What Not to Wear

I’m no fashion expert. But lately I’ve realized I need a wardrobe change when it comes to my attitude. Luckily the Bible tells us what not to wear and what’s spiritually in style instead. Consider Ephesians 4:22-24:

“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted according to the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God is being created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

What not to wear is our old self, Paul’s term for the person we were before the Holy Spirit indwelt us. This doesn’t mean we abandon our personalities and adopt goody-goody fakery. The difference lies in the fact that the old man is a slave, unable to break out of the habits and attitudes that go against God’s design for us. The new man is freed from the slavery and addiction to sin and released into the radical freedom of God’s grace. Instead of laboring to break bad habits or follow religious rules, the heart of the new man is transformed by the power of God’s love as we allow Him to work.
So as believers, we ought to take off the outfit of the old self: the selfishness, defeat, and dissatisfaction with life. Instead we should wear the new self which looks like God because we have His Son’s righteousness, holiness, and truth as a result of our new identity in Him. The new self is our identity as a Christian. Galatians 3:27 says,

“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” We already have our Christ clothes, but we choose to put them on by knowing, believing and acting like it’s true.

The verses that follow Ephesians 4:22-24 illustrate the concept. It tells us what not to wear: lying, unresolved conflict, stealing, hurtful words, bitterness, anger, and slander. Instead we are to don truth, unity, generosity, encouragement, kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:25-32). The one that convicts me the most is verse 29:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

Meanness and mom jeans are fashion emergencies!

Ask any of my former roommates or my husband, and they’ll tell you I’m not the most edifying person. In fact I can be quite harsh and downright mean. If I’m cranky in general or unhappy with someone in particular I get wrapped up in negative thoughts, and these find their way out of my mouth in sharp words. “Could you please take out the trash?” becomes “You never take out the trash!” with “what a slob” added internally. And of course encouraging people becomes the furthest thing from my mind. This is the old self, and while it’s still there, it no longer has the same power over me. I can choose otherwise if I’m willing to be changed by God.

Colossians 3 also talks about our new life in Christ. Verses 8 and 9 tell us what not to wear with a list that matches Ephesians 4. Then Paul tells us what to wear instead:

“put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you . . . Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:12, 14).

How I want to operate out of a heart of compassion and love! The qualities in this passage cannot be faked for long, if at all. They are heart attitudes which only God can cultivate in us. Without Christ I am cold, mean, proud, harsh, impatient, intolerant, and unforgiving. And I still struggle to wear the clothing of my new identity in Christ. But it’s completely absurd not to put on our new selves. It’s like if a poor street orphan were adopted by Bill Gates, given the finest designer clothes, and continued to wear their filthy rags. How ridiculous! But sometimes I prefer to wallow in the mud of my old self than slip into an Oscar de la Renta gown!

Oscar de la Renta, my favorite designer

Speaking of finery, 1 Peter 3:3,4 says,

“Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

While Christians have formulated all sorts of legalistic dress codes based on this verse, the idea is to pay attention to inner beauty more than outward appearances. Again, I long for “a gentle and quiet spirit.” 1Timothy 2:9 also says women should clothes themselves not with expensive garb “but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” Indeed, the Proverbs 31 wife is attractive because of her character and service to others, not her bikini bod.
The Bible speaks of another set of clothes we should put on, which goes hand-in-hand with the new self. It is the “full armor of God” described in Ephesians 6: the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:8), and the sword of the Word (Ephesians 6:11-17). Romans 13:12-14 also talks about the spiritual battle against Satan’s darkness:

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”

Why not lay aside the sin which destroys us and instead put on the “breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thessalonians 5:8) in which there is much victory and healing?

The In-born Supremacy (a.k.a. The boastful pride of life)

I just listened to the recording of the last Love Ethics class and I’m wondering exactly I get seduced by the cosmos. The three main ways Satan seduces people are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. I think I am most influenced by the boastful pride of life. I’m not naturally an excessive sensualist; it simply isn’t my personality. Sometimes I get drawn into the lures of materialism, wanting to buy nice, new things, but mostly I’m too practical to succumb to this. The lust of the eyes will probably be more tempting as we look for a house to buy. But more than anything, the boastful pride of life infiltrates and undermines my desire to build into God’s kingdom.


