How Does God See Me?

Lydia Brownback
Monday, August 31st 2015
Sep/Oct 2015

A Michigan woman lost her gym membership earlier this year after voicing complaints about the presence of a man in the women’s locker room. The brouhaha ignited over gender’the man used the woman’s locker room because he self-identifies as a woman. Planet Fitness cancelled Yvette Cormier’s membership because she violated the organization’s gender identity nondiscrimination policy, which states: ‘Members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.’ (1)

The ubiquitous gender identity and sexual orientation controversies of today ultimately come down to one word: authority. Who determines male or female? Likewise, are we born with a particular sexual preference? Is it shaped by our environment, or are we free to choose what appeals at the moment? In progressive societies that emphasize freedom and personal rights, it just seems to make sense that gender and sexual orientation must be self-determined; hence the LBGTQ acronym. Those five letters no longer suffice, however, as more and more letters have become necessary to adequately include every sexual permutation. ‘It’s because people are seeing all the things that fall out of the binary, and demanding that a name come into being,’ says Jack Halberstam, a professor at the University of California. ‘And with a plethora of ever-expanding categories like ‘genderqueer’ and ‘androgyne’ to choose from . . . piecing together a gender identity can be as D.I.Y. as making a Pinterest board.’ (2)

Paradoxically, of course, the cultural quest for self-definition takes away the very thing it seems to promise. That’s because God alone determines gender, and he alone defines human sexuality and all other facets of humanity. So when humanity attempts to assume the authoritative role that belongs only to God, personal annihilation inevitably results. For example, a young woman, Kate, formerly identified as ‘agender’ and referred to herself as ‘they,’ but she now sees her gender as an ‘amorphous blob.’ (3) In order to undertake self-definition, people must necessarily suppress the truth about God (Rom. 1:18). As they continue along this course, rational thought and reason become futile and darkened, and eventually God gives them up to their self-determination (vv. 21’32).

Even a quick scan of evangelical websites reveals that issues of identity are not confined to the culture at large. Professing believers are with increasing frequency confessing confusion and acquiescing to the muddy gray that results from the cultural blending of black and white. In some cases, this is due not directly to an individual’s suppression of the knowledge of God, but to the suppression within some strains of evangelicalism of the authority of Scripture as the only infallible rule of faith and practice, which results in ignorance of God. Where this has occurred, identity issues’whether over gender, sexual orientation, or calling’become shaped by an individual’s personal experience. What one has seen and heard and done are elevated as the determiner of reality whenever and wherever Scripture is undermined.

Among evangelicals, much, if not most, of the confusion over identity comes into play over issues not quite as polarizing as gender and sexuality. The loudest conversation in recent years involves not gender but the role of gender. Can women be pastors and elders? Can wives and mothers work outside the home? There are organizations, websites, and numerous publications devoted exclusively to this identity issue.

Living as we do in the age of the self, with its individual rather than collective orientation, Christians from every developed country and denominational stripe seek to define themselves by what they do. If they want to leave a legacy for God’s kingdom, they must have a ‘radical’ mind-set, cultivate an ‘incarnational’ lifestyle, and structure their lives so as to live ‘on mission.’ They find pastors’the more famous, the better’and organizations with a ‘brand’ that best suits their convictions so that they can latch on and claim affiliation. The prospect of working an ordinary job in an obscure town, and serving in a church with a pastor no one has ever heard of, can feel like personal death to some.

This relentless inner quest for self-definition is a direct result not only of elevating experience over Scripture but also of the decades-long skewing of biblical priorities and themes in so many Western churches. Os Guinness redirects this distortion:

There is joy in fulfilling a calling that fits who we are and, like the pillar of cloud and fire, goes ahead of our lives to lead us. But who are we? And what is our destiny? Calling insists that the answer lies in God’s knowledge of what he has created us to be. . . . Our gifts and destiny do not lie expressly in our parents’ wishes, our boss’s plans, our peer group’s pressures, our generation’s prospects, or our society’s demands. Rather, we each need to know our own unique design, which is God’s design for us. (4)

And this takes us full circle to the primary issue’we do not get to ‘choose’ ourselves, nor does society or environment get to choose for us. It is God, not anything in creation, who determines who we are and gives individuals identity, meaning, and purpose. And in Christ, God’s determination of our identity is gloriously liberating rather than stifling.

First, those of us united by faith to Christ are no longer defined by sin, whether sins of the past, struggles with sin in the present, or sin battles we will face in the future. Our former sin-based identity was crucified with Christ, and we have been raised with him to ‘newness of life’ (Rom. 6:4). Because our identity is now intrinsically linked to his, sin no longer has dominion over us (v. 14); sin and its power to define and enslave are no longer part of who we are. Gone forever is the illusion of deliverance that comes from standing before a twelve-step group and publicly defining ourselves by our besetting sin. ‘I’m Joe, and I’m an alcoholic’ has become ‘I’m Joe, a son of the living God.’ And ‘I’m gay because I’ve always struggled with same-sex attraction’ is now ‘Although I’m tempted by same-sex attraction, my sexuality doesn’t define me. I’m defined by Christ, whose perfect resistance to temptation has been applied to me.’ In Christ, we are daily becoming what we already are.

Second, by virtue of our union with Christ, our calling has been clearly defined. We have been called by God ‘according to his purpose,’ which primarily is to conform us to the image of his Son (Rom. 8:29). By the power of God, everything that happens to us and whatever we choose to do work toward that end. ‘In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Eph. 1:11). In other words, our particular earthly callings are all subsumed under his call of us into the kingdom. Because this is so, we don’t have to fixate inwardly in order to figure out who we are or what we will do; light comes as we redirect our gaze upward and outward. Scripture defines us as ‘God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.’ And because these good works were ‘prepared beforehand’ by God, we are already engaged in living them out in our day-to-day lives and relationships (Eph. 2:10). This is the outworking of biblical discipleship, and as distinctly Christian disciples, what we do is never divorced from who we are. In fact, true discipleship is less about doing than it is about being. God doesn’t need our good works, and if we view discipleship primarily in those terms, we are at risk of misusing ‘disciple’ as merely another self-defining label. When it comes to the call to discipleship,

Christ’s union with us in all our humanity, fallen under the curse of God, and our union with him in all his humanity, spotless, righteous, and risen, defines us. It, and it alone, is the given basis for our discipleship. (5)

The pressure is off! Because we have been placed in Christ, our calling has been defined.

Third, the future of those in Christ has already been established. We are destined for a glorious, unending future in the new heavens and the new earth, where we will enjoy unhindered fellowship with God. At that time, ‘death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’ (Rev. 21:4). Gone will be the remaining vestiges of our sin and the inclination to define ourselves by it. No more will the weaknesses, limitations, and brokenness of life in this world confound our understanding of who we are. ‘Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known’ (1 Cor. 13:12).

Even now, while the mirror is still dim, who we are has been revealed. Who we are and what we are called to do is all wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ is the Christian’s identity, both now and forever. In this world we might be lonely and alone, but in Christ we are a vital part of an eternal family (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 2:22). The world judges and condemns us for what we do and say, but in Christ we are covered by grace (1 Cor. 1:4). The deficiencies of our humanity weaken us, but in Christ we are enriched in every way (1 Cor. 1:5). Our intellectual limitations might hinder us, but Christ has become our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30). Past sin’no matter how grievous’no longer characterizes us, because in Christ we have redemption through his blood and full forgiveness (Eph. 1:7). The fear of man mars our witness and our relationships, but in Christ we can draw near to God with freedom and confidence (Eph. 3:12).

Our earthbound goals and dreams might come crashing down, but in Christ all disappointments are being used by God for our good (Rom. 8:28). In him, ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Christ is the Christian’s identity, and it is glorious.

1 [ Back ] Emily Shapiro, 'Planet Fitness Revokes Woman's Membership after She Complained about Transgendered Person,' ABC News, March 7, 2015,
2 [ Back ] Michael Schulman, 'Generation LGBTQIA,' New York Times, January 9, 2013,
3 [ Back ] Schulman.
4 [ Back ] Os Guiness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (Nashville: W Publishing, 2003), 47.
5 [ Back ] Dominic Smart, When We Get It Wrong: Peter, Christ, and Our Path through Failure (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Lifestyle, 2001), 8.
Monday, August 31st 2015

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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