I struggle with _______ because of ________. How do you fill in those blanks?

  • “I have a temper because my father had a temper.”
  • “I have trust issues because of my parents’ divorce.”
  • “I get drunk because I need some kind of escape from the stress of life.”
  • “I crave approval because I never received it as a child.”
  • “I am crazy because my kids drive me nuts!”

Why do you have the struggle that you do? What is the cause of it? What part do your childhood, family, past experience, current circumstances, biology, and relationships have to play in who you are today? If you had a harsh, critical parent, it is not hard to see that there is some kind of connection between that and your fear of rejection. If your father was an angry person, there are definitely ways in which that could tempt you towards anger. These situations make total sense. But is it as simple as cause and effect? No, biblically speaking, we are not simply products of our environments.

Why are we the way that we are, then? From where does our identity come? First of all, we do acknowledge that our environments are powerful shaping influences on who we are. They are contributing factors in what we do. Our childhood, biological makeup, relationships, sufferings – these things provide the context in which we do all that we do. David Powlison, speaking of these influences says, “In fact, the Bible teaches that God actually arranges the stage on which you live. He is the Lord of history, including your local time and place, and your personal history. Your particular matrix of influences provides the context in which your faith (or your self-will) plays out, in which he meets you (or you shirk him).” So these things are influential and shaping, but they are not determinative or defining. In other words, they are not the foundational factor in who you are or the ultimate cause of what you do.

So what is our identity? If our biological makeup, childhood experiences and family don’t define us, then what does? Or Who does?

For those who trust in Christ, your identity is based on him. Part of the wonder of the gospel is that in our union with Christ in his death and resurrection, we have gone through a death of our old self and the resurrection of a new self that is bound to Christ (Romans 6:1-7). We no longer have our own identity, but one that is wrapped up in Christ’s identity. In other words, we are not defined by being a child of an alcoholic father, but by being a child of a holy, loving, heavenly Father. We are not defined by the things that we have done and that have happened to us, but by the things that Jesus has done. We do not live as individual beings living out individual stories, but as members of Christ who are living out Christ’s story.

So does that mean everything else about us is no longer a part of who we are? No! Just the opposite, part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to take everything about us and everything that has happened to us and redeem it! Those things that once defined us are now, in Christ, the raw materials out of which he is making a beautiful masterpiece (Eph. 2:10)! By the power of the gospel, we are given identities that are deeper than our earthly circumstances and more foundational than our fallen human experience.

And so the way we think about and relate to our abusive father is transformed as we come to know our Heavenly Father, who did everything he could to keep us from harm (to the point of sacrificing his own Son). The experience of our fallen humanity – broken bodies, minds, and relationships – rather than being defining, become secondary, a part of a bigger, more foundational calling that God has placed on our lives to glorify him by “lead[ing] the life that the Lord has assigned to [us]” (1 Cor. 7:17-24). If we are in Christ, we are not helplessly chained to the crippling effects of an unhappy childhood but set free to “walk in newness of life” by our adoption into a new family. If Christ is the foundation of who we are, if He defines us, then everything else about us is redefined accordingly. What hope there is in Christ for broken sinners like us!