Your Identity and Calling Are Not What You Think

“Who am I and what on earth am I doing here?” 

“What is my identity and what is my purpose or calling?”   

“What is God’s will for my life?”

These are just some of the many questions most of us have at some point in our lives.  Most of us, and particularly those of us who have been in church culture for some time, have often heard the importance of needing to discover our identity and calling.  What makes us who we are?  What makes us have meaning in our lives?  And if we are Christians, who does God say that I am and what does God want me to do in my life?

Calling to Community

Ephesians 4:1-7

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”   

The word “calling” is translated from the word “Voce” which is where we get the word “vocation” from.  “Voce” literally means “called,” being spoken to, being “voiced.”  God “voices” something to us, and surprisingly, our calling has very little to do with an individualized vocation plan, but of how we treat one another in thick community anchored to the One True God. 

God “voices” something to us, and surprisingly, our calling has very little to do with an individualized vocation plan, but of how we treat one another in thick community anchored to the One True God. ~ Eun Strawser Click To Tweet

Our identity is actually not an individualized idea, but deeply connected to the community with whom we identify with.  Our identity is not just a “child of God” but “children of God” — not just one person but a family.  So, how we see ourselves affects the identity of our family.  In community, our pride or self-deprecation, our joys and our anxieties, our trusts and suspicions shapes the identity of our family. 

Our call, or what God is voicing over us as a community, is that we are tethered together to one Hope that will ultimately mature us into being more like Christ. 

What we are called to be, our identity, has a lot to do with our community.

Purpose in Personal Connection

Colossians 1:9-14

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 

And what is God’s will for us?  We can see here that God’s will for us again has very little to do with what we are meant to do, but how we maintain a relationship with Him.  Our individual responsibility is to maintain a deep connection with God – that we will bear good fruit in our lives as we grow in knowing Him, that we’ll tap into His power so that we can be persons of endurance, patience, and joy, and remember and participate in the truth that He took us out of the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of God, fully redeemed, fully forgiven. 

What we are meant to do in life, our purpose, has a lot to do with how we participate in our personal connection to God.  

How to Live

Acts 16:6-10

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.  So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.  And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Paul and his community went together from Jerusalem in a time when the earliest Jesus followers only recently realized that when Jesus said, “[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” that He really meant it.  But, when the “ends of the earth” is so vast, in the midst of asking for purpose and where to go and what to do, they still just tried and tried, sort of traveling this way and that, pouring in countless time, being blocked by the Holy Spirit at some points, at other points, just trying. 

And in the end, when they must have felt so directionless, they hear clearly from God to go into a region