Christ and Contemporary Culture

Discovering Your True Identity

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One of the ancient and perennial questions that we must ask ourselves is: What is the good life? And then a related question arises: How can it be lived? We long to live fulfilling lives that make sense, and yet it seems that we are increasingly confused about what such a life might entail. There is no better story to help us answer these questions than the story of David.

The rise, the fall, and the promised redemption of Israel's greatest king is the single most extensive story told of one person's life in all of Scripture. Without a doubt, David is the most complex and multifaceted character in the Bible. The Bible presents David in all of his humanity—including his moments of egregious error and failure—which is what makes him utterly relatable. Despite the ups and the downs of his earthly existence, David lives his life in response to God, and that is what gives his life meaning. 

If you want to live “the good life,” the first thing you have to do is figure out who you are. What we learn from the outset of David's story is the importance of grounding our identity in our relationship to God, above and beyond anyone or anything else. 

A Man After God’s Own Heart

We are first introduced to David in 1 Samuel 16. The Lord has sent the prophet Samuel on a mission to replace Saul as king and anoint someone new. King Saul's initial humility has given way to arrogance and greed, and as time goes on, his reliance upon the Lord has begun to fade. Saul has refused to listen to the Lord's voice, and therefore, Samuel informs him that since he has “rejected the word of the Lord,” the Lord has “rejected” him as the king of Israel (1 Samuel 15.26). As an alternative, the Lord is now going to seek out what he calls “a man after God's own heart” (1 Samuel 13.14). 

After being commanded to anoint a new king, the prophet Samuel travels to Bethlehem and seeks out Jesse and his sons as the Lord has instructed. Jesse parades his sons before Samuel, and Samuel is immediately impressed with Eliab, the oldest, because of his height and his heft. Samuel thinks that Eliab looks the part, but the Lord says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16.7). 

The “heart” in Biblical narrative is the seat of understanding, not the seat of emotions, which is the way that we often think of it. The heart describes who you really are, the core of your being. The point is that despite what others might think, and despite what even you might think of yourself, God sees you for who you really are and who you are to become. If that is the way in which the Lord sees us, then that is the way in which we need to see one another.

After seven of Jesse’s sons pass by Samuel (presumably the number of completion), Samuel asks Jesse, “Do you have any more sons?” Jesse responds by saying, “There is still the youngest.” This is the moment when David enters the story—though still unnamed. David is called in from the field where he is watching the sheep, and before Samuel even has an opportunity to judge his outward appearance, the Lord immediately tells Samuel, “Anoint him. This is the one” (1 Samuel 16.12). 

The David story reminds us that the Lord has a way of choosing the foolish to confound the wise, the weak to confound the strong, and the lowly and despised things of the world in order to bring to nothing the things that are (1 Corinthians 1.27-28). God works in such a way that it becomes obvious to everyone that whatever he accomplishes is not because of our wisdom, strength or power, but only because of his grace. Therefore, not one of us is ever in a position to boast about anything. David is chosen not because of what anyone sees in him but because of what the Lord would create in him. God takes the initiative, when David is not searching for God or even expecting God to show up. 

This is true of all of us. When God calls us into a relationship with himself, it is a call of pure grace. It is not about what we put out, but rather it is about what God puts in. And what God puts in is his very own Spirit to empower us and to enable us to become our truest selves—something greater than we ever would be merely by ourselves. 

The Lord’s Anointed

The David story is part of a much larger story within the unfolding drama of Scripture. It anticipates, foreshadows, promises, and prepares us for the Jesus story. Jesus, who is repeatedly referred to as “the Son of David,” is the true and ultimate Lord's Anointed.

The word “anointed” forms the root for the Hebrew word “Messiah,” or in Greek, “Christ.” Whenever we speak of Jesus Christ, we are referring to Jesus as the ultimate Anointed One. David was anointed the king of the ancient tribes of Israel, but Jesus was anointed as the king of the whole world. The gospels tell us that Jesus was baptized with water in the River Jordan, and when he rises out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove. He hears the voice of his Father say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry. The Book of Acts tells us that God anointed Jesus, “with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all” (Acts 10.38). 

John 12 informs us that less than two weeks before his untimely death, Jesus went to the home of his friends: Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Mary proceeds to do something shocking by anointing his feet with an entire pound of expensive ointment. One of the disciples, Judas, is horrified by this, but Jesus responds by saying, “Judas, leave her alone! She has anointed me for my burial.” Most kings are born to live, but Jesus is the only king who was born to die. 

Jesus, like David, is such an unlikely choice. He comes to us out of obscurity and willingly goes to the cross. In accordance with the words of Isaiah 52.14, his appearance was marred beyond all semblance of humanity because of the ways in which he was treated and tortured. But the Lord does not see as man sees. In Jesus, the Lord finds truly a man after God's own heart—a man who is perfectly attuned to God's priorities and willing to do his will. Jesus faithfully carries out the mission that has been entrusted to him. He dies so that you and I might live.

Discovering Your True Identity

The core message of Christianity is that the Creator God who has revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus made you, and therefore, he knows you and loves you. He knows you for who you really are because he sees your heart. He knows everything that makes you unique and special, but he also knows those aspects of your personality or your character that can create more harm than good. And yet, despite all your faults and failures, he loves you so much that he was willing to go to the cross for you in order to forgive you, restore you, and transform you into the person that his Spirit will make you become. 

If you want to discover your true identity, you only find it in relationship to him. Whatever God loves, affirms, and desires within you forms the real you. Everything that runs counter to his intentions for you will only distort and miss shape you. Despite what the modern world might say, we do not create our own identity. We find it in relationship to Jesus. Through your identification with Jesus, God the Father will speak the same words over you that he spoke over him. He looks at you and he says, “This is my beloved child, whom I love, and with whom I am well pleased.” If you want to discover your true identity, put your trust in great David's greater son: the Lord's anointed—Jesus.

From David and The Good Life: Identity, adapted by Mary-Catherine McKee