“Who am I?” It’s a question that every single one of us has likely asked at one time or another. And with good reason; understanding who we are—defining our identity—completely transforms how we act, think and speak. It is no wonder then, that we so many appeals within Scripture to our identity as being “in Christ.” We are to remember that we are new creations in Christ, made free in Christ, made alive in Christ, made wise in Christ… the list is (seemingly) endless.
Yet, many of us struggle to grasp the impact of what it means to be in Christ and, as a result, burden ourselves under condemnation and guilt, failing to live in the freedom that Christ offers. That’s the heart of Who Am I?: Identity in Christ by Jerry Bridges. Over its eight chapters, Bridges offers a concise look at the meaning and implications of being “in Christ.”
While our identity in Christ is the focus, it’s not the starting point of this book. Bridges wisely starts by reminding readers that, before we are in Christ, we are created beings. We are creatures, utterly dependent and accountable to God in every way. This truth is one that we desperately need to remember, particularly we who live in cultures that prize self-sufficiency above all things. On this point, Bridges writes:
Every so often I encounter one of those “self-made men,” the kind who might claim to have “pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.” He likes to tell you how he started from nothing and became successful. Some of you reading this book may have experienced that. But why did God bless your plans, why did God bless your efforts? What do you have that you did not receive? Every ability—mental ability or business ability, whether it’s in the fine arts or athletics or whatever it might be—it’s all a gift from God. We are utterly dependent upon him.
Reminders like this help us gain perspective—if we are indeed utterly dependent upon God, then we have no choice but to acknowledge that dependence. Anything less less would be blasphemy. The notion of being a “self-made man” (or woman) is ludicrous, given this perspective.
While Bridges could have written a book solely devoted to unpacking our dependency on and accountability toward God, our understanding of our identities as Christians is not rooted simply in the Creator-creation relationship. It’s rooted in the gospel. I am not merely a creature, but I am in Christ. Better still, I am no longer an object of God’s wrath, but united to Him in Christ. In Christ, I am justified before God. I am adopted as His son and a new creation. I am a saint and a servant of Christ… each chapter builds our understanding of our identity and leaves the reader in awe of all that God has done.
While I could offer comments on very chapter, perhaps most meaningful to me was the final chapter, “I Am Not Yet Perfect.” One of my great challenges and ongoing struggles is “performance.” It’s easy for me to heap guilt and condemnation upon myself when I fail to live up to a standard that I can’t possibly attain on my own and to act as though I need to earn my standing before God. This is not an uncommon experience. In fact, it’s our default setting as it were. “We are performance-oriented by nature, that is, by our sinful nature,” writes Bridges. “To use a British term, we don’t want to be ‘on the dole’—to be a charity case before God. We want to ‘pay our own way’ to self-respect based on what we accomplish.”
Reading this reminded me once again of my stupidity when it comes to striving to be approved based on performance. I can know all the other truths of what it means to be in Christ—I can know that I am justified and declared holy through Christ’s righteousness and not my own. I can know that God looks at me as a son—and yet I can still live as though I have to “earn” all that Christ has freely given! Sometimes this causes me to beat myself up simply because I’ve not had a “quiet time,” but it can play into other aspects of life as well. But we cannot grow in Christ in this way. We cannot make ourselves more holy simply by trying harder and doing more.
If we are going to grow in the realization of who we are in Christ, we must come to terms with the reality that we are not yet perfect; the presence and activity of sin is still alive and well within us. The reason we must accept this fact is that we cannot look to Christ for our identity if we are still trying to find something about ourselves to prop up our self-esteem. To really grow in the wonderful reality of who we are in Christ, we must abandon any desire to find something within ourselves that makes us acceptable to God.
That is what we need to be reminded of over and over again: “We must abandon any desire to find something within ourselves that makes us acceptable to God.” God is pleased with us—what He finds acceptable about us—is that we are in Christ. This is news I never tire of hearing and consistently need to keep front of mind. Without it, I can take literally everything I do, whether my full time job, my ministry within our church, or even my new extremely part-time job with Cruciform Press (the publishers of this book), and try to hold it up before God in an attempt to get Him to say, “Well done.” But when He does offer those words that all of us should long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” it is not based on what we’ve done, but on Christ’s service. Who Am I‘s final chapter is a supremely helpful reminder that while I am not perfect, Christ is and He is sufficient. And that alone is reason enough to get a copy of this book. I trust it will be a blessing to you.
A note to readers: I’ve recently taken on a small role with Cruciform Press in the areas of Marketing and social media. As is the case with all my reviews from any publisher, my change in relationship with Cruciform Press (first solely a reader, then an author and now sort-of-staff) does not dictate that I offer a positive review of this book.