“The boastful pride of life seeks to take others out in the quest to steal significance.”

One of the ways that I am drawn into the cosmos is my concern with how I look. I’m not really into make-up, trendy hairstyles, or clothes (anymore), but I am into fitness. It’s basically good to be fit, but my focus too easily shifts to my looks. My concern moves from whether I am fit to whether I look fit. The classic question, “Does my (fill in body part) look big in this dress?” says it all. I don’t want to buy into the cosmos lie that I need to look like an airbrushed model in order to be accepted by others or be attractive to my husband. But I realize that sometimes my trips to the “work-out center” have more to do with appearance than health.

Another way that I get seduced by the cosmos is by taking my identity from what I do. This is a tendency I probably developed in childhood and adolescence, as I found success in music, sports, and school. As I was considered skilled in my small-town high school, I took my identity from my success. I felt smart and talented, but underneath my confident façade teemed a toxic waste dump of insecurities and false humility. I didn’t really feel smart because I knew that someone, somewhere (probably not too far away) was smarter than me. And I was afraid of being confronted with this reality because if I took my identity from being smart and then I wasn’t the “smart one” anymore, what was I? Without my false sense of intellectual superiority, I was utterly insignificant.

College posed a terrifying threat because I knew the proverbial pond was about to get much bigger. Unfortunately, I choose a major that was less than intellectually rigorous, and Akron isn’t exactly the Ivy League. Once again I was at the top, a big fish in a relatively small pond. Ego bolstered by my professor’s praise and my GPA, I continued, as much as I didn’t want to, taking my identity from my school. The only event that could destroy this temptation was graduation. As a teacher rather than a student, I came face-to-face with my inability to apply my knowledge perfectly in every situation. And I had no grades coming in at the end of each semester, only kids whose free will to learn was largely outside of my control.

Now I subtly but proudly take my identity from my performance in a different realm: ministry. If my disciples are doing well, serving, and reaching out to people, I feel like I’m doing all right. If people thank or compliment me for my efforts, I feel validated. As much as I hate to admit it, I often realize my thoughts reveal that I seek recognition for works of service. I was asked to help at several weddings without receiving the honor of being a bridesmaid. This disappointed me even though I understood the bride’s choices, and I recognized that sometimes I serve with proud rather than humble motives.

Talking to another person who is proud of their accomplishments makes me realize the depth of my own pride. Instead of humbly listening to and congratulating their successes, or calling them to humility if needed, I find that I want to boast about myself. Six years after high school graduation, I still feel the desperate need to prove myself to others. I want to show that I’m just as good as the next person, when the truth is that we’re all terribly depraved.

When I have kids, I’m afraid I’ll want them to experience the same type of success in music, sports, and school that I did. I know those activities aren’t as important as the Kingdom of God. They can actually be the devil’s best ploy to distract my family from God and win them to his kingdom instead. I don’t want to take my identity from my kids and how successful they are in the world, but I already see myself doing it when I proudly brag about my smart, talented, beautiful little sisters. The temptation to do the same with my kids will only be stronger, no doubt.

God is teaching me how to take my identity from him, especially as I’ve quit my job and can no identify myself as a very young high school teacher. Now I am in a rather humbling position as an unpublished writer and deacon wannabe. While I’ll continue to work and write for God’s Kingdom, I can’t take my sense of worth from the success or failures I experience. I don’t want to proudly boast (aloud or in my head) about my attributes or accomplishments. God gave me every good gift I have so there’s no use bragging about what I’ve done nothing to earn. I think the antidote to the boastful pride of life is being a humble, grateful, faithful steward of my gifts, so I want to learn significance by bringing glory to God as I serve others, instead of building a kingdom for myself. This is the best way to fight against the seduction of the cosmos.

The In-born Supremacy (a.k.a. The boastful pride of life)

I just listened to the recording of the last Love Ethics class and I’m wondering exactly I get seduced by the cosmos. The three main ways Satan seduces people are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. I think I am most influenced by the boastful pride of life. I’m not naturally an excessive sensualist; it simply isn’t my personality. Sometimes I get drawn into the lures of materialism, wanting to buy nice, new things, but mostly I’m too practical to succumb to this. The lust of the eyes will probably be more tempting as we look for a house to buy. But more than anything, the boastful pride of life infiltrates and undermines my desire to build into God’s kingdom.


