Last spring, I was in a workshop at a women’s conference on Kingdom Living. At the beginning of the hour, the speaker asked us to write down the answer to the question, “Who am I?” I wrote: Daughter of the King, wife, mom, teacher, defeated/discouraged, sinner. While most of them are fairly accurate descriptions, they do not all define me. There is a big difference between goals, jobs/titles, and our identities, but it is so easy to lose focus (if we ever had it to begin with) and place our identity where it does not belong.
I want to say first that being a mom is a good thing and a great goal to have and achieve, but to find our only identity and worth in that is actually wrong, maybe even sinful. When we start to place our identities in what we do or the positions we hold here on earth, we enter a works-based religion because we are defined by what we do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there, because if our identity is based on what we do, then it will naturally be fed by how we do it. If I let motherhood define me, then my worth and value will be based on how good of a mother I think I am which creates a downward spiral because the only way to gauge how good of a mother I am is by comparing myself with other moms. No matter where we are, who we know, or what we do, we will always find people whom we exceed, but there will also always be people who exceed us, if we’re honest. Then we start the top-this/comparison game. I’m sure that I could come up with some way in which I do not measure up to every mother I know.
While I am speaking to moms here, this principle applies to everyone. If Pastor placed his identity in being a pastor, his worth would be based on how many positive reactions he had from his sermons, how many new converts were made each year, and how many people attended each service. If my husband placed his identity in being a logger, then he would define himself by how well he performed his job and how much money he made. This practice leads to spirits of depression (if we feel we don’t measure up) or pride and criticism (if we think we are better than everyone else). Neither of those are godly, and only lead to ungodly attitudes of doubt, insecurity, put-downs, and arrogance because we constantly have to prove that we are good enough, which ironically makes us perform worse than we would if we were simply confident in who we are and not worried about how we measure up.
Sadly, this mentality pervades not only our society but the church at large. I think that the identity of motherhood is especially prevalent in the church. The problem with it is that security and confidence can never be achieved that way. It will cause a young lady to not feel like she is enough because she is single, and to long for the day when she can be married so that she can be whole and will spend her whole life up to that point looking forward and missing out on the time she has. I am not saying there is anything wrong with preparing for marriage, that is good and right, but feeling that one is not good enough being single is not. Finally, the girl is married, but unfortunately does not remain satisfied because she is not a mother. Soon her domestic tranquility is disrupted by the desire for children, and she feels she is not complete or good enough until she has children. Finally, she becomes pregnant and has a child and the joys of motherhood surround her. Sadly, that does not last long because her peace is based on her circumstances. Her baby isn’t nursing well, she’s not doing all the things the people around think she should be doing to raise her child, she is not perfectly and constantly happy in her role, so she struggles and tries harder to be better. The unfortunate result of this is only worry and disruption in her marriage because she is giving so much to her child that her husband feels neglected, so their marital bliss diminishes. Rather than seeing the true source of her dissatisfaction, she thinks she just needs more children. So, she has more, but is no closer to feeling fulfilled or worthwhile. Her husband may become detached or resentful and her children are natural born sinners, not the perfect little cherubs she expected. So, they grow and make mistakes and disobey, and while things may improve, she always questions if it is enough, if she is enough. Finally, the children grow up into successful adults and she begins to feel that she has done well only to have them leave the house to make homes and lives of their own. While she is glad for this, her insecurities and dissatisfaction return because she has an empty home. She is still a mother, but that is not really her job anymore and she no longer feels fulfilled. Often those feelings persist for the rest of her life to some degree unless she is able to find some other job or purpose to fill her life. Ironically, those feelings of doubt and insecurity cause her to “perform” worse than she would otherwise because she is living defeated, trying to earn or prove her worth, rather than living in the fullness God intended for her. Do you see the trend here? Basing our identities in what we do never ends. We are never satisfied with reaching our goal because we are constantly needing to prove our worth, so once we accomplish one goal, we have to find another. What we do is never enough, nor was it ever meant to be.
This story is not confined to motherhood, but could play out in any profession, no matter how noble or worthwhile it may be. I was talking with a friend about this, how women are often viewed as being less-than because they have no children or remain unmarried for whatever reason. Should a woman marry the first scum bag that comes along just so she does not bear the “shame” of singleness? If it is God’s plan for her to marry later in life, should we judge her for being obedient just because it does not fit into our ideology? I know several women who married “later” in life, and none of them would sacrifice the marriage they have in order to have married at a younger age. They consider it a blessing rather than a curse. We discussed the idea of where this view came from, when did it start and what grounds does it have?
