Know Who You Are Not

Many of the problems that plague us as Christians begin with misplaced identity.

We forget who we are as chosen, purchased, and commissioned children of God, and think of ourselves primarily through the lens of something else — success at work, the well-being of our children, the fruitfulness of our ministry, our feelings of fulfillment, or our ability to achieve our goals and dreams. We may even see ourselves almost exclusively through our sin (we are defined by our greatest temptation or besetting struggle), or through our suffering (we are defined by the greatest distress we experience).

“Many of the problems that plague us as Christians begin with misplaced identity.”

When the apostle Peter wrote his first of two letters, he was writing to followers of Christ under siege — with relentless affliction, with persistent persecution, with tenacious temptation. Suffering screamed that they were forgotten or unloved. Their opponents shouted that they had abandoned their faith, their families, and their communities, and that they’d fallen for a horrible fraud. And Satan whispered that nothing had changed, that they were who they’d always been.

As the believers were assaulted with these messages, Peter intercepts their missiles with promises from heaven: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). You are not who you were. You are not what you feel. You are not where you’re tempted to fall. Now, you are his.

1. You are not who you were.

One of the easiest ways for Satan to lure you back into sin is to make you think you never left.

Peter says, “Once you were not a people. . . . Once you had not received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). He’s honest about how bleak things were before they found Christ, when they were dead and rotting in their trespasses and sins, when they let the passions of their flesh have their way, when they were sons and daughters of never-ending torment (Ephesians 2:1–3) — separated from Christ, cut off from his promises, “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). That was you, Peter says.

But God (Ephesians 2:4). He did not leave you hopeless in your trespasses and sins. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Peter reminds us that we are no longer who we once were. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). Whenever Satan says, “Look at who you were,” we say, “Yes, I was, but God.”

If you are in Christ, you are not who you were. You have been chosen by God into the family of God. Mercy has made you new. As John Newton, a slavetrader turned pastor, once wrote, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

2. You are not what you feel.

If Satan cannot convince you that you’re who you’ve always been, he may try to make you question whether it’s even good news to be God’s. He may send all manner of suffering and adversity, if he’s allowed, against God’s loud and clear declaration in Christ, “I love you.”

We know Peter’s readers were suffering intensely and unjustly (1 Peter 1:6; 2:19). They were being tested by fire (1 Peter 1:7). And fire can make the love of God feel faint. Until it slowly produces a stronger, sweeter, more durable faith, a faith far more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:7).

“Whenever Satan says, ‘Look at who you were,’ we say, ‘Yes, I was, but God.’”

With the barrage of persecution and hostility coming against them, Peter blows away the smoke from all the spiritual gunfire, and he says of their enemies, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8). They may look fortunate and formidable for now, but as they abuse God’s children and mock his voice, they are walking into a destiny of damnation. They have no idea who they truly are.

“But you” — next verse — “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). You are chosen by God, from all the people he has ever made. You have been given access to his throne through his Son. God held himself back for hundreds of years, always speaking through a prophet or priest, and then he opened the holy of holies to you — to anyone who believes in Jesus. He has made you a holy nation — set apart, Christlike, filled with and empowered by his own Spirit. And you belong to him. He sent his Son to have you.

Therefore, in your own fiery trials of various kinds, “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). You are not what you feel like in suffering and adversity. You are valued by the most valuable one. Nothing can separate you from his love (Romans 8:35).

3. You are not where you fall.

Every follower of Christ has repented from sin and yet continues to battle temptation. The apostle John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). While we have to be honest and vigilant about any sin in us, remaining sin does not define us anymore. Paul says to sinners, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The sin patterns in your past are not who you are. Christ is teaching you, by his Spirit, to live as the new person God has made you.

Our new identity in Christ is not a license to lay down our arms against temptation. By no means! When sin crouches at our door, our new identity gives us the courage to charge through the door with the sword of the Spirit, the word of our God (Ephesians 6:17). Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles” — this earth and all its brokenness and all its temptations is not your home anymore — “to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The same passions that left you for dead apart from Christ will still attack. But they used to ambush unarmed, defenseless children; now they find fully armed warriors guarded by God.

If you are one with Christ and at war with your remaining sin, you are not your greatest temptations or your besetting iniquities. Through Christ, you are without blemish in the eyes of God, and no one and no thing can snatch you from his heart and hands.

The Peak of Who We Are

Embedded in these verses about our identity is a commission which may be the highest peak of who we are in Christ: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). You are set apart in Christ not just to enjoy God, but to show others his worth. You belong to God not just to live forever, but to testify forever. You are chosen by God not just to be, but to go.

“You are not who you were. You are not what you feel. You are not where you’re tempted to fall. Now, you are his.”

What we proclaim about Jesus Christ is not only one of the greatest evidences that we are someone new; it is also one of the greatest privileges of being who we are in him. For three years, he went from city to city reviving the lost and building his kingdom. And then, having died and risen, he handed his Spirit-filled keys to the church — not to the wise by worldly standards, or to the powerful and influential, or to those of noble birth (1 Corinthians 1:26), but to the new. What Christ does in the world today, he does through people like you, regardless of who you once were, how weak you may feel, and where you’re tempted to fall.

When you were brought from darkness into God’s magnificent light, you were given marvelous power for a great task: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). You are a witness of excellence to a watching and dying world.

Know who you are not, and live, in the power of the Spirit, in light of who you are in Christ — chosen, anointed, holy, loved, and sent.