Christian Living

Being Who You Are: Considerations for Contemporary Dilemmas

In my last article, I outlined the four biblical lenses necessary to answer the question “Who am I?” Putting these four lenses together, I hope now to draw out four implications particularly relevant for our present time.

1. The Contemporary Identity Obsession: The Logic of Autonomy

As we’ve seen, our society is obsessed with the quest for identity. This obsession—especially as it relates to gender identity—is totally understandable given our culture’s deep-seated belief in absolute personal autonomy. But the obsession is also self-defeating, because we are not self-determining beings.

We are images of God and, as such, designed to reflect the one in whose image we have been made and the one into whose image we are being remade—Jesus Christ. That’s why trying to find yourself by looking into yourself is not just an exercise in futility, but an act of self-idolatry and ultimately self-sabotage.

Otherwise put, the reason why attempted self-creation is a fast track to self-destruction is because we are not our own. That’s why the only way to answer the question “Who am I?” is to first settle the question “Whose am I?” And the answer is: we are God’s. Indeed, we are his twice over—created by him and redeemed by him with the precious blood of Christ (Ps 95:6; 1 Pet 1:19; 1 Cor 6:19-20).

2. The Current War Against Biology: The Triumph of the Psychological

The current war against biology is part of this same desire to determine our own existence by defining our own identity.

Bodies are given, not chosen. We don’t elect our skin colour or eye colour, for example. Nor do we decide whether we are male or female. But such givenness is a problem for the “expressive individualism” of our age. Look at the way one writer explains it:

Expressive individualism, in its purest form, takes the individual, atomized self to be the fundamental unit of human reality… Because this self is defined by its capacity to choose, it is associated fundamentally with its will and not its body … Therefore, expressive individualism is inevitably dualistic – privileging the mind while subordinating the body in defining the person.[1]

Now the upshot of this, as Nancy Pearcey shows in her book Love Thy Body, is “a fractured, fragmented view of the human being, in which the body is treated as separate from the authentic self”.[2] Moreover, this “the dehumanizing worldview”, Pearcey continues, is “at the heart of abortion, assisted suicide, homosexuality, transgenderism, and the sexual chaos of the hookup culture”.[3] Thus, the triumph of the psychological over the biological opens the door to a war against bodies.

3. The Pressure to Alter our Bodies: Social Media and the Selfie Generation

Given the dominance of this worldview, it’s hardly surprising that many—particularly among generation Z, otherwise known as ‘the selfie generation’ or ‘the trans generation’ or just ‘iGen’—are feeling immense pressure to alter their bodies. For if your body is not the real you, but just your avatar, then you are free to curate it however you want, especially if it’s a source of discomfort or embarrassment, or you’ve somehow become convinced that its sex is the source of all your problems.

Of course, people have been modifying their bodies for millennia. In fact, tattooing, piercing, cutting, scarring and even genital mutilation have been a major feature of many pagan religions. But, with the exception of the sign of circumcision given to Old Testament Israel, this is not the case in the biblical religion. God is not a fan of bodily alterations.

This is not to deny the importance of corrective surgeries that are necessary to repair damage or to restore function. Nor am I saying that all cosmetic measures are inappropriate (although some, of course, may be). And I’m certainly not down on personal grooming. In fact, I think it’s a rather important part of loving our neighbours!

But just as we are all called to accept the body we’ve been given—with all its difficulties and disappointments—so we are called to accept its ageing—with all its increasing dysfunction and disability. Yes, there are steps we can and should take to mitigate this process, but only up to a point.

The usual advice I give to men is this: grow up, grow old, grow ugly. Hair transplant? Don’t need it. Comb over? Don’t even think about it. I’ll leave others to work out what parallel advice should be given to women, as I’m wise enough not to go where angels fear to tread. But I will suggest a guiding Scripture: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Prov 31:29).

4. Contentment and Service: Receiving Gratefully, Giving Generously

The challenge today is really what it’s always been: learning contentment and committing to service. I don’t mean contentment with the ways we fail to reflect God or with circumstances we ought to change. I’m talking about contentment with who God has made you to be—all those features of your identity that you didn’t choose and can’t change. To borrow words from Billy Joel, God loves you just the way you are.

And if you understand divine acceptance, then self-acceptance has a wonderful way of taking care of itself. For the love of God not only frees us from having to find ourselves, but it frees us to lose ourselves in his service and so find true life. That’s why Jesus said: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39).

Being who you are in Christ

So then, do I have the right to be who I am? Do you?

You bet you do, provided you know who you really are: a glorious image of God, who although tragically fallen, has been redeemed by Christ, is being sanctified by his Spirit, has been called into service, and will be raised immortal when Jesus returns. That’s who we are.

So, we’d better get on with being who we are. The more we do, the more God will enable us “to put off our old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of our minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-24). For that is what it means to be truly human.

[1] O. Carter Snead, “The Anthropology of Expressive Individualism”, Church Life Journal, 1 December 2020 (accessed 24 May 2022).

[2] Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2018), p 14.

[3] Pearcey, Love Thy Body, p 18.