In White Paper #9, we discussed “identity.” Identity properly answers the question, “Who am I?” in categories found in the Bible. Specifically in our being, our experience and our purpose. In sum, we are “male and female made in God’s image, subject to the fall and its miseries engaging in worship.”
But, that is insufficient to fully answer the question, “Who am I?” There are things about me that are not true of you and vice versa. Those things have come to shape how I approach the world, relationships with men and women, politics even food choices. These are true of me but are not true of others. Identity is what we share with everyone else ever born or will be born but “identifiers” are what is specifically true of me.
Identifiers answers a related question, “What else is true about me?” Here is where we can avoid some category confusion. Identifiers are things I do not necessarily have in common with others but are true of me. Identifiers can be good things or bad things, godly things or sinful things. For example, here are some of my identifiers:
My name, Spanish heritage, child of a divorced home, oldest sibling, left-handed, near-sighted, truck-owner, father of 5, husband of one wife, Presbyterian, pastor, American, conservative. I once was a resident of MO, then SC, then NY, then GA, then KS, then IL, then VA, then SC and now, NC.
You following? All of those things have left a mark on me—more than a mark, they have shaped me; they color the filter that I use to look at life. They influence how I make decisions. They are experiences, part of my upbringing, God’s specific providence for me.
In a real sense they are “me” but only in a sense. Identifiers don’t extend all the way down to identity though they run deep. This is where some who want to call themselves “Gay Christians” get it wrong: homosexual interest and practice is an identifier not an identity. At the same time, to answer the “Who am I?” question, if I only used identifiers, my answer is inadequate.
As I mention, there are good identifiers and bad, sinful ones. In my example above, I explained what could be called “good” identifiers. Nothing about how I describe my experiences can be called sinful. Inappropriate, sinful identifiers are those things about me and my conduct that do not glorify God, that is, are contrary to His word.
There are things in my past that have had shaping and influencing effect on my life that are not good: sport idolatry, achievement idolatry, views of sex, drunkenness, aloofness, rudeness and manipulation.
These have taught me ungodly lessons and habits—all of which I have had to learn from and some of which I have to regularly mortify. Things like these that, if taken from desire to act, would be sin. Paul gives us a list in Galatians 5:
…the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these….those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Any one of these (and those like these), from desire to act, is sinful. These need to be mortified whenever they arise; not contemplated but killed. Each of these, when they become lifestyle choices, aren’t part of our identity but are identifiers—things uniquely about me. If we mis-categorize them as part of my “identity” then we make an error since they might be true of me and not you.
Want to end this post with a little pizzaz? Let’s talk about pronouns. “What are your pronouns?” Is that a question of identity, identifiers or both. It matters, doesn’t it? If it is a question of identity, then I answer, “I am a male, image-bearing, living in a fallen world worshipper of Jesus Christ.” That’s who I am: I am a “he, him.” It’s what the Bible and my biology tell me.
I am more than that but I am no less and those are the necessary basics that without them I am not speaking truthfully about myself.