“The boastful pride of life seeks to take others out in the quest to steal significance.”

One of the ways that I am drawn into the cosmos is my concern with how I look. I’m not really into make-up, trendy hairstyles, or clothes (anymore), but I am into fitness. It’s basically good to be fit, but my focus too easily shifts to my looks. My concern moves from whether I am fit to whether I look fit. The classic question, “Does my (fill in body part) look big in this dress?” says it all. I don’t want to buy into the cosmos lie that I need to look like an airbrushed model in order to be accepted by others or be attractive to my husband. But I realize that sometimes my trips to the “work-out center” have more to do with appearance than health.

Another way that I get seduced by the cosmos is by taking my identity from what I do. This is a tendency I probably developed in childhood and adolescence, as I found success in music, sports, and school. As I was considered skilled in my small-town high school, I took my identity from my success. I felt smart and talented, but underneath my confident façade teemed a toxic waste dump of insecurities and false humility. I didn’t really feel smart because I knew that someone, somewhere (probably not too far away) was smarter than me. And I was afraid of being confronted with this reality because if I took my identity from being smart and then I wasn’t the “smart one” anymore, what was I? Without my false sense of intellectual superiority, I was utterly insignificant.

College posed a terrifying threat because I knew the proverbial pond was about to get much bigger. Unfortunately, I choose a major that was less than intellectually rigorous, and Akron isn’t exactly the Ivy League. Once again I was at the top, a big fish in a relatively small pond. Ego bolstered by my professor’s praise and my GPA, I continued, as much as I didn’t want to, taking my identity from my school. The only event that could destroy this temptation was graduation. As a teacher rather than a student, I came face-to-face with my inability to apply my knowledge perfectly in every situation. And I had no grades coming in at the end of each semester, only kids whose free will to learn was largely outside of my control.

Now I subtly but proudly take my identity from my performance in a different realm: ministry. If my disciples are doing well, serving, and reaching out to people, I feel like I’m doing all right. If people thank or compliment me for my efforts, I feel validated. As much as I hate to admit it, I often realize my thoughts reveal that I seek recognition for works of service. I was asked to help at several weddings without receiving the honor of being a bridesmaid. This disappointed me even though I understood the bride’s choices, and I recognized that sometimes I serve with proud rather than humble motives.

Talking to another person who is proud of their accomplishments makes me realize the depth of my own pride. Instead of humbly listening to and congratulating their successes, or calling them to humility if needed, I find that I want to boast about myself. Six years after high school graduation, I still feel the desperate need to prove myself to others. I want to show that I’m just as good as the next person, when the truth is that we’re all terribly depraved.

When I have kids, I’m afraid I’ll want them to experience the same type of success in music, sports, and school that I did. I know those activities aren’t as important as the Kingdom of God. They can actually be the devil’s best ploy to distract my family from God and win them to his kingdom instead. I don’t want to take my identity from my kids and how successful they are in the world, but I already see myself doing it when I proudly brag about my smart, talented, beautiful little sisters. The temptation to do the same with my kids will only be stronger, no doubt.

God is teaching me how to take my identity from him, especially as I’ve quit my job and can no identify myself as a very young high school teacher. Now I am in a rather humbling position as an unpublished writer and deacon wannabe. While I’ll continue to work and write for God’s Kingdom, I can’t take my sense of worth from the success or failures I experience. I don’t want to proudly boast (aloud or in my head) about my attributes or accomplishments. God gave me every good gift I have so there’s no use bragging about what I’ve done nothing to earn. I think the antidote to the boastful pride of life is being a humble, grateful, faithful steward of my gifts, so I want to learn significance by bringing glory to God as I serve others, instead of building a kingdom for myself. This is the best way to fight against the seduction of the cosmos.

The Born-Again Identity

Flashback to health class, eighth grade. A teacher with frizzy hair and a shapeless denim jumper directs the class to page 124 in the textbook and asks for a volunteer to read the definition of self-image. No one raises a hand, so she calls on an unlucky student sitting in the “T-zone” who momentarily failed to maintain downturned eyes.

