Who am I? What I am here for? Am I valuable? Am I noticed? Am I appreciated? Does anyone care about me?
If we’re honest, we’ve probably asked ourselves one or more of these questions, maybe as recently as this morning before the toast popped up and the coffee finished brewing. The obsessive quest for personal identity is unique to our cultural narrative in many ways. It has spawned empires of self-help books, diet programs and motivational speakers. At the same time, though, we also see more cases of anxiety, depression and suicide. The haunting whisper of “Who am I?” continues to plague a culture desperately seeking its identity, but there seems to be no reply to the tormenting question.
The Christian story, in contrast, provides the answer to this identity inquiry: God knows us. We are noticed. We are cared for. In Christ, we have been given an eternal identity. In the gospel, the quest for self-verification is over. But though our identity is in Christ, we still live on this side of eternity, and the echoes of the question remain, turning even to accusation. “I am not valuable.” “If they really knew me...” “No one cares about me.” The “father of lies” (John 8:44) seeks to disrupt the identification assurance given to us upon placing our trust in Christ. This identity formation and display of the Christian story is most explicit in the corporate worship of church. So exactly how does corporate worship confirm and affirm our identity?
Identity Begins With Faith
The journey of identity formation begins with faith in Christ. When we trust in His finished work of salvation, a new identity is formed. By faith, we put on Christ and transfer our allegiance to Him alone. His righteousness replaces our unrighteousness. His sin-crushing death replaces our sin-loving life. His death-destroying resurrection replaces our death-fearing existence. Salvation is a glorious display of God’s grace; there is no room for boasting as we rest in Christ as our righteousness, our holiness and our redemption (cf. Gal. 3:13, 6:14; Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Pet. 3:18). This is the root of our identity.
Identity and Baptism
Though identity begins with faith, it is sealed and ratified with baptism. It is the key Christian identity marker, demonstrating that we have put on Christ and now identify ourselves with Him (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27). Starting in the earliest days of the Church and throughout history, baptism has been the initiating act of inclusion into the life of the body. We are baptized into Christ, which includes Christ’s body, the Church. Those who identify with Christ by faith in His finished work on the cross declare loyalty to Him as Lord through baptism. Baptism represents the new heart, the new self, the new kingdom, the new Lord and the new family to which we now belong and possess.
With a new family comes new family gatherings. The regular rhythm of local church gatherings are the family reunions of God’s children. Sunday morning worship, prayer gatherings, mission, service and fellowship encompass opportunities to affirm and further shape our identity. We fellowship because we are now brothers and sisters, sharing in “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). We have a new family with new patterns and new priorities. Everything done within the family ultimately shapes the identity of the individual.
The regular rhythm of local church gatherings are the family reunions of God’s children.
Regular Time in the Word
The Word of God is one of the most pivotal identity-forming instruments available to us. The Word read and preached serves to affirm a believer’s identity as united to Christ and to provide the solid ground on which we stand. In the reading of God’s Word, we hear how God has chosen us, placed His favor upon us and has chosen to be in a relationship with us. In the preaching of God’s Word, we are given encouragement, directives and promptings for affirming and acting upon our identity. When our identity is grounded in God’s Word, we are able to move toward others in love based upon that identity. There is no need to fear rejection because God has accepted us. There is no need to hoard our things because God has lavished the gift of salvation upon us. Being reminded of our identity through the read and preached Word drives us to act upon—and take comfort in—our God-given identity.
Corporate Prayer, Confession, Singing and Practicing the Lord’s Supper
The acts of corporate prayer, confession, singing, the Lord’s Supper and the saying of the Creed ratify and seal our identity. These acts confirm our association and bolster the sense of belonging so desperately needed by our wandering souls. When we say the Lord’s Prayer, or any other prayer intended for corporate worship, we inhabit the collective space of “our Father,” “forgive us,” “lead us not” and a whole host of possessive identity cues.
The Supper gives us the most tangible corporate expression of God’s redeeming love for us in Christ. The physicality reminds us of the incarnation, the breaking of the bread in our teeth reminds us of Christ’s broken body and the thickness of the wine or juice pouring down our throats helps us taste the truth of Christ’s blood spilled on our behalf. In singing biblically rich hymns and songs and in saying the Creed (whether the Apostles’ or Nicene), we collectively affirm our belief in core doctrines of the Christian faith, which in turn, informs how we act and what we believe about the world around us and the alternate identity-forming stories contained therein.
The stakes are high when it comes to worship—identity formation hangs in the balance. In a world craving identity, the corporate worship of the church answers our fears by declaring who we are in Christ, together. It confirms and affirms the new identity found in Christ alone; that we are loved by God, united to Christ by faith and bound to one another in hope. No amount of self-help programs can replace the Christian story and the identity-forming acts of the church. The Church is God’s instrument to form our identities in Christ. Therefore, the gospel story, rehearsed in the corporate gathering with all its identity-affirming reminders, provides the identity stability for which our weary souls so desperately seek.