Genesis 3:16-19 NASB
To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;
Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”
This tendency to find our identity in what we do (for women in childbearing but also for men in their work) goes all the way back to the beginning. Shortly after Adam and Eve sinned, they were cursed because of that sin. See this desire or need to be defined by what we do is a result of the curse, not because God created us to be that way, but as a result of sin. It broke that unity and relationship with God where mankind was secure and fulfilled in Him alone. The desire to be self-sufficient and independent of God which brought on sin gave birth to the need to prove our worth on our own apart from God. Because of that brokenness and disunity, we are insecure because we lost that security in our relationship with God. Unfortunately, we try to find that identity and worth in ourselves instead of looking to the One who defines us.
Genesis 1:27-28a, 31a NASB
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them…God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
This desire to find our identity stems from a works-based religion. I’m sure none of you would say that you believe you must earn your salvation, but do you live that way? If we can’t and shouldn’t earn our salvation, then we can’t and shouldn’t try to earn our identity or prove our worth. Nothing in us is good enough on our own, as it says in Romans 3:10 “there is none righteous, not even one” and God does not love us or choose us because we are better than anyone else.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8a NASB
The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you.
Ephesians 1:4-6 (emphasis added)
[God] chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
While the first verse was spoken to
I read in a book about Acceptable Sins that the best way to defeat sin in our lives is to preach the Gospel to ourselves daily and to memorize verses to that effect. One of the best passages of Scripture which most clearly depicts the Gospel is:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
We were nothing before God, less than nothing. We were His enemies. Yet because of His love for us, Jesus died so that He could spend the rest of eternity lavishing us with His blessings! If God did not want us to earn our salvation, if He died so that we could be saved, if He did not require anything of us to become His children, why would He then require us to earn our worth or identity as His children? After all of that would He want us to live for the purpose of proving our worth?
At this point some may bring up 1 Timothy 2:15 which says that “women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.” But I will argue that this is not talking about salvation or worth. The Bible clearly says we are not saved by works. If we are not saved by works, then it is obviously not referring to salvation.
What does it mean is that we are preserved or sanctified through having children? Sanctification is the process by which we are made more like God. It is something God does through our submission to Him on a daily basis and is completed when we reach Heaven. I’m sure every mother will attest to the fact that raising children and teaching them to be godly only reveals to us how very ungodly we are. Our flaws are very amply exposed in those wonderful little copies of ourselves for all to see, and hopefully it motivates us to correct our own flaws while we attempt to train our children. I love the quote from Little Women when Jo and Marmee are talking about Jo’s anger, which was just like her mother’s, and the way that Mr. March helped her over come it.
“He helped and comforted me and showed me that I must try to practice all the virtues I would have my little girls possess, for I was their example. It was easier to try for your sakes than for my own. A startled or surprised look from one of you when I spoke sharply rebuked me more than any words could have done, and the love, respect, and confidence of my children was the sweetest reward I could receive for my efforts to be the woman I would have them copy.”
Elisabeth Elliot once said:
The process of shaping the child shapes also the mother herself. Reverence for her sacred burden calls her to all that is pure and good, that she may teach primarily by her own humble, daily example.
Another way in which “women will be preserved through the bearing of children” is in a reversal of the curse in a sense. Because we are cursed by the fall in having great pain in childbirth (I think men got off easy on that one), the joys of having that child are greater for the mother than the father for that reason. The joy of having children offsets the pain of the curse and makes it more bearable. It is not saying that we earn salvation by having children, or that we are of more value for raising children, but that the affects of the curse are lessened through having children. (John Piper has a great article on this verse on His website “Desiring God.”)
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing can change how God loves us. Nothing we do can lessen His love or make it greater.
1 John 4:10,19
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love because He first loved us.
We love because He FIRST loved us. He loved us before we had kids, while we were still sinners, while we were His enemies. His love is not based on our performance anymore than our love for our children, spouses or family members are based on their performance. If it were based on performance, it would not be love. He created us because He wanted relationship with us, not so we could work and do things for Him. We were created to love Him. Yes, there are many verses talking about how we need to bear good fruit and do good works which He planned for us, but those should be the result of His love, not to earn it.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
But look at verse 5, just before this:
John 15:5 (emphasis added)
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Notice that according to these verses that fruit which we are supposed to bear comes through Christ, through abiding in Him. Abiding is that practicing of being in constant communion with God. It literally means to “remain or stay”. Basically, it is living in Christ on a moment-by-moment basis, intentionally being mindful of Him and staying connected with Him at all times. It is not by trying to be better, working harder or any amount of effort on our part. It is by being in Him in the fullest sense. God’s focus is on our being more than our doing. That is why most of Paul’s letters, including Ephesians, focus on who we are in the first half and then talk about how we should live in the second half. What we do is the natural by product of who we are.
