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Your identity vs. your role

I woke up to a light blanket of snow on the ground here in north Georgia as I prepare to fly to Flint, Michigan today. And with a fire in the hearth and Whimsy at my side, I spent the morning meditating on this concept of being Jesus’ disciple. Who knows what the airport holds for me in a few hou…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

I woke up to a light blanket of snow on the ground here in north Georgia as I prepare to fly to Flint, Michigan today. And with a fire in the hearth and Whimsy at my side, I spent the morning meditating on this concept of being Jesus’ disciple. Who knows what the airport holds for me in a few hours, but the morning started off right.

So, I define discipleship as “waking a person up to their
identity and role in the kingdom
of God.”

What I’ve discovered is that most people would rather focus
on their role first (thus creating a “false self”). But a disciple of Jesus must get clear about
his or her identity first or their perception of their role will intrude on
their understanding of their identity.

You are not a fireman or a stockbroker, a mom, or a husband.
These are roles you may fulfill, things you occasionally do with your time.

If you’re a follower of Christ, 2 Cor. 5:17 teaches you’re “a new creation.” You’ve got a new
identity as a citizen of his kingdom.
So, an essential part of following him is understanding that
identity. Understanding my sonship helps
me to resist the temptation to define myself according to what I do – my role.

All of this is particularly difficult for us guys, who are
prone to task-orientation. And it is
even more difficult for us as American guys, as our culture prizes busyness, or
“doing.” We come to prioritize tasks and
think of ourselves in terms of our achievements (see this earlier blog that touches on the subject).

Discipling requires undoing a lot of falderal in a person’s
mind about doing vs. being. Christ’s
work on the cross is finished. Nothing I
do can improve on it. This undoing and
re-forming requires a long time – generally years – as memories need healing,
demons evicting and habits unlearning.

Most would-be disciplers too frequently ignore these things, focusing instead on sharing information thru Bible studies
or preparing for a role thru class-work or mentoring. This is certainly true of any Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist church I’ve ever been a part of. Oh, the years I spent like a gerbil racing on its wheel trying to learn more! I wish somebody had set me free to understand that life with Christ is a conversation, not a “To-Do” list.

Whole generations of seminary students are graduating to the role of pastor or missionary without ever doing the hard work
of waking up to their identity. Too many
of them then apply the same methods as they teach others. If people are desperate enough to follow
Jesus whole-heartedly, we who disciple them must patiently focus on identity issues first.

Comments (15)

  • I love the concept of being awoken to your identity before your role.
    When we are made citizens of a new kingdom we’re given a new language (love). I know first hand it takes time to learn speaking a new language. You’ll first learn to understand (recieve) before you can speak (give). You learn by being around those that are fluent. Many times we try to fulfill our role and we don’t even know what language is being spoken. True discipleship affords this time for adjusting and familiarizing before doing anything.

  • Seth, I just said ¨Whoa¨ outloud here in the Internet Cafe here in Palenque, Mexico. Thanks for all this truth. As you know from last debrief God has been taking me through an identity journey & it´s crazy because the exact verse & words of ¨new creation¨that you shared are what he has been speaking to me about here. I love how He speaks…he really does! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Only one thing I want to know – who goes to Flint in the middle of the winter? You know they have a cold front coming through for the weekend? Only place stranger than Flint is a little city called Port Huron. It’s where ministers go just before God exiles them permanently to the island of “misfit toys”.

  • Great insight here seth. Thank you for the wisdom – great way to start off the day.

    Working in the financial sector I can testify to the disproportionate amount of importance that is put on one’s job, firm, annual bonus etc. However, i must concede that the temptation to live by these standards is great because the cadence at which success is achieved rests solely in the worker’s hands and the voice of affirmation is loud and clear. Conversely, it has been my experience that in faith “success” is hard to measure and its pace is too often dreadfully slow. Moreover, if it is ever acheived, the interim results are less than desirable.

    Lastly, the Church and pious christians make me want to do everything possible to avoid this “new creation” mentality because from the outside it appears as an excuse for haphazard living and docile impotence.

    However, then you came along and have turned all these preconceptions upside down and am thus brought back to the drawing board once more. Thank You.

    Have a safe trip.

  • to my faithful blog readers – Kevin is a hot shot on wall st. who loves orphans and loves our family. and Michael is the guy in MI I’m going to visit – i hope you could sense his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. check out his church: http://www.ccchurches.com (in fact, besides having fun ice fishing, that’s what i plan to do).

  • Wow. This truth is exactly what I’ve been discovering over the past few weeks, and it’s very comforting to have it confirmed. It is very hard to change because I have always defined myself by what I do…but there’s something inside me screaming that there is something tragically wrong with the path I’m on. So now I have to unlearn the ideals I’ve been taught, and it’s scary, but I thank you for your encouragement, Seth!

  • Hey Seth – I’m 20 minutes from Flint this week! My wife and I are doing our annual ‘Study Break’ at my brother-in-law’s guest house (Nehemiah ministries) in Owosso. Give me a call at 517-403-6377 if you’d like to get together. I’m intrigued with AIM’s ministry and know that our son Steve is having a blast in Peru. Also, I noticed we were both in Guatemala in the summer of ’75 as teens – my first experience as a “short-termer”. Great impact on my life!

  • great blog, thanks for the thoughts! i love the bit about ‘Christianity is a conversation, not a to do list’!! how true!!

  • As I volunteered in Port Huron last night, I DO get this identity Vs. role issue confussed. I am so blessed that God has chosen to put so many men like yourself in my path to bring these issues to the surface and shed His Light on them. It never fails to amaze me how God multi-tasks. He had your heart on this very same topic before he even sent you up north to meet with us! It encourages me to know that I’m tuned to the same fequency. Do come freeze with us again!

  • Seth, I love this! I feel identity vs. role is a huge theme in my life right now (maybe because I have almost none of my normal roles at the moment.) It’s funny that so much of learning to let go of the roles I’ve filled is happening after the race. I’ve been pretty amazed by how clearly God tends to speak to me during the times I feel like I’m doing the least. Thanks for encouraging people to find their identities beyond what others see in them. So many of the roles that Americans fill are actually idols!

  • Again- totally needed this Seth. Thanks!

    This is so good as I focus on all my “to-do’s” for before India and while I’m gone… I’m so caught up in them. I’ve got to learn that LOVE is my ‘to do’, and time with Father, and being His hands and feet… and that the rest is going to follow that naturally. I’ve always got a lot to learn in this realm, it’s so easy to get caught up in the tangible!

    As always – your wisdom is a blessing 🙂

  • I came across this site ‘by mistake’. Looking for graphics relating to being “in Christ” I found these incredible, yet down to earth blogs. I agree with Seth about many Christians, including myself, that have had spiritual amnesia. I experience more peace when I rest in the truth of who God has said that I am, and allow my life rest upon that foundation.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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