Like me, many of you were probably raised in conservative religious backgrounds. You were taught something along the lines of, “be good to get good, and one day you’ll go to heaven.” But I’m sure even those of you without a religious background were brought up with an idea that actions have consequences, and that those consequences, your choices, successes, and failures, will define you as a person. “Of course,” you must be thinking. “How else?”

By now, most of you are probably aware of my own transition from the strict legalism of my upbringing to the spiritual freedom in Christ in which I now believe. One of the most important aspects of this to me is the idea of grace over law, that our grace, our fulfilled identity in Him, is a free gift, bought and paid for by Christ. That is where this idea comes from for me, but today I want to look at the effects of thinking more broadly about the concept of identity over actions.

Last week, we talked about the early dichotomy of stimulus/response, and the transition we are meant to make into living according to reasoned ideals. But where do those ideals come from? Is it not something we feel deeply inside us, something we feel we must try to live up to? Identity and belonging are one of, possibly the most foundational internal needs we all share. Find someone who has lost everything, and if they are up to doing anything, they’ll be searching for something to give them a sense of community and purpose.

Note that I’m not just talking about religion; there are lots of potential sources for this sort of thing. Just to name a few: very close friends, a spouse, work, religion, the military, a political cause… heck, even gangs attract a lot of their members for this reason.

When you look at it this way, it seems perfectly logical that identity (meaning this sort of deeper commitment) largely drives actions, as opposed to the other way around. So why is it that when gauging our sense of progress and ourselves, we tend to look almost entirely at actions?

Well, for one thing, actions are more quantifiable. Identity may be the source, but actions reveal that source. Not with perfect accuracy, by any means… but purely intellectual self-identification only goes so far. Thinking a specific quality is good doesn’t necessarily make it a part of your identity, especially if your actions are constantly in conflict with it.

Since we’ve been talking a lot in the past few weeks about the importance of a commitment to truth, that is what I would counsel here. Rather than treating actions as the metric of your worth or goodness, use them as a window to your inner self. Ask what it is about yourself that produces those actions—and more importantly, what your internal identity should be.

Have a blessed, wonderful day!

Dr. Alex Loyd


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