Who Am I? An Exploration of Our Identity as Human Beings
Who am I? Our identity is that we are image bearers of the God who created us. This means that to be human means to be relational, to uniquely reflect God’s attributes, and to rule over creation as representatives of God.
The 20s/30s ministry at my church is going through Mark Moore’s Core52 for the next year, in an effort to increase biblical literacy. To assist in my weekly preparation, I’ll be writing articles based on the topics. This is Week 2: Identity. Week 1’s “Why Are We Here” can be found here.
We Are Obsessed With Ourselves
I have to confess something to you: I am a personality-assessment junkie. Not a recovering junkie—a current one.
When I was a freshman in college, I took a seminar called The Genetics of Personality, where we explored the influence of nature and nurture on our individual personalities. I was a finance major, but hey. Liberal arts requirement.
Partway through the semester, we each took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and had freshman-level discussions pontificating on why we were the way that we were. As it turns out, my type is INFJ, which means I am an introvert (I), I’m intuitive (N), I’m a feeler (F), and I’m a planner (J). I’m pretty sure it’s my parents’ fault.
It’s silly, but this was the first (quasi-) objective data I had ever possessed on my personality. Finance major, remember? For the first time, things about my internal wiring began to make sense to me. I now possessed language to ascribe to my nature, and more than that, I felt the freedom to settle into a role. I didn’t have to be an extrovert—I could let the extroverts go to the parties while I grabbed dinner with a friend, or stood alone in a dark shower. I didn’t have to be spontaneous—I could leave that to the free spirits while I planned my spontaneity for 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, if anyone else wanted to be spontaneous with me.
“I now possessed language to ascribe to my nature, and more than that, I felt the freedom to settle into a role.”
After I understood the MBTI, I realized that there were aspects of personality that were still left unexplained by these four letters. So I began my quest to supplement my Myers-Briggs type with other personality assessments.
For better or for worse, then came the next assessments: the DiSC and the Enneagram, the Big 5 and a spiritual gifts inventory. Lately, StrengthsFinder has been my favorite, but a friend recently exposed me to Standout Roles, and Patrick Lencioni has recently released an assessment called the Working Genius Assessment that I’m excited to try. I thoroughly enjoyed the assessments my wife and I took during our premarital counseling. (Even though she’s a pirate and I’m a ninja, we’re extremely compatible.)
And for what it’s worth, according to the Hogwarts sorting hat, I’m a Hufflepuff.
There. Now you know my secret shame.
In my defense, not all of my personality-assessment love is narcissistic. There is a generous and redemptive way to frame this obsession. Which is that, in these assessments, I was seeking identity.
As a theist, I’ve always believed that I was formed by a God who made me on purpose, for a purpose. In taking this litany of assessments, I wanted to know how God had made me. I wanted to know how God had wired me, and what strengths and weaknesses that wiring naturally led to, so that I could discern his purposes for my life and live those out as well as I could.
Who am I? “I was formed by a God who made me on purpose, for a purpose.”
Again, that is the most redemptive way to frame all of this. In actuality, I am sure that muddled in with the good intentions are indeed sinful motives, such as self-importance. Pride.
But I am also equally sure that the longing to understand who I am, and what role I am designed to play in this life, is embedded deeply inside of each and every one of us, without exception.
How can I be sure of this? For starters—those personality assessments I’ve been carrying on about? According to Howard B. Esbin, PhD, about 80 million people every year complete one of them.
Not yet convinced? How about the US Census data for the median age at first marriage, which rose from roughly 23 years old (men) and 21 years old (women) in 1970, to roughly 31 years old (men) and 29 years old (women) in 2021. Of course, marriage data is multifactorial, and the trends of increasing premarital sex and increased rates of higher education could also be attributed to this shift. But a strong case could be made that people are getting married later because they are “learning what they want,” and “figuring themselves out first.”
“A strong case could be made that people are getting married later because they are ‘learning what they want,’ and ‘figuring themselves out first.’”
We could also talk about the recent surge in interest regarding ancestry and heritage. It is said that genealogy research is the second most popular hobby (after gardening), and some data have one in seven U.S. adults taking a mail-in DNA test.
