By Gareth Maggs.
I’ve been fascinated with identity since 2010 where I started reading as much as I could on the topic. My reason for doing this was because everywhere I went I could not escape the message of ‘be happy with yourself’ and I wanted to know what God thought about this.
It seemed to me the world had its own gospel which it proclaimed through music, video, written content and even through my own upbringing, “You need to make yourself into the person you will be happy with”. You need to build your own identity.
I was told that I can be who I want to be, so in my mind I created the ideal person and I chased after girls, dressed differently, worked hard and did what I could to achieve that person. I was building my own identity or to put it another way, I was trusting my broken, sinful self to be in control of my own life.
In 2010 I discovered some fundamental truths when I read Genesis 1:27. I discovered that God was in the business of creating identities, not me, and that he had made me in his image, not my own. In other words, I was trusting myself to be the builder of my own identity, when God is actually the builder, and he is building me into the image he has in his head. His identity.
His goal is for him to be happy with me and not for me to be happy with me.
My goal changed from building a self-esteem to letting God build a god-esteem
This changes everything for the good… especially work
When I was building my self-esteem, I was constantly vulnerable. I’d set goals I needed to achieve and when I didn’t achieve them I hated who I was. Even if I did achieve them, I’d find it hard to stay happy under criticism and any praise I got would result in a short high which I’d have to come down from. My self-esteem was very much affected by the world around which I couldn’t control.
Yet I still tried to handle it. In meetings I would question how I came across to my fellow colleagues. I’d re-read emails to make sure my reputation was not at risk. If the boss found a fault in what I was doing, I’d craft ingenious responses in which I wasn’t really telling a lie, but nor was I telling the truth… I know now, it was a lie. I’d try handle things by being what the company wanted me to be and not what they needed me to be.
When I realised God was the image builder and not me, it was like a huge burden had been taken off my shoulders. I didn’t have to keep doing the building. I took my focus off myself and began to concentrate on the jobs I was doing. I was able to take criticism and change the way I worked, because my job did not define me anymore, God did. I had found a way to take risks and tell the truth if I’d made a mistake, or stand up against work injustice, knowing that I could take on the thoughts of others wisely without damaging the identity I was made in.
Security in God’s image building
How does God build people into his image? If he’s doing the building, why are we not all perfect? In Genesis 1 the first humans, Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, in Genesis 3 however, humanity decided to go against God’s design and live for themselves. You could say they chose to trust the image building to themselves and not to God. God, in his grace, had given Adam and Eve the gift of choice, the gift to follow him or not and they chose to follow themselves. So God gave humanity over to their choice.
However, God in his grace did not leave them without another opportunity to turn back to him. He came to earth and as Jesus, he took on humanity (Philippians 2). He had the perfect God-esteem, he evaluated himself and said, ‘That’s the image I want humanity to be in’. In his death at the cross, he took our broken image upon himself to destroy it and gave us his own perfect image. Now, whoever trusts in him can live with knowing that God’s evaluation of them is a perfect God-Esteem.
When I first realised I was made in God’s image, there was a period where I did not realise God was the image builder. So I started to try think how I could build myself back into the image of Genesis 1. This was not a bad place to start, except I would often come home feeling like a failed Christian. Sometimes it was because I didn’t feel I’d evangelised enough, or I was unethical, or sometimes I could not put my finger on it, yet when I looked back on my day, I felt God was hardly in the picture.
Knowing God had graciously given me his identity meant I knew I couldn’t lose it. That gave me the confidence to work hard at living each day for him, and on the days where I lost the battle, I didn’t feel despair for God was happy with who I was.
Working as the company desires
Some might say, “If we don’t need to prove ourselves, then we don’t need to work as hard and if God is already happy with us, then we don’t have to worry about the views of our colleagues.” I found the opposite to be true. Knowing that I was secure in God’s image was a joy that made me not want to live for myself. I could have decided to be lazy and do my own thing, but then I’d be trying to build my own image again and I know that doesn’t work. Instead, I found joy in living for the image God had already made me in, knowing that if I failed, despair would not be knocking on my door.
Practically I started a one-hour meeting with the “real CEO” of our company. If his opinion of how I was doing things was what really mattered, then I felt he deserved a daily meeting. During this hour I’d discuss my plan for the day. I’d spend time reading his word to let that mould me into the best person I can be in the company. I’d pray about every aspect of my job, and the company I worked for, calling on God to help us best Glorify him. I’d even present him stats, I’d talk about our products and if anyone had a problem with me, I’d not let that get to me, but bring it before the Lord, asking how best I should deal with that person.
Since 2010 I’ve walked along this road, and I don’t think I’ve got it completely right. In fact, I think I’ll only experience a perfect God-esteem in heaven. However, knowing that God is the image builder and that he, through his son, has given us a chance to receive his perfect image, provides an unquantifiable freedom.
Click here to see our sermons on God-esteem.