WHO ARE WE?
Written by Doug Ponder on May 12, 2013
We’ve Lost Ourselves
“Who are we?” is one of the basic questions that humans have wrestled with over the ages. It is central to understanding what it means to be human. It is this fundamental question that forms our sense of identity and purpose. What does it mean to be human? Who are we?
Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked, “Although there is widespread agreement in asking the question, there is fantastic disagreement in answering it.” He was right. The views of what it means to be human range from merely animal to nearly divine. In between are all sorts of viewpoints, with some concluding that we are whatever we make ourselves out to be. For example, I recently heard a graduation speech given at one of the top private colleges in the nation. The speaker said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born, and the day when you find out why.” He went on to explain that you find out ‘why you were born’ whenever you commit to what you’re going to do with your life.
But what happens when the ballet dancer breaks her leg and can’t perform anymore? Her purpose for living was shattered with her leg. (This actually happened to a world-class dancer in the Netherlands. She took her own life when she learned that she wouldn’t be able to dance anymore.)
In the crisis of identity, people to look to all sorts of things to define themselves. You’ve heard them all before: You are what you eat. You are what you do. You are what you feel. You are what you choose. You are your past. You are what you believe yourself to be. You are just your biology.
These attempts to define ourselves have left us with endless questions about our identity. But what remains when our desires and our choices are stripped away? Who are we really?
The sad reality is that many of us don’t know. We don’t know what it means to be human. We have no idea who we are.
God Knows Who We Are
Yet God never intended for us to be lost and confused. He made us to know who we are by knowing who he is. Only when we start with God can we work out our own identity. It never works the other way around.
The account of our creation in Genesis reveals three things about our identity in light of God’s identity:
1. God is the creator. Therefore, we belong to him.
2. God is the ruler of creation. Therefore, we are meant to be ruled.
3. God is the author of everything good. Therefore, we find our satisfaction in him.
On top of all this, God explains that we possess a unique identity as those made “in his image and likeness.” We have been created to reflect God as we represent him in creation, ‘having dominion’ over all that he has made.
From Rejection to Restoration
The main problem facing humanity, from the beginning until now, is that we have rejected our identity as people made to be owned and ruled by a good God. We have tried to go our own way, to be our own master, to be our own judge, and to find happiness on our own terms. The chaos you see and feel every day, both in your life and in the wider world, is a direct result. The world is broken because those who have been made in God’s image have turned their backs on him.
But God hasn’t left us to ourselves. Though we created the mess we’re in, he took it upon himself to sort things out and make things right. The making-right-of-all-things began with God’s commands. He gave laws to his people in order to show them what is good, to keep them from being worse than they otherwise might be, and to remind them of their need for him. As anyone would tell you, trying to keep God’s commands consistently with a pure heart is an impossible task.
His commands aren’t the problem; they merely uphold what is good. The problem lies with us. In our corrupted state, we are incapable of consistently doing the good, even when we have been told what it is.
Jesus: Our Creator and Redeemer
This is why Jesus came into the world: to turn our hearts back to God, just as the prophets had said the Messiah would do (Mal. 4:6).
He begins by illustrating who we have been created to be: people who live under the gracious rule of God as we trust him and listen to what he says. Jesus did that perfectly, showing that the problem lies with us, not with God.
But Jesus didn’t stop there. He didn’t merely leave us an example, he also embraced the judgment of God against sin so that God’s people might be forgiven, cleansed, rescued, and restored to be the people that God has created them to be. In other words, in Jesus, we become the people God has created us to be in the very beginning (2 Cor. 3:18). Here’s how: When you come to see that Jesus is Lord, trusting that he died for your sins and rose in victory over death, something truly miraculous happens. God’s Spirit takes up residence in your life. Like a new tenant in a run-down building, God moves in and begins to make some changes—a lot of changes.
C. S. Lewis put it like this: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (Lewis, “Counting the Cost” in Mere Christianity, Book 4, Ch. 6)
All of this happens as we continue to submit to Jesus as Lord, trusting him and listing to what he says. Through the Spirit and the Word, Jesus recreates us into true depictions of the image of God who resume our calling, as in the beginning, to live as God’s people in God’s world, colonizing the earth with the life of heaven.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.