Still not convinced? How about social media? Are you one of the 4.59 billion people using a social network? We may not be searching for our identity here, but we are certainly crafting one. Most of the time, we’re posting about ourselves, or our lives. And in doing so, we project the precise image that we want others to see of us.
This isn’t a condemnation. This is a declaration: we long to know our identity. We seek it through our personalities, our heritage, and our experiences, among other things. And failing that, we forge an identity of our own making. We long to know who we are, and what role we were designed to play.
I still hold the belief that personality assessments matter. Employed the right way, for the right motives, they can reveal strengths and weaknesses, internal wiring, motives, tendencies, and blind spots. They can help you figure out what you’re good at, what you could improve on, and what you need to stay away from.
But what if the most important thing about identity isn’t personality? Personality, after all, is a moving target. It changes and shifts based on time, circumstance, and experience. If we tether our identity to our personality, we will never fully arrive.
Who am I? “What if the most important thing about identity isn’t personality?”
We need something unchanging to anchor our identity to. Something that’s not formed, or developed, or discovered. We need something adamant. We need something true.
We Don’t Choose Our Identity
I would submit that nothing which is created gets to choose its own identity. A table doesn’t choose to be a table, nor does it have the option to decide to be a couch; it is crafted specially to be a table. A dog doesn’t choose to be a dog, nor does it have the option to decide to be a duck; it is a dog, created by other dogs with the purpose of being a dog.
In the same vein, we are human beings. This is our identity, and one that is inherent in us based on our very nature.
Who am I? “We are human beings. This is our identity, and one that is inherent in us based on our very nature.”
So then, what identity is bestowed to us by virtue of our humanity? What does it mean to be human?
To accurately answer questions about design, we turn to the Designer.
Created in the Image of God
In Genesis 1, after God separates the sky, water, and land, and fills each dimension with creatures, he is not yet done creating. In verse 26, we find that God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth” (CSB).
The first thing God says about creating humans is that he intends on making us to reflect his image. Nothing else God made received this distinction; humanity is set apart from every other living thing, because we are made in the image of God. This, according to the Judeo-Christian worldview, is the foundational idea of human identity, and it is astonishing.
Who am I? “The first thing God says about creating humans is that he intends on making us to reflect his image.”
Also, confusing. After all, what does it mean to be created in the image of God?
Here is a stab at an inexhaustive unpacking of that.
You Are Precious
We discussed in the creation post that because a God of infinite worth created us, we are imbued with incredible, indelible inherent value. And this is true, not because of who you are, but because of who made you.
Our source of worth comes not from what we think or what we do, but rather from the artist that formed us, and what he formed us to be. We have the value that we do, because we were made by God, in the image of God. This is what distinguishes human beings from everything else in creation, and is the foundation of our value.
Because God Is Relational, Mankind Is Too
You probably noticed that when God spoke of himself, he used something like a “royal we.” In Genesis 1:26, God says, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”
As we covered in the creation post, this is early biblical evidence for the theology of the Trinity. God is three distinct persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—but the Father is not the Son, who is not the Spirit.
This is a mystery of God, and one that we can’t fully comprehend this side of heaven. What we can pull from this, however, is that being Triune by essence makes God inherently relational. All three persons of the Godhead existed in eternity-past, in complete harmony. So humanity being made in the image of God must mean that, not only is there a relational component to our nature, but that this relational component is essential to our nature.
Who am I? “Not only is there a relational component to our nature, but this relational component is essential to our nature.”
One implication of this is that we are meant to commune with our Creator: to be human means to be in union with God. But we will get to that in another post. What is especially of note here is the ending of Genesis 1:27, and the second creation account in Genesis 2.
First, Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” (CSB).
Intimately paired with the creation of humanity in the image of God is the fact that God created them male and female. God created distinctions between his image bearers!
This is more fully expounded upon in Genesis 2, when God makes man from the dust of the ground. After seeing that the things he made were good in Genesis 1, God sees the first thing that is not good: that the man is alone. Finding all other options for a “helper corresponding to him” (Genesis 2:18) to be inadequate, God takes a rib from the man’s side and creates a woman, whom he gives to the man, and the two became one flesh.
God created two distinct image bearers, so that they would express God’s image in different ways, and express God’s image most fully when in relationship with one another.
