NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–These days, the word “identity” is easily associated with finding or discovering one’s self.
But the identity search advocated by author and pastor Gene Wilkes has nothing to do with the journeys of self-discovery favored by American secular culture.
In his discipleship study, “My Identity in Christ,” produced by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, Wilkes reminds readers their identity does not come from accomplishments, success or failure, but from Christ.
“Identity is about how we define ourselves,” said Wilkes, pastor of Legacy Drive Baptist Church, Plano, Texas. “Christians define themselves by their relationship with Christ.”
In his workbook, Wilkes writes, “Many followers of Jesus do not understand the goal of their Christian life — to be like Jesus.”
By buying into modern culture’s enchantment with the individual, many Christians miss that goal, he said. “You can choose who is placed at the center of your personal universe: God or self.”
When self is the focus, life gets out of balance, he explained. “The culture in which we live is self-centered. From advertisements to business philosophy, self is the focus of all we do.”
Wilkes said caring for one’s self is important, but when it becomes worship and self-absorption, “then you have left the Judeo-Christian truth that God is the center of all creation.”
“Self has become a rival to God because we are more interested in our own happiness and comfort than with loving God and others as Jesus commanded,” he said. “The clearest indicator that individuality and self-worship are at the center of our culture is our constant pursuit of happiness. Self demands happiness and comfort.”
During the six-week discipleship course, participants are expected to spend every day studying and applying what they’ve learned, Wilkes said. Once a week, they meet in small groups to share what they have discovered. Although one can go through the study alone, he said there is value in being in the fellowship of others “who can share with you the joys and struggles of growing into [Jesus’] likeness.”
“Christianity is not a self-help course. Jesus’ model of discipleship was mentoring within a loving relationship with lifelong apprentices. We need to live our lives together so we can learn best how to be like Jesus,” he said.
Like an apprenticeship, the Christian life demands a personal relationship with a master who trains the apprentice in living like Christ. The training period is a lifelong journey.
“My hobby is distance running,” Wilkes said. “As I have learned to run distances, I have learned that life is a long run.”
The spiritual life skills learned from studying God’s word cannot be learned at “dot com speed,” he said. “You learn who you are in Christ by spending time with Christ. If you could microwave a frozen Christian as you can a dinner, we would have many more of them around.
“Speed is not an asset in becoming like Jesus,” Wilkes emphasized.
Each time he taught “My Identity in Christ” at his church, Wilkes said he discovered few people have ever considered who they are in Christ.
“They had never allowed the things of God to reach the deepest parts of their identity. It has been wonderful to hear men and women tell of how their perceptions of themselves have changed when they trust that they really are adopted children of God,” he said.
When Christians’ identities are truly rooted in Christ, Wilkes said, they discover new perspectives and priorities.
“A Christian worldview says the most important question you will ever answer is Jesus’ question to you, ‘Who do you say I am?’ A secular worldview would say the important identity questions are ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ Your answer to Jesus’ question answers the other two,” Wilkes said.
“My Identity in Christ” is available through LifeWay’s customer service center at 1-800-458-2772 or through LifeWay Christian Stores.