If you listen to a teenager long enough, you’ll begin to hear something distinct in how they speak. It isn’t quite its own language, but there are times when you feel you can’t quite tell what they are saying. Sometimes it isn’t even whole words. Plus, words of the day change rapidly. Yesterday it was cool to say #squadgoals, today it makes you sound out of touch. Who can keep up? Teenagers can.
It is during the teen years when identity becomes paramount. Suddenly a kid becomes aware that they are a distinct individual with the autonomy to choose how they want to be perceived. What this ends up looking like is an almost-adult who is mostly made up of memes and replications. They latch onto the next cool thing so their identity will at the very least seem cool. Hence the rapidly changing lexicon.
Then again—are we much different after we’ve grown? Sure, we don’t chase trends quite as frantically as we were at 15, but we externalize our identity-makers even still. It might come from a hobby or an interest. It may come from a self-help book—this is really common. We self-create ideologies that help us manage our need for identity, but it ends up becoming our identity (think Oprah, The Secret, etc.). Different material, same intent.
Social media, nicknames, cubicle decorations—it’s all rife with identity grabs. It is soothing, encouraging, even affirming. And we feed it and reassert it. It doesn’t matter if it is true, or real, or healthy. It feels… safe? But it is still outside—it comes from outside and it exists to get affirmation from the outside.
Paul said, “it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20, ESV). That is pure identity right there, and two major things about it run contrary to external cultural identity: it is Genuine, and it is Internal. It isn’t something we do to convince people we are something that we wish we were—it becomes the genuine outflow of a changed life.
Getting there starts with one major step that could take a lifetime, and it is found in the beginning of Paul’s statement: “I am crucified with Christ.”
Self-help, self-identity, self-confidence… the link between all of the things we do to fix ourselves and the way we are perceived is Self. The way out is the death to self. When we die to ourselves, our identity doesn’t just become more Christ-like, or Christian-y. It becomes Christ Himself. When we die to ourselves, we are untouchable. Does a dead man fear judgmental people or hope for recognition? Or care if he is popular or worry about their image? No. Nor does Christ. These things simply fall away.
What is something in your life you use to create an identity? What benefits does it offer? What are the limitations? What step do you need to take to set it aside, and take up your identity in Christ?