“Self-image is an individual’s awareness of, and attitudes toward, his/her own physical person; an individual’s perception of him/herself, which is learned in social interaction,” the kid stutters out.

By the end of the lesson, the students walk away with the idea that self-image is how you view yourself, what you think of yourself as a physical and social being. This view comes from many sources, they are told, but it’s important to have a good self-image because you have to believe in yourself. Whatever that means.

According to this definition, I was a skinny kid with bad bangs and a 4.0 who played oboe and did gymnastics. My circle of friends came from honors classes and band. In a word, I was a nerd.

Like the (usually) dutiful child I was, I embraced my nerdiness. Once I realized during the second grade spelling bee that I was going to be one of the smart kids, I started wearing plaid skirts and cardigans, packing impeccably healthy lunches, and reading at home through plastic sunglass frames with the lenses pushed out. As I got older I devoured classic literature, withdrew from social situations, and continued dressing like I attended parochial rather than public school.

In short, I acted out my self- and socially-constructed identity as a nerd. Once I labeled myself thus, I lived according to my title with indefatigable consistency. My parents even responded to my sense of self-image with textbook precision: my Christmas gifts always included a microscope, calculator, or spelling quiz book which inevitably served to crystallize my sense of self.

Christians also live and grow according to their identity. The question is, do we believe what God says of us, or what we’ve gleaned from parents, peers, and second grade spelling bees? As I’ve been studying Colossians in cell group and now Ephesians for home church, I’m seeing the gravity of our identity in Christ. As Dennis McCallum emphasized in Walking in Victory, “doing arises out of being.” I will act like a nerd if I think I’m a nerd. I will act like a child of God, an heir of His Kingdom, and an instrument of His glory only if I truly believe, at the deepest level, that I am exactly that.

Unlike Jason Bourne, Christians can know their true identity.

The Christian walk isn’t a matter of gradually obtaining blessings from God. Ephesians 1:3 boldly states in the perfect past tense (i.e. it’s already happened) that “God…has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” When we’re “in Christ,” meaning we’ve personally claimed Him as our Lord and accepted His death on the cross to pay for our sins, God views us as He views Jesus. He’s God’s son, and so we are children of God, “adopted as sons” as Ephesians 1:5 puts it. As a son, Jesus inherits God’s Kingdom. And so do we: we’re co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). We are “holy and blameless” (Eph. 1:4) because we’ve been completely forgiven (Eph. 1:7). Once slaves of our own insatiable desires, we’ve been redeemed, meaning bought back, from the Greek word apolutrosis. Less ubiquitous today, it was a common word, the dream of every slave, to be “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20) in order to be set free from a lifetime of grinding slavery. Now we’re free to serve God, based on a free will choice to love Him, and our “God-shaped vacuum” (Pascal) no longer gapes with vacuous futility. And these are just a few of the many identity truths found in Scripture.

But knowing and believing are two different things. If you know the ice is thick enough to hold your weight but don’t believe it will, you’re staying on the shore. Similarly, if we know that God has set us free and adopted us, but we don’t believe and grasp this as our true identity, we will never live with the priorities, purpose, and power God intends for us.

Our identity in Christ is more than a spiritual alias we don when doing ministry or devotions. It transcends all our daily routines and roles and defines the very core of who we are. Once we understand our position in Christ, it can infuse those routines and roles as we live as children and heirs and instruments of God in everyday practical ways. The experience of our position in Christ in daily life is known as our condition, and unlike our identity, it can fluctuate frequently depending on how we live according to our identity.

Without understanding and experiencing our position in Christ, we cannot grow spiritually in a deep, lasting way. All we can do is superficial piddling with the exterior, while the inside of the cup remains unchanged. As Nee describes it, “at the beginning of our Christian lives we’re more concerned with our doing than our being.” The clear implication is that change works in the opposite direction. Christian growth depends on learning, believing, and appropriating our identity rather than trying to do certain behaviors in hopes that they will change who we are inside. Understanding our identity in Christ is therefore the key to growth.

One of the reasons our identity is so critical is that our doing is utterly sinful and ineffective. “Your righteous deeds are like filthy rags,” God says(Isaiah 64:6). Our total depravity taints even our best efforts to do good; it is only God’s grace that empowers us to do His work. This theology is immensely practical, as we’ve all experienced. “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2) as we constantly sin in both obvious and subtle ways. If we take our identity from “being good,” we are immediately doomed to defeat. But outside the realm of our sinfulness, other’s free will also threatens to crush our efforts and in turn our self-image, if we derive it from what we do rather than who we are in Christ.