A few years ago, Ephesians 2:10 kept popping up over the course of several days. This usually means that God has a point to make so I prayed and watched to see what it was. I thought God had some new job or “work” for me to do. Two or three weeks went by, and I didn’t find anything. Then one day I read a book where the author quoted the verse in a different translation than I was used to, and it blew me away. The New Living begins the verse this way:
For we are God’s masterpiece…NLT
I realized then that God’s focus for me in bringing that verse to my attention was not in “doing” but in “being.” He wanted me to focus on the fact that I am His masterpiece. My identity and worth are not based on what I do or how well I do it. It is all based on the One who made me. It is based on my relationship with Him as His adopted and beloved child. When I wrote those definitions of who I am at the conference, the title “daughter of the King” was a textbook answer. It was something I knew to be true, but not really how I saw myself. God has been teaching me slowly to see that His definition of me and my worth is the only one that matters.
While most of the definitions I used did describe me in some way, there is one that is completely untrue. That one is “sinner.” Please believe that I am not saying I am without sin. What I mean is that I no longer carry that title. See, sinners are people who are not saved, people in bondage to sin. Once we believe in Christ and give our lives to Him, once we are given the title “child of God”, we become saints. Albeit we are saints who sin, but we are no longer sinners, no longer people bound to sin and unable to love or follow God or turn away from sin. You may think this is a pointless debate on semantics, but it makes a profound difference because as saints we are no longer defined by our sin. We still fall into temptation and sin, but we are no longer controlled by it. We are defined and controlled by God’s Spirit in us. Paul obviously held that view because several of his epistles were addressed to “the saints” in that city.
When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin, to pay the debt we owe, and are given new life in God, we are no longer bound to sin or defined by what we do. We cannot earn it, but it is ours. It is kind of like having an honorary doctorate, except in this university the test is pass/fail and only perfection will make the grade. So, everyone is trying for this doctorate (which is heaven), but we can never be good enough on our own. None of our efforts will ever be good enough because they are tainted by our sin. The only way to receive this degree is through Christ. If we accept His help, He does the work for us, and we submit the paper written by Him but under our name. Then we are accepted and receive the degree without having done anything to earn it. Of course, we should work with Him and learn what we can for our own benefit, but our work will not affect our grade. That is basically righteousness, having a right standing before God based on Jesus’ perfection.
During a study on Romans, I learned about this symbol. It is
the Chinese word for “righteousness” and is made of two characters: lamb over
me. When Christian missionaries first arrived in
1 Peter 1:18-19
Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
That is how we are made righteous. It has nothing to do with who we are or what job we have. It doesn’t matter what we have done. God loves us no matter what and if we accept Jesus, He will adopt us as His children. We cannot earn it, nor can we “lose” His love. It doesn’t matter if we have children, how we raise them, or how many times we mess up. It doesn’t matter if we do things the way others think we should, or even if we do everything we think we should. It is all based on His love and sacrifice for us, nothing of ourselves. Our worth and value is all based on what He did for us, in our place. He didn’t even do it because we deserved it. That is the point of grace and mercy. Grace is receiving an underserved gift, and mercy is being forgiven a debt owed. We cannot deserve or earn either. He did it simply because He loves us.
What defines you? Do you live under the cloud of what you do, or don’t do, or have done? Let God define you. Be willing to see yourself as He does. Stop the rat race to prove your worth. Stop comparing yourself to those around you, whether you are doing it to see if you are doing what you should, or to prove that you are better. Don’t let others define you. Let go of the desire and need to prove your worth and let God’s love be enough. Let go of your doubt and shame, let go of your pride and conceit. Both of those come from looking around. Look up. Be ok with not earning or proving anything. Stop living a works-based religion and live in the freedom of His love and grace. Let that freedom fulfill you so that you can fully live out your calling as mom.
If you do not believe in God, if you have not accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for you, will you now? Will you allow Him to define you and give you worth?
WHO I AM IN CHRIST Originally Compiled by Neil Anderson
I AM ACCEPTED... • I am God's child. (John 1:12) • As a disciple, I am a friend of Jesus Christ. (John 15:15) • I have been justified (declared righteous). (Romans 5:1) • I am united with the Lord, and I am one with Him in spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:17) • I have been bought with a price and I belong to God. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) • I am a member of Christ's body. (1 Corinthians 12:27) • I have been chosen by God and adopted as His child. (Ephesians 1:3-8) • I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. (Colossians 1:13-14) • I am complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:9-10) • I have direct access to the throne of grace through Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
I AM SECURE... • I am free from condemnation. (Romans 8:1-2) • I am assured that God works for my good in all circumstances. (Romans 8:28) • I am free from any condemnation brought against me and I cannot be separated from the love of God. (Romans 8:31-39) • I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22) • I am hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-4) • I am confident that God will complete the good work He started in me. (Philippians 1:6) • I am a citizen of heaven. (Philippians 3:20) • I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:10) • I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. (1 John 5:18) • I am a branch of Jesus Christ, the true vine, and a channel of His life. (John 15:5) • I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit. (John 15:16) • I am God's temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16)
I AM SIGNIFICANT…• I am a minister of reconciliation for God. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) • I am seated with Jesus Christ in the heavenly realm. (Ephesians 2:6) • I am God's workmanship. (Ephesians 2:10) • I may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12) • I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.