“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” ‘”– Exodus 3:14 NKJV Self-sacrifice without foundational identity causes emptiness, pain, and leads us to despair. While compassion requires self-sacrifice, we must understand the self before we are capable of healthy sacrifice. Genesis does not name God, rather it merely acknowledges His existence. The first time God gives us a name for Himself is in Exodus, and then only after pressed by Moses to provide a name. Theologians have explored this oddity for generations, and I too am fascinated by this. God’s first name provides us with a roadmap to identity. I AM. No, I am not God, but He is the “I AM.” God seeks to provide identity with His very nature. Simply by declaring the name of God we declare identity over ourselves. This reasoning leads to some compelling ideas about the nature of our relationship with God, and the two greatest commandments as expressed by Jesus. First, prioritizing our love of God above all others means prioritizing our identity in the divine. We are beloved, we are desirable, bought and paid for by Christ Himself. There are countless passages that can be explored across scripture that define aspects of our identities in God. In other faiths there remains this focus on meditation and exploration of the energies that shape who we are, etc. I believe this demonstrates God’s passionate desire to define our identity, and is a further expression of our design to find identity not in the natural world, but in the supernatural reality of creation. There are many people who seek identity in the world: through relationships with the people in their lives, with their bank accounts or employment status, through public perception or any number of other status symbols. When we do this, we find our identity becomes fluid, the definition of who we are shifts as the world around us changes. Change is inevitable. God on the other hand is unchanging. Once we discover our identity in Him, we begin developing an understanding of who we are that remains unchanged by our experiences.
“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 NKJV
Paul knew who he was in Christ and recognized that there was nothing that might happen to him that could change who he was foundationally. He found peace in the knowledge of who he was through the sacrificial gift of Christ.
Jesus also reminds us of the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mathew 22:39b
Now take a moment to consider the implication here. First, we are instructed to pursue God above all else, providing us with foundational identity. Then we are instructed to leverage that identity to love our neighbors.
Our identity as defined by Jesus is one of the beloved. We cannot fully explore our identity in Christ without submitting to the reality that we are loved. We must choose to embrace that identity by valuing our own lives.
That foundational identity then becomes the driving force to recognize others with the same compassion that God demonstrates toward us, as He sacrificed Himself completely in order to demonstrate His love for us.