There are basically two recognized mechanisms for establishing an identity. The first involves one’s birth- where you were born, who your parents are, and, to some extent, when you were born. This is what I call identity by being who I am inherently.
The second source of identity is what one has done or accomplished. What work have I done? What is my behavior like? What do I believe and promote. How do I treat others? This second form identity is best described as identity by doing.
In the Bible we see both examples of identity establishment. The chosen people of
In the New Testament the disciples held their identity by their being responsive to the call of Jesus. Theirs was an identity established by knowledge coupled with accomplishment. However, in Hebrews 8 Paul proclaimed a new basis for man’s identity, one which did not depend on man’s accomplishment. Righteousness, man’s identity as righteous, was granted by God unilaterally as a result of God’s inalterable promise (Galatians 3) and not because of what man must do.
In our supposedly egalitarian day, identity by birthright is often denigrated and the idea of identity by accomplishment is celebrated. Birthright is often seen as an element of elitism, but most would have to admit that the circumstances of birth do impart a powerful status. The act of doing may raise or lower that initial status, but birth status remains very important.
In our current day religious thinking, we see evidence of spiritual identities being formulated either on the basis of birth or actions, On the one hand, as Paul says in Acts 17, “we are all His offspring” This is an equality of birth status. We all are proclaimed to be God’s children, created in His image. That sounds like a rather exalted position.
Alternatively, the traditional church message has been that men attain a relationship with God, not by birth but rather by obedience or accomplishment. Thus we have two counter currents in our spiritual understanding, and we arrive at two different identities, in effect. One is God given. One is church derived and gained by personal action. Which of those two was Jesus addressing in what He taught? Which identity involves faith? Does it take faith to see myself as a child of God regardless of my actions?
Do or can my actions alter my birth status? Can I decide to have different biological parents? Can I choose a new country as my birthplace? In a purely legalistic sense, one can renounce parents and country but such would not alter the historical facts. You are who you are by birth regardless of subsequent actions.
So with two different spiritual identities from which to choose, which will I choose? The accomplishment identity may seem right, but the birth identity, based on faith in God and not me, is the only sure thing.