What you do doesn’t have the authority to make you who you are. But it does have the power to give you its opinion about who you are.
This is one of the reasons growing in sexual integrity can be so difficult. You want to do better, but your experience tells you that you won’t: Your past behavior tells you you’re an adulterer. The second look you took at the guy at the pool tells you you’re gay. The relentless temptation you experience tells you you’re going to look at porn.
But the converse is also true.
It’s easier to believe you’re an active person when you’re outside hiking than it is when you’re in your arm chair flipping channels. And the more you repeat a behavior, whether positive or negative, the more likely you’re going to believe what the behavior is saying about you.
In truth, God is the only one who has the authority to give us our identity. He’s the one who made us, and as believers in Christ, he’s the one who has placed his Spirit in us. No matter what the olds fruits of our life may be, God alone is trustworthy enough to entrust with something as important as our identity.
Nonetheless, our actions on a day-to-day basis will impact our mindset, motivation, and feelings, which in turn can make it easier or more difficult to believe the truth about who we are. This is why an old mentor of mine used to say, “Victory has a tendency to beget victory.”
What can we do?
You can help facilitate change by doing things that affirm the truth about who you are in Christ.
Here are some ideas of what you can do to facilitate change, even when the big change you’re after has not yet fully come:
Honor the little things. Often we know where we think we ought to be and it’s far from where we are. We can get so focused on the final destination that we fail to honor the small progress we’ve made–the small steps, the little victories, the subtle changes. This is a big mistake. Consider a farmer who, eager to see a full-grown, vibrant crop covering his field ignores the tender sprouts just beginning to come up and fails to tend the field. It is a mistake to believe that only a fully mature plant is a good plant. Those who think this way rarely ever see a full-grown plant in their own lives. Instead, pay attention (even carefully look for!) what Scripture refers to as “first fruits of the Spirit” (see Romans 8:23-24). God sees and loves first fruits! We should too!
Get Out on the Trail. Wherever possible, physically go places that affirm the new man or woman you are. If you struggle with sexual integrity, for example, where are the places you can go that are most likely to nurture, encourage, and reinforce the truth of who you are? This might seem simple enough, but many of you know all too well how tempting it can be to skip your recovery meetings or Christian gatherings when you feel you are failing sexually and filled with shame. Keep always at the front of your mind that Christ came for sinners (Mark 2:17, Lk. 5:32, 1 Tim. 1:15), which means that everyone showing up to Church is in need of the same mercy you are.
Practice. Accept that this is new and you’re not going to do it perfectly. Every step, even if you falter, is not just a momentary success or failure, it’s practice that will move you forward over time. What’s more, God is at work even in your failings. Trust Him for your progress more than you trust your own performance. (See Rom. 8:28-29, Phil. 1:6).
Do difficult things. Show inner-resistance you mean business. As a child of God, you’re the kind of person who is willing to do hard things. Again, this doesn’t mean perfection, but what’s one hard step you can take today in spite of the resistance you feel? Lean into God’s grace as you step into hard things. (2 Cor. 12:9).
When you fall, get back up. Getting back up is more important than never falling at all. In fact, the very fact that you want to get back up is evidence that God is working in your life. (Watch the video below for a great demonstration of getting back up!) (See 1 John 1:8-2:2).
Enlist others. Find friends who believe the truth about who you are and can help remind you when you forget. Spend time with them! I’d include here people of discernment and prayer–men and women who can hear and see how God views you. (Heb. 3:12-14, 10:24-25).
Cultivate Intimacy with Jesus. He knows who you are and his voice has both authority and power to call you out into life. Discover how great his love is for you just as you are. Allow his kindness to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Do something today. Without waiting for your feelings first, pick one thing you can do today that aligns with the new man or woman you are, and do it. This is about asserting for yourself, “I’m this kind of person.” This might be as simple as looking someone in the eye instead of looking away in shame. It might mean telling the truth about your sin (that’s what people of integrity do when they fail!). It might mean asking for help.
Note: None of this is because you have to in order to be loved by God, but because you are loved by God!
I’d love to hear your thoughts! What’s one thing you can do today to affirm the truth about who you are? Leave a comment below.
Thanks, J! Any comparison to Alan Medinger’s book is a high compliment. I appreciate it.
Thank you Josh for this thought provoking article. I can certainly relate to several. But I will do as I enjoy go to Planet Fitness for my workout. I’ve in the past feared joining a gym because of the women I would encounter. Wow have I been surprised by God’s goodness and grace in the whole process. Your right Josh! Doing the things I feared or even difficult has surly been a blessing for me. Even in the gym God keeps me focused and I go when it’s not really crowded is key. Perseverance and endurance is key. Thanks again Josh.