Who am I? “God created two distinct image bearers, so that they would express God’s image in different ways, and express God’s image most fully when in relationship with one another.”
This is the fundamental theological principle of marriage, but also clues us in on God’s design for human identity—the image of God—involving relationship as an essential element. Contrary to the secular idea of finding your identity within yourself, the Christian worldview holds that our identity is expressed in relationships with others.
Humanity Shares Unique Attributes with God
If we are created in God’s image, then it follows that we would naturally reflect attributes that he possesses. Just as you might have your dad’s generosity, or your mom’s sense of humor, so too do we share attributes with the God who made us.
As Mark Moore writes in Core52, those attributes that humans share uniquely with God are honor, time, beauty, language, love, and rule.
Why am I? “Those attributes that humans share uniquely with God are honor, time, beauty, language, love, and rule.”
We covered briefly in the creation post God’s glory—his splendor and his value. To glorify God means to acknowledge God’s splendor and revere and honor him for it. In the same way, we are created with a need for honor—to be respected and valued.
“Though he’s eternal, God brokers in time” (Moore, 15). God exists outside of time, but he deals within time. He considers the past, he has a vision for the future, and he executes plans to fulfill this vision. In the same manner, humans are also aware of the past, plan for the future, and make actions to execute these plans.
Thomas Aquinas writes that God is beauty itself. Thus, part of being created in God’s image is to seek beauty. Humans have the unique capacity to create beauty: to make things orderly, to create art, to tell stories, to make music. There is something about beauty that nourishes our soul, so we create it, and we create it constantly.
Language—the ability to communicate in abstractions—is another attribute that links humans with God. We employ words and numbers and music to express truth and beauty. So too does God.
Who am I? “The noblest attribute that humanity possesses is our ability to love.”
The noblest attribute that humanity possesses is our ability to love. 1 John 1 states that God is love, so our capacity to sacrifice self for others, especially strangers or enemies, sets us apart from the animals and perhaps is the purest reflection of God’s character.
Representation And Ruling
The final attribute Moore lists that human beings share with God is that of rule. Rather than a characteristic, this attribute has to do with role, with purpose. In Genesis 1:26-27, God creates mankind in his image, and he creates them male and female. In the very next verse, God blesses them and gives them their marching orders:
“Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28, CSB)
Who am I? “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.”
It is at the end of this section, in verse 31, that God sees all that he had made, and declares it very good indeed.
When God created mankind, he made it clear our role as image bearers: to create more image bearers, and to partner with God in ruling over his creation, as his representatives.
We see this supported in Psalm 8, where David writes,
“What is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him? You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.” (Ps. 8:3-6, CSB)
Who am I? “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.”
Because human beings are made in the image of God, we are uniquely qualified to rule over creation. Mankind had done nothing to earn this glory and honor, but God bestowed us with it, calling us into our identity as image bearers. We are to rule over creation—but we are to do so as representations of the one who bestowed this role to us. We are to rule creation in partnership with God, and we are to rule as God does, with justice and mercy.
Our True Identity Is Bestowed To Us
Modern Western culture would have you believe that identity is based on a number of factors—that you are the sum of environmental, historical, physical, social, and personal factors that are subject to change at any point.
The good news of Genesis 1 and 2 is that this is simply untrue. You have an identity that is anchored, because your identity was given to you by the God who created you and wants to be in relationship with you.
In this identity, you uniquely share attributes that God possesses. You were created with a need to be honored—to be respected and valued. You broker in time—considering past, present, and future when you think and plan and act. You were created with a craving for beauty, so it is nature and music and story and art that nourish your soul. You have the capacity for language to communicate ideas and truth.
Who am I? “In this identity, you uniquely share attributes that God possesses.”
Most importantly, you were created with the ability to love. You were created with the ability to sacrifice your good for someone else’s–whether or not you like them, or even know them.
Moreover, you were created to be in relationship with other image bearers, and to create more image bearers. Because we reflect God’s image, God has crowned us with glory and honor, and has given us orders to rule over his creation, as he would.
So instead of being given over to the tyranny of pride and narcissism, self-obsession and self-importance, our identity is simply to reflect the image of the God who created us.
How cool is that?