Whether you like to admit it or not, we all have pasts. We all used to be someone who we are not currently. Just for an example, in the not-so-distant past I was a nerd who did two things: played on NeoPets (don’t know what it is? Yeah…no one does except me…) and read Harry Potter fan fiction. (While I’m still pretty nerdy, I don’t do either of those things anymore—and boy, am I glad!)
Some of our pasts were really freaking awesome—we had/have marvelous parents, a great community growing up, no raging issues that crippled us. Some of us probably knew Jesus, too! But odds are, at least part of your past wasn’t great. Maybe you were abused, misused, or bullied. Maybe your parents weren’t great—or they were trying to be great, they just didn’t succeed. Maybe it wasn’t nearly as bad as that; you just grew up not knowing God, or not knowing freedom—maybe you got mixed up with the wrong crowd and made some mistakes; or maybe you didn’t make any mistakes and you just felt empty and lonely like me.
Whatever the case, and whatever our pasts look like, they are real. Before I go any further into this blog post, let me make that clear: what has happened, has happened. It is real, and it matters. Whether it was good or bad or in-between, what you have experienced matters immensely. It matters to who you were in the past, and it matters to who you are now. Without Christ, it would likely be what defines you.
But here’s the thing: even though our past matters, it isn’t what defines us. Our identity is not in our past, but in Christ Jesus.
However real our past is to us, our friend, father, and corrector YHWH is even more real. Let me say that another way: God is more real, and how He defines you is more real, than anything in life can ever be. When Jesus died for us on the cross—when He sacrificed Himself—He wasn’t just dying to absolve us of sin. That part is huge, and is central to our faith—but He also died to enable us to live out of a new identity. Because while in sin our identity was in death and perpetual uncleanliness, our identity in Christ Jesus is one of life.
Romans 6:3-7 says, “…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (NIV). To be baptized is to be grafted in—to be made a part of something which you were not part of before. In Jewish culture, baptism was how gentiles were brought into Judaism. It signified death to your old life—death to your deadness—and rebirth into the new life that comes from following Yahweh.
So, while our old identity was in death, our new identity is in life. If we are in Christ, then we have been grafted in—by association with Him—to both His death and His resurrection. We are given new life and identities through Jesus.
Even though we sometimes make decisions in alignment with our old identity of death, our true identity isn’t with those things unless we let them be. We may have made mistakes, we may have been hurt, we may have fallen away at some point, or anything else. But those same hurts, pains, and mistakes do not get to define who we are. God has already defined us for us—and it’s our privilege and duty to live in that identity. God calls us higher, because anything less than God is death. What God calls us to is life, because we are alive in Him—we are defined by Him—above everything else.
So while our past may hurt, that hurt is ultimately from sin—the brokenness of this world and the sinfulness of man. And nothing can take away sin except for the blood of Jesus. When Christ died, he didn’t stay dead: he came back to life. If we have the same spirit living within us, why would we even consider staying dead? When we choose to find our identity in our past—in those wounds or in what has happened to us—, we are choosing to stay dead. When we choose to find our identity in God, we come alive.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. (If you have been following God for any length of time, you probably know this, too.) Finding our identity and worth in Him is hard. It hurts, sometimes. And it’s a lifelong process. We’ll never be fully done in refocusing our eyes on Yahweh while we are mortal. But God knows we won’t be perfect—in fact, He was perfect so we didn’t have to be. The best we can do is to listen and to obey. Part one of that obedience is actively pursuing an identity that lines up with the life God has given us—not with the identity our past has led us to believe.
Are you living like you’re alive in Christ’s new life, or are you living like you’re still dead? There are so many parts in my own life where I’m living like I’m still dead. I encourage you to bring that question and your fears to God. My life has changed for the better by bringing my past to God, letting Him take it and redeem it, and living in the grace of new life. I know it will change yours too—if you let it.
You are good. You are better than we can imagine. Thank you so much for giving us—for giving me—a new identity. You know how broken I am—how broken we all are. So thank you for loving us so deeply and passionately that you would step down from your throne for 30 years just to die a gruesome, humiliating death. Don’t let us keep living like that doesn’t matter, Lord. Give us the strength to believe our past is dead, and we are alive in You. Give us the courage to persevere towards that truth, even when it doesn’t feel true at all. Sing your presence over each and every one of us—so that we know You are here and whispering the Truth into our souls.
Author | Alex Hinton