Some time ago, I had a conversation with a brother in Christ. He was telling me about the challenges of juggling all the various responsibilities he had: he was a husband, a father, a full-time employee, and community volunteer (just to name a few). He was open about his struggles in trying to switch between all these different hats at the right moments, and sometimes trying to wear many hats at once.
We can all relate to that feeling in normal times – much less right now. I recently volunteered to coach Nolan’s baseball team (only after the league commissioner sent out an email begging someone – ANYONE – to step up). However, there’s already a part of me wondering if I’ll come to regret that decision. I’ve got enough on my plate in trying to be a serviceable husband, father, and pastor without the added responsibility of herding cats (I mean, coaching kindergarteners).
However, one thing in particular stuck out to me in the conversation with that man. As he listed off all the different hats he had to wear, he included another hat: his “Christian” hat. I didn’t think much of it when he first said it, but the more I considered his words, the more it seemed that something was wrong.
It’s a category error for us put our faith in Christ on the same level as everything else in our lives. Our identity as followers of Jesus cannot – should not, must not – be equated with every other aspect of our identity. If everything else about us can be described as a “hat” we wear, then our identity as children of God by faith in Jesus Christ is our very flesh, blood, and bones.
I’m sure anyone who reads this can give a long list of the various hats they wear; the different hobbies, responsibilities, and social (or even biological) identity markers they passionately embrace or reluctantly accept: spouse, child, neighbor, blonde, brunette, CrossFit enthusiast, vegan, American, male, female, bookworm, cancer survivor, Cincinnati Reds fan, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, night bather, Team Harry and Meghan, Team Royal Family. The list can be endless!
This isn’t necessarily all bad, of course. There’s nothing wrong with finding meaning in your role as a spouse or parent. There’s nothing wrong with cultivating a healthy sense of patriotism. There’s nothing wrong with developing a strong interest in an appropriate hobby. There’s nothing wrong with committing a great deal of time to a vocation you love, a just cause you care about, or an institution you support. These are all things that contribute to our unique personalities. These are all things that help make us who we are.
But know this, fellow believer: as important and as valuable as all those things can be, your identity as a Christian surpasses all of them. Every. Single. One.
And as soon as you downgrade your Christian identity – considering it just one of many parts of who you are, rather than your core being – you’re going off the rails. As soon as you elevate one of those “hats” to the same level as your identity in Christ, you’re committing a grave error. All those other hats may truly matter in this life. But only one identity marker truly matters in eternity.
So don’t be a spouse, parent, child, and Christian. Be a Christian spouse, a Christian parent, and a Christian child. Don’t be a neighbor, friend, coworker – and oh yeah, I suppose a Christian too. Be a Christian neighbor, a Christian friend, and a Christian coworker.
After you believe, every identity marker you hold falls under the overarching Christian umbrella. And if it can’t fit under that umbrella – if an identity marker you embrace simply can’t be reconciled to your God-given and Spirit-indwelt identity in Christ – it must be done away with.
In Galatians 2:20, the Apostle Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
After Paul believed, he wasn’t JUST a Christian. He was a native of Tarsus. He was a tentmaker. He was a writer.
But after Paul believed in Jesus, no other identity marker he could claim, hat he wore, or role he was called to fulfill mattered as much as his identity in Christ. Those other things may have been true about him, but none of them were as significant as his faith, mission, and love for Jesus.
The same is true for every believer.