For example, you may serve and love and witness to someone faithfully for years and never see the person come to Christ. If you are what you do, this failure becomes debilitating, making it all too easy to give up and slip into depression. Two years ago, our deaconship was turned down (for good reason). I was devastated, not so much because I wanted the title of deacon, but because my pride, my sense that I was doing something right in ministry, was dealt a near-fatal blow. I cried the same as when I’d been turned down after auditioning for the Akron Youth Symphony when I was thirteen. Nothing damages the ego like a direct “no” in response to your efforts.

Unless you’re taking your identity from Christ, in which case it’s much easier to sustain rejection or failure. Last week was a particularly difficult one, as I was dealt three ego-threatening blows within four days. I learned that I was in danger of losing a(nother) disciple, that our deaconship had been decided against again (for good reason), and that my first article submission had been turned down (“it does not suit our current editorial needs”). Although it was an emotionally straining time that I needed my friends to get through, I wasn’t devastated or depressed like I would have been two years ago. All the issues were a matter of spiritual work, including the article which was, ironically, about being a perfectionist. But a recent cell group study of identity seemed to carry me through, reminding me that I’m not what I do, but who God says I am. It wasn’t apathy, the sense that it’s too hard to care so I’ll just give up. Actually, I think I felt joy in knowing that I could take even my failures to God, lay them at His feet, and let Him help me pick up the pieces by the power of His grace.

I certainly haven’t arrived when it comes to the realm of experiencing my identity in Christ. It’s still a tremendous struggle, especially for a perfectionist like me. There are so many deep, beautiful, intriguing truths about my identity in Christ that I’ve just only begun to realize. And being a nerd has nothing to do with it.

The Born-Again Identity

Flashback to health class, eighth grade. A teacher with frizzy hair and a shapeless denim jumper directs the class to page 124 in the textbook and asks for a volunteer to read the definition of self-image. No one raises a hand, so she calls on an unlucky student sitting in the “T-zone” who momentarily failed to maintain downturned eyes.

“Self-image is an individual’s awareness of, and attitudes toward, his/her own physical person; an individual’s perception of him/herself, which is learned in social interaction,” the kid stutters out.

By the end of the lesson, the students walk away with the idea that self-image is how you view yourself, what you think of yourself as a physical and social being. This view comes from many sources, they are told, but it’s important to have a good self-image because you have to believe in yourself. Whatever that means.

According to this definition, I was a skinny kid with bad bangs and a 4.0 who played oboe and did gymnastics. My circle of friends came from honors classes and band. In a word, I was a nerd.

Like the (usually) dutiful child I was, I embraced my nerdiness. Once I realized during the second grade spelling bee that I was going to be one of the smart kids, I started wearing plaid skirts and cardigans, packing impeccably healthy lunches, and reading at home through plastic sunglass frames with the lenses pushed out. As I got older I devoured classic literature, withdrew from social situations, and continued dressing like I attended parochial rather than public school.

In short, I acted out my self- and socially-constructed identity as a nerd. Once I labeled myself thus, I lived according to my title with indefatigable consistency. My parents even responded to my sense of self-image with textbook precision: my Christmas gifts always included a microscope, calculator, or spelling quiz book which inevitably served to crystallize my sense of self.

Christians also live and grow according to their identity. The question is, do we believe what God says of us, or what we’ve gleaned from parents, peers, and second grade spelling bees? As I’ve been studying Colossians in cell group and now Ephesians for home church, I’m seeing the gravity of our identity in Christ. As Dennis McCallum emphasized in Walking in Victory, “doing arises out of being.” I will act like a nerd if I think I’m a nerd. I will act like a child of God, an heir of His Kingdom, and an instrument of His glory only if I truly believe, at the deepest level, that I am exactly that.

Unlike Jason Bourne, Christians can know their true identity.

The Christian walk isn’t a matter of gradually obtaining blessings from God. Ephesians 1:3 boldly states in the perfect past tense (i.e. it’s already happened) that “God…has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” When we’re “in Christ,” meaning we’ve personally claimed Him as our Lord and accepted His death on the cross to pay for our sins, God views us as He views Jesus. He’s God’s son, and so we are children of God, “adopted as sons” as Ephesians 1:5 puts it. As a son, Jesus inherits God’s Kingdom. And so do we: we’re co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). We are “holy and blameless” (Eph. 1:4) because we’ve been completely forgiven (Eph. 1:7). Once slaves of our own insatiable desires, we’ve been redeemed, meaning bought back, from the Greek word apolutrosis. Less ubiquitous today, it was a common word, the dream of every slave, to be “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20) in order to be set free from a lifetime of grinding slavery. Now we’re free to serve God, based on a free will choice to love Him, and our “God-shaped vacuum” (Pascal) no longer gapes with vacuous futility. And these are just a few of the many identity truths found in Scripture.

But knowing and believing are two different things. If you know the ice is thick enough to hold your weight but don’t believe it will, you’re staying on the shore. Similarly, if we know that God has set us free and adopted us, but we don’t believe and grasp this as our true identity, we will never live with the priorities, purpose, and power God intends for us.

Our identity in Christ is more than a spiritual alias we don when doing ministry or devotions. It transcends all our daily routines and roles and defines the very core of who we are. Once we understand our position in Christ, it can infuse those routines and roles as we live as children and heirs and instruments of God in everyday practical ways. The experience of our position in Christ in daily life is known as our condition, and unlike our identity, it can fluctuate frequently depending on how we live according to our identity.

Without understanding and experiencing our position in Christ, we cannot grow spiritually in a deep, lasting way. All we can do is superficial piddling with the exterior, while the inside of the cup remains unchanged. As Nee describes it, “at the beginning of our Christian lives we’re more concerned with our doing than our being.” The clear implication is that change works in the opposite direction. Christian growth depends on learning, believing, and appropriating our identity rather than trying to do certain behaviors in hopes that they will change who we are inside. Understanding our identity in Christ is therefore the key to growth.

One of the reasons our identity is so critical is that our doing is utterly sinful and ineffective. “Your righteous deeds are like filthy rags,” God says(Isaiah 64:6). Our total depravity taints even our best efforts to do good; it is only God’s grace that empowers us to do His work. This theology is immensely practical, as we’ve all experienced. “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2) as we constantly sin in both obvious and subtle ways. If we take our identity from “being good,” we are immediately doomed to defeat. But outside the realm of our sinfulness, other’s free will also threatens to crush our efforts and in turn our self-image, if we derive it from what we do rather than who we are in Christ.

For example, you may serve and love and witness to someone faithfully for years and never see the person come to Christ. If you are what you do, this failure becomes debilitating, making it all too easy to give up and slip into depression. Two years ago, our deaconship was turned down (for good reason). I was devastated, not so much because I wanted the title of deacon, but because my pride, my sense that I was doing something right in ministry, was dealt a near-fatal blow. I cried the same as when I’d been turned down after auditioning for the Akron Youth Symphony when I was thirteen. Nothing damages the ego like a direct “no” in response to your efforts.

Unless you’re taking your identity from Christ, in which case it’s much easier to sustain rejection or failure. Last week was a particularly difficult one, as I was dealt three ego-threatening blows within four days. I learned that I was in danger of losing a(nother) disciple, that our deaconship had been decided against again (for good reason), and that my first article submission had been turned down (“it does not suit our current editorial needs”). Although it was an emotionally straining time that I needed my friends to get through, I wasn’t devastated or depressed like I would have been two years ago. All the issues were a matter of spiritual work, including the article which was, ironically, about being a perfectionist. But a recent cell group study of identity seemed to carry me through, reminding me that I’m not what I do, but who God says I am. It wasn’t apathy, the sense that it’s too hard to care so I’ll just give up. Actually, I think I felt joy in knowing that I could take even my failures to God, lay them at His feet, and let Him help me pick up the pieces by the power of His grace.

I certainly haven’t arrived when it comes to the realm of experiencing my identity in Christ. It’s still a tremendous struggle, especially for a perfectionist like me. There are so many deep, beautiful, intriguing truths about my identity in Christ that I’ve just only begun to realize. And being a nerd has nothing to do with it.