“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” –Romans 8:17
I decided to write this post about a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately: Who am I? Sometimes I struggle to answer this question because I find it hard to categorize myself into one type of person. Quite obviously I am a white American female, however, that’s not the point. Upon mentally answering the question of who I am in my head, I realized that I define myself as a lot of different things. First, I’m a Christian. I always have been and that’s usually the first thing that comes to mind when I try to figure out what makes me who I am. Then it gets a little blurry. I’m not an athlete, musician, nerd, geek, performer, cook, or any typical categorical stereotype, despite the fact that I enjoy elements of all the aforementioned identities.
However, I have come to realize that I tend to define myself by my performance and achievements. While I am not a performer in one sense of the word, I am very much so in the sense that my happiness often times depends on how well I succeed at a given task. It’s often a grade on a test, a score on an assignment, participation in a group, or a number of other achievement based things. This realization isn’t new; I’ve always been aware of this tendency to some degree or another. But a few weeks ago I realized that my source of joy for that day was the fact that I had done well on a test.
If I had scored one point lower, I would have been devastated.
And I had a real problem with that.
So over the past few weeks I decided to think about how Jesus lived when He was on the earth. Like me (and all of us), Jesus was also many things. He was a carpenter, a Jew, a friend, a teacher, and a son to earthly parents. He had quite the list of achievements too—just look at a few of the miracles He performed. But Jesus didn’t define himself by any of these things. His identity was found in the fact that He was the Son of God. Everything He did was based off this one personal definition. It radically changed the way He lived and treated people.
Well, none of us are sons of God in the sense that Jesus was. But according to Romans 8:17, we, as Christians who share in the sufferings and glory of Christ, are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Another verse that I often turn to when thinking of this subject is Colossians 3:23, which reminds us that we are to work at everything as if unto the Lord, and not to men. Daily I am learning what it means to be a follower of Christ, and daily I am learning to define myself, not by who I am, but by Whose I am.
It’s not that achievements or trying to do things well are bad. In fact, I think that if we desire to live our life for God we should aim to live it well. After all, I’m fairly certain Jesus didn’t run a shoddy ministry when He was on the earth (although it was far from glamoat times. That’s another topic though). It’s just that, in the end, the only thing that really matters is if we knew Jesus and lived our life for Him. In Romans 6:16 it says (and elsewhere throughout the Bible) that, “when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves that to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.”
Again, not that achievements or [insert any other God-given talent or gift here] are bad. But whatever we choose to define us ends up becoming our master. When we place, in this case, achievements over God, instead of glorifying Him, they begin to define our worth. Instead of using an academic, musical, sports related, or other gift to point others to Christ and inspire others to grow and find freedom, we let the fruit of our labor, whether it be a fine line between an A or B on a test, a perfectly performed composition, or a winning game tell us whether we are worthy or not. When we become slaves to these material things, not only do they have the power to influence our feelings about ourselves, but they also have the power to influence how we treat others, as we begin to compare ourselves to and look down on those who do not perform as well as us, and become jealous of those who do better. It’s a painful cycle that leaves many people feeling empty and far from good enough.
But when we choose to be a slave to righteousness, the picture drastically changes. Suddenly our talents are not burdensome. Our performance does not define us. A score on a test does not haunt us in our beds at night. When we choose to be defined as heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, the very purpose of our life is transformed. When we live for Him, we also live to help others. And we can use our talents to help us do that.
They just don’t define us anymore.