21 Things That Don’t Define You

Examining the many identities we take on and the only one that truly matters.

Am I loved? Am I respected? Am I important?

These are questions that saunter quietly through our mind each morning as we look in the mirror. Questions that focus in on our identity: who we say we are, who we think we are and who the world perceives us to be.

You are identified by:

Your occupation. This is one of the biggest ways we identify ourselves to other people. When we meet someone, the first question we ask is “what do you do?” Be it teacher, lawyer or ditch digger, where we spend at least 40 hours of our week is a big factor in our identity.

When we meet someone, the first question we ask is “what do you do?”

Your family relationship. Are you a mom or dad? Son or daughter? Brother or sister? Many times our identity is tied directly to our family. For example, no matter what she does, Lisa Marie will always be Elvis’ daughter.

Your friends. Do you have a group of friends you’ve been with for years? Or maybe you wish you had just one friend to be close to and confide in. We’re known by those we hang out with and spend our free time with.

Your vices. These are the things we try our hardest to hide from those around us and the outside world. Ironically, these are often the things that consume us the most. Alcohol, gambling, porn, junk food, etc.

Your politics. Few things divide us in the workplace, in social circles and, sadly, in church like political affiliation. Good thing Jesus and the disciples didn’t have a (R) or (D) beside their names in the New Testament anywhere.

Your view on social issues. Like politics, these can also sharply divide us. Contrasting views on issues like abortion, poverty, affirmative action and gay rights can drive deep wedges between people, yet we use them as sole identifiers too many times, not seeing people for anything other than their stance on an issue.

Your race. This is one identifier we cannot change. Yet still keeps our love and concern for our fellow man only (pun intended) skin deep. If you are Black, White, Latino, Asian or a different race, you are that way from birth until death.

Your marital status. Are you married or single? Divorced? Widowed? We are identified by our decision to spend our lives with someone or not. And our identity as married people is linked to our spouse.

Your age. Young or old, this identifier is another one we cannot change. Strangely enough, too many teenage girls dress like they’re 25, and many 50-year-old women use various methods to look 32. Your age is an identifier as to your world experience, fair or not.

Your religion. Protestant? Catholic? Buddhist? Muslim? Jewish? Our religion identifies us in terms of who we will serve and worship. Certainly, the labels of various religions stoke the fires of prejudice and hatred too many times.

Your hobbies and interests. You identify yourself with these because you enjoy doing them. Did you spend the weekend on your photography? Or did you run some insane marathon where someone was throwing paint or mud or some combo of the two on you at the finish line?

Your ability/disability. Another unchangeable trait, our ability to do certain things is important and valuable to the world around us. The disabled around us, however, are too often treated as second-class citizens, identified solely for what they cannot do.

Your geographical location. Are you a Yankee or Southerner? Perhaps from a different country, speaking a different language? We get identified by the area we live or were raised in.

Your intellect and education. Do you have more degrees than a thermometer? Or did you struggle in school, dropping out early on? This means of identification often shows society how useful we are.

Your gender. Male or female, often we are labeled by various stereotypes as to what our gender is supposed to say and do.

Your sexuality. Your sexual preference, sexual “accomplishments” or sexual “failures” can play a large role in how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself.

Your physical appearance. Do you look like a real life Ken or Barbie doll? Do others envy you? Or are you plain, kind of chubby with a bit of acne on your face, feeling rejected by others?

Your health. Are you more fit than the crazy guy from Insanity? Or do you fit in with many Americans, obese and tipping the scales of diabetes? Or perhaps there’s a health issue you can’t control, that, unfortunately, others can’t seem to look past?

Your emotions. This identifier seems to force us to wear masks. We may be happy in our interactions with people, but deep down we’re wrapped up in deep anger, depression and regret.

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Your potential. Like the five-star stud recruit out of high school committing to play ball at a big university, we all have a certain amount of potential. You have the tools and the smarts. Can you put it all together? Potential is scary, because if untapped it can lead to severe regret.

Your economic status. Does any identifier prove our success today more than money? Do you have a six-figure income with a house three times the size you need? Or are you struggling to even have a place to live at all?

These are 21 major categories we use to define ourselves and that others use to tell us our worth. But, last but not least, the only identifier that really matters: Your identity in Christ.

“In Christ” gives us the opportunity ... to see people for who they truly are.

We read in Ephesians chapter 1 that Christ “chose us in Him before the creation of the world” (1:4) and that we were “included in Christ when you heard the message of truth ... when you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal” (1:13). Once we have believed in Christ, our old labels from the world fall meaningless.

Our identity starts initially not in Christ, but being “dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2:1). We were all “by nature deserving of wrath” (2:3). Yet through God’s grace, we have been made alive with Christ. “Now in Christ Jesus you have been brought near ... ” (2:13). “In Christ” grants us freedom, freedom from chains of being identified for anything less than being a child of God. “In Christ” gives us the opportunity to understand the identity of those around us, to see beyond the skin colors and the dollar signs, to see people for who they truly are. “In Christ” means all can come, leaving behind their sins, and join together to be identified once and for all as children of God.


Tim Langefels


Tim Langefels commented…

This is so true on so many levels, I am so tired of people asking me what I do when I first meet them. Especially true now that I am unemployed and job searching, I have started to just say in response, "I Follow Jesus". I have had some pretty cool responses and some not so good ones, but to me it makes sense. I get frustrated with christians buying into the American dream more than buying into what Jesus called us to do when He said "follow me".

Adam Lorenz


Adam Lorenz commented…

The struggle of finding one's true identity is not an exclusive struggle to those within the walls of the church. I appreciated the author briefly breaking down many of the issues and things we often get hung up on in this search.

I'd also add that even for those who don't respond to the invitation of Christ there is some thing that we all hold in common. Looking no further than Genesis 1, where we are reminded that all humanity are image-bearers of the Divine and called 'very good'. No doubt we have all been tainted by sin, but God never turned His back on His creation so neither should we.

Remembering that within each of us is that Divine 'spark' if you will, can help us and has helped me in, how I choose to engage individuals who are also struggling - reminding us all where our true identity lay.

Steve Cornell


Steve Cornell commented…

When I read this, I thought of something I recently asked the parents in a parents of teens class. I asked if they thought it was a good idea to tell your children that they can be anything they want to be. Is there anything dangerous about planting that seed? Could it be a set-up for disappointment or grandiose narcissism? More importantly is it consistent with the gospel?

Along these lines, we need to make the connection between Romans 12:2 and 12:3. It’s somewhat unexpected but absolutely essential to spiritual transformation.

Notice the connection:

v. 2 - “be transformed by the renewing of your mind (your way of thinking)”
v. 3 - “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3)

The first area of transformation is renewal of the mind regarding self-perception. If you get "you" wrong, you’ll go wrong in many areas.

Get the right perspective on yourself! “…think of yourself with sober judgment.”
(If interested, see "Is self-love our greatest need?" http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/is-self-love-our-greatest-need/ )

Gryphon Hall


Gryphon Hall commented…

I agree with and approve of most of the content of this post... but not of the title—it is misleading. These things DO define us, that is, it is what makes one person different from another person of the same background. These define us in very real ways for good or ill. Trying to pretend that these don't matter will just end in one result: a skewed perception of reality.

What I felt should have been given strong emphasis here is that our identity in Christ is what should define these things that define us: that these 21 things that supposedly don't define us must be brought in submission to our identity in Christ.

Essentially, while these 21 things truly define us, our relationship with Christ must define those 21 things.

chris white


chris white replied to Garien L. Hudson's comment

Just recently, I would have no problem amening Garien Hudson's "I totally agree." But because I live in such an individualistic culture--our identity as found in our relationship to Jesus Christ needs to be expanded to include our identity in His Church, the community of believers, the body of Christ, the people of God. Not necessarily in a particular organization but in the actual group of people we interact together in our commune with God and the Son Jesus the Christ and the Holy Spirit. In those people specifically and the Church generally we should derive our identity.

Our individualistic tendencies need to be offset with a community mindset.

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