciliation for God|
|2 Corinthians 6:1||I am God’s coworker (see 1 Corinthians 3:19)|
|Ephesians 2:6||I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm|
|Ephesians 2:10||I am God’s workmanship|
|Ephesians 3:12||I may approach God with freedom and confidence|
|Philippians 4:13||I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me|
PERSONAL IDENTITY CHECK UP:
1. Behavior stems from belief
You have to have a solid, trustworthy foundation for your identity. Without it, your identity–your life, will crumble. Begin with the Truth–plant your identity firmly in Christ Himself.
Q: What fears and insecurities do I have?
Q: What lies or false beliefs are those insecurities based on?
Q: What Scriptural truths can I find to combat those lies?
2. What you do does not determine who you are
You can’t base your identity on your successes or your failures–one leads to pride, the other leads to depression.
Q: Am I seeking significance through my performance or “good behavior”?
Q: Do I consistently have thoughts that “I’m not good enough, I’m a failure, I’m worthless, I’ll never be as ‘good’ as so-and-so?”
3. Who you are determines what you do
If you begin with a solid belief that you are God’s child, that you are His workmanship created in His image, that He loves you and accepts you no matter what you do, then your choices, your actions will begin to reflect God’s character in all areas of life.
Q: Which Scripture passage(s) above do I really need to hear right now?
Q: What is one step I need to take this week to orient my thoughts toward what God says is true of me?