culture

What Defines You?

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What Defines You?

“…It’s not who you are underneath, but it’s what you do that defines you.” These words seem to be a prominent philosophy in our society. But are they true? When looking to the truth of God’s Word, is it more about who we are rather than what we do that defines an individual?

The quote above comes from Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film Batman Begins. As Bruce Wayne is acting foolishly, he stumbles upon his old friend, Rachel Dawes. If change will come to Gotham City, she claims, then he must act radically different than a foolish playboy. “Rachel, all this, it’s not me. Inside, I am more,” Bruce says. Rachel responds,

Bruce, deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.

In Rachel’s eyes, your worth is only found in your actions, not in what lies in your heart — and the two are entirely separate. Your value doesn’t depend on your character or matters of the heart, she seems to be saying, but only in what you do. Scripture, on the other hand, states otherwise.

Change of Perspective

Scripture affirms that our actions are deeply connected with our hearts. In fact, what we do comes from the heart; our actions reveal our identities.

For example, in Genesis 1-3, we see how God created the world. God tells the first humans, Adam and Eve, not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their decision whether or not to obey God’s command would flow from their underlying identities. In other words, their actions would reveal their identities; their identities would determine their actions.

So what happened? Did Adam and Eve live perfectly? Sadly, our ancestors disobeyed God. In fact, the story spiraled into damnation for all of humanity, as curses were issued for them and future generations (Genesis 3).

Not long after, one man’s bitterness consumed him to kill his brother (Genesis 4). As mentioned above, his actions (murder) flowed from his heart (anger). After all, Christ would later say that if you harbor hatred or anger in your heart towards another then you have murdered that person (Matthew 5:21-22). Our hearts condemn us as sinners (cf. James 1:19-20; 1 John 3:15). Who we are underneath really does matter.

It is not what you do that defines you, but who you are in Christ that defines what you do.

Identity and Work

Who we are underneath matters to our work, too. In our culture, our title or position often determines our importance to society. Titles come with benefits. For example, if I have the titles Ph.D., CEO, CFO, Dr., President, Commander or government official attached to my name, then I am someone of influence, power or prestige. In some sense, these titles reflect what we do. But does your title define your identity?

This seems to be a struggle for most Millennials. “If I only had this job or that title, then I could be someone,” we think.

Your title and vocation are important, but they are just a part of what you do. Even in the workplace, who you are (your character) influences and shapes your actions (your work). Who you are matters — even at work. This truth even affects our motivation. As Christians, our ultimate motivation is to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Transforming Identity

Most of us are like Rachel Dawes. We so often believe that our identities are wrapped up in our actions (and especially our vocations). We struggle with believing that there’s something more foundational in our lives behind it all — our character, our inner self, our identity.

Where, then, do we find our identity? Simply put, our identity comes from the fact that we are Christ’s possession first and foremost. We are the redeemed. Christ saw our sinfulness, our bad characters, and our misguided actions, yet he still bought us with the blood of Christ. We have been set free.

So be encouraged. You are not defined by your title, but by what Christ did for you. You are because he is. Your title is temporary, but the Spirit’s work in you is eternal. Your actions do not define you; rather, the Spirit works within you to change you from the inside out. The Spirit enables this so that you exude love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). He transforms our hearts which change our actions.

So when you go to work, do not forget who you are. It is not what you do that defines you, but what he has done for you. And when work gets tough, you can respond kindly — because you are not defined by your work.

Ultimately, this world will not be saved by your job title or the piece of paper hanging on the wall. The truth of Christ will change the world. And our identity comes not from our work or our actions, but from this Christ. For it is not what you do that defines you, but who you are in Christ that defines what you do.

Nicholas Dawson is a part of the Center for Faith and Culture’s mentorship program. Learn about Work and “The Good Life” at The Wisdom Forum.

Image Credit: Ben White / Unsplash

  • culture
  • vocation
  • work
Nicholas Dawson

Nicholas Dawson received his M.Div. at Southeastern Seminary, where he also serves as a Classroom Technician in Media Services and as a Teaching Assistant for Old Testament Studies. He and his wife live in Wake Forest, NC.

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