This article is part of the Preach the Gospel to Yourself Series. We know that phrases like “preach the gospel to yourself” are used so frequently in Christian circles that they can become Christian gobbly gook. You kind of get what it means, but don’t know how to actually do it. This series offers specific examples of applying the truth of the gospel to everyday circumstances. Don’t miss the challenge steps at the end of each article! Read the other articles in this series here:
- “Preach the Gospel to Your Sin Struggles” by Lara d’Entremont
- "Preach the Gospel to Your Loneliness" by Brittany Allen
- "Preach the Gospel to Your Anger" by Ashley Chesnut
- "Preach the Gospel to Your Insufficiencies" by Lauren Washer
For more help preaching the gospel to yourself, check out our Grounded in the Gospel Workbook.
The Shifting Sands of False Identity
When was the first time your identity was shaken?
For me, it was ninth grade. After attending a small Christian school for eleven years, I transferred to a public school over three times its size. Suddenly I was lost in a sea of people who didn’t know anything about me, and I began asking a question I hadn’t given much thought to before:
Who am I?
I found myself consumed with fear that I wouldn’t be able to make people like me. It always seemed like the people with the most friends in middle school were the ones who could make others laugh, but what if I couldn’t think of something funny to say? What if being funny just wasn’t part of who I was? Would anyone want to be my friend?
By the end of my first month of high school, that spark of fear had grown into a full-blown forest fire. I was terrified of saying the wrong thing, so I often said nothing at all. It’s difficult to make friends when you can barely hold a conversation. It didn’t take long for my anxiety to turn into deep loneliness, which eventually turned into depression. I felt like a shell of my former self.
I’d always been a straight-A student. But now I was falling asleep in class.
I’d been told my whole life how skinny I was. But the combination of puberty and emotional eating put a few extra pounds on my body.
I’d always been the artistic girl. But I took one art class freshman year and found that my heart wasn’t in it anymore.
As everything I’d once staked my identity in crumbled beneath my feet, I found myself desperately grasping for something solid to hold onto. Something that wouldn’t change, even if I did.
A New Way to Define Our Identity
Even though I’ve known Jesus since I was a child and consider my friendship with him a core part of my identity, there have often been other things I’ve unknowingly rooted my sense of self in. Whether they’re good things (my gifts or my relationships), negative things (my insecurities or my sins), or even neutral things (my job performance or my physical appearance), anything we look to other than Christ to tell us who we are can become an idol.
The hard truth about these examples is that there is no guaranteed permanence to any of them.
You might have a reputation as an incredible artist or athlete, but an accident or physical ailment could steal those gifts without warning.
You may be the employee of the year, but one unexpected conversation with your boss could have you frantically scrolling through job boards.
Or maybe you feel completely secure in your relationship with a spouse or friend, but a moment of irritation or miscommunication could suddenly put you on shaky ground.
As believers living in a world obsessed with the concept of finding ourselves, it’s crucial that we root our identities in what the Creator of our souls says about us in his unchanging Word. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we know that our God and his Scriptures will stay the same.
In the book of Colossians, the apostle Paul spends several verses explaining to his readers what being known by Christ means for their identities. He tells them the things that no longer define them as well as the thing (or rather, the Person) that does. His message is ultimately the reminder that we need every single day.
Our identities—that is, who we are on an unshakable soul level—are rooted in the identity of our Savior.
Death to Our Old Identity
Paul spends the first two chapters of Colossians establishing the divine authority of Jesus and cautioning his readers about works-based faith. He assures them that once they have received Christ as their Savior, they are no longer slaves to sin or to the law. They are free to “walk in [Christ], rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:6–7).
Paul explains in Colossians 3:1–17 that in order for believers to put on their new selves, they must first put to death their old selves, or “what is earthly in [them]” (Col. 3:5). This includes sin of any kind, be it sexual immorality, covetousness, idolatry, vengefulness, dishonesty…the list goes on (Col. 3:5–10). Having been rescued from our own darkness and given a new home in the kingdom of light, we are called to live lives that reflect this new identity.
Not only are our identities no longer defined by our sin, but they are also no longer rooted in earthly labels—labels that are often wrongly used to draw lines of distrust and hatred between humans. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). Knowing his readers, Paul is radically challenging the social and cultural biases of their day. Now that they know Jesus, their identities—and the identities of those around them—are rooted in him. The only label they wear is the love of their Savior.
Parts of Our Intentional Design
Of course, some of these physical and cultural traits, like our skin color and our family history, are beautiful pieces of God’s loving and intentional design. We serve a Creator who loves diversity and a Savior who clothed himself in human flesh. It would be foolish and even unbiblical to claim that the God who formed our bodies and wrote our stories does not care about these parts of us (Ps. 139:16).
But that’s just it: these things are only a part of our design. They are not who we are at our core. And this is actually good news for people who live in a sin-broken world where things like discrimination and oppression exist. Others might define us by our physical appearance, but our God does not (1 Sam. 16:7).
Rooted in Love
So how does God define us? Here are a few answers found in Colossians 3:
We have been raised with Christ from our spiritual death (v. 1).
Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. In other words, Christ is our life now (vv. 3–4).
We are chosen, set apart, and fiercely loved (v. 12).
We belong to the family of God (v. 15).
The best part about this new identity is that it doesn’t change based on our performance, circumstances, or feelings. The unchanging power of the gospel itself is what secures it. Owning our status as beloved children of God frees us to put on our “new selves,” which God continually renews through the knowledge of him who made us (v. 10). The gospel transforms our fickle, fragile hearts into hearts that overflow with compassion for others (v. 12) and that become ruled by peace and gratitude (v. 15). It makes it possible for us to have patience with each other and to forgive those who hurt us (v. 13).
Last but far from least, having our identities rooted in the unconditional love of Christ empowers us to love those around us, even those who least deserve it (v. 14). When we begin to grasp the fact that Jesus showed the ultimate display of love for us when we had nothing but filthy rags to offer in return (Rom. 5:8), we can no longer claim the right to withhold love from our fellow sinners.
When we know, really know, who Jesus is and what he did for us, we begin to understand who we are. Our worldly sense of self falls away like withered leaves as our roots grow deeper into the solid ground of truth, resurrected by the living water of our Savior’s selfless love.
Preach the Gospel to Yourself Challenge
- Questions to Ponder: What was the last major crisis of identity you experienced? In what current circumstance does your sense of identity feel threatened?
- Truth to Remember: As believers living in a world obsessed with the concept of finding ourselves, it’s crucial that we root our identities in what the Creator of our souls says about us in his unchanging Word. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we know that our God and his Scriptures will stay the same.
- Action to Take: Review Colossians 3 and write a truth about your identity on a sticky note for your mirror, the dashboard of your car, your desk, or the kitchen sink.
Meet the Author
Kati Lynn is a writer, doodler, and storyteller who is slowly but surely learning how to live loved by Jesus. She loves to explore the intersection of faith, mental health, and media in her writing. She also loves a good animated movie.