Who do you think you are?
That has to be one of the most profound questions that someone could be asked because how we see ourselves (or what we believe about our identity) impacts so much of how we live our lives, how we treat others, and how we even treat ourselves.
Who Are We?
This question is the main theme in countless books and movies where the protagonist is on a quest to “find himself” or discover “who she really is” (this is a common theme especially in superhero movies).
It is also a concurrent message of many songs, such as one from my childhood titled, “I Don’t Want to Be.” In this pop song, Gavin De-Graw sings these lyrics: “I’m tired of looking ‘round rooms wondering what I’ve got to do or who I’m supposed to be.”
A significant portion of science is dedicated to figuring out who we are based on where we came from (whether that be from an intelligent designer or by chance from a mix of chemicals).
And the thought behind a lot of religions is to help people figure out who they are, who they are meant to be, and how to get there.
Throughout my life, I thought I have been a lot of things, mainly because of what I was told. For example, when my family moved from the far north to the deep south, I was called a “Yankee.”
For most of my childhood, I was called a “nerd” by some or an “artist” by others. Then, in high school, I adopted the identity of a student-athlete on top of calling myself a Christian.
As an adult, my career often dictated how I thought of myself: I was a pastor, a husband, a father, and then a church planter. Depending on the season, one of those identities was emphasized over another.
But I have learned that no matter our stage of life, age group, relationship status, career, or hobbies (all things that are extensions of who we are), the one part of our identity that should rise to the top of our list is who we are in relation to God, our Creator.
In the midst of all of our attributes, titles, positions, and labels, we need to know that the most fundamental aspect of our identity is that we were “created in the image of God.”
This concept of “Imago Dei” (the Latin translation of “Image of God”) originates from the Creation story in Genesis 1, when the Bible explains, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, ESV).
But this aspect of our identity is referenced multiple other times throughout Scripture, including in Paul’s writings.
In the Book of Ephesians, Paul teaches that “every family in heaven and on earth” is named after God the Father (Ephesians 3:14). This phrasing reminds us that our relationship with God is personal because he is our Father and we are his children.
But it also points us back to the reality that our identity has its roots in who we are “named” after. In the same way that my last name indicates my genealogical background (and everything else that comes with it), every person, tribe, nation, culture, race, and society has its original identity in God because he created us.
This is so important because it combats every kind of racism or elitism at its root. We were all created in the image of God.
What Does This Concept of Imago Dei Mean?
- We look like God (we mirror his attributes); We act like God (we have dominion over the earth)
- We speak like God (we communicate just as he communicates)
- We live like God (we are made up of a body, soul, and spirit similar to him)
- We love like God (we love because he first loved us)
- We create like God (we procreate new life through the marriage union, we create stories, art, etc.)
When God made mankind from the dust of the ground and breathed his own breath into him (Genesis 2), he gave us great value based on his own value. We were made to reflect God’s image in the same way the moon reflects the sun.
But then, in what appears to be a very short amount of time, something happened to mess up what God had already called “very good” (Genesis 1:31) and the clarity with which humanity reflected the image of God was distorted.
What happened is called sin. Sin is the “bad news” part of the gospel. Paul explains to believers that “...just as sin came into the world through [Adam], and death through [that] sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, ESV).
When sin entered into the world, humankind spiritually died on the inside and was set on a path of separation from God and straying from the likeness that we were created to reflect.
But the other side of the gospel — the good news that was hidden as a “mystery... for ages in God who created all things (Ephesians 3:9) — is that Jesus came, lived, died, rose again, and ascended back to Heaven.
Even while we were sinners, according to Romans 5:8, he offers a way for us to be reconciled back into a relationship with God, redeemed and given our value back, restored into fellowship with our Father, and even recreated back into the image of God.
This does not happen overnight, though; it takes the course of our entire life and will not be fully complete until the day when we will be physically with God again.
Why Does This Matter?
Why does all of this even matter? Because who we think we are determines how we live our life. And when we understand who God created us (and wants to recreate us) to be, then our true identity will give our life the kind of pre-ordained purpose that God wants us to have. Paul taught it like this:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us… and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus… For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10, ESV).
As the song-writer Matthew West wrote in his 2012 hit song, “Hello, My Name Is”:
I am no longer defined by all the wreckage behind.
The one who makes all things new has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life.
So, if you have been letting others define your identity for you or you have been believing lies from the devil about who you are, receive this as a reminder that if you are in Christ then you are a “new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV).
Don’t allow your identity or value to be wrapped up in what you think, how you feel, or even what you do — reconnect it back to who you belong to. You were created in the image of God. Live like it and love others like it.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Dmytro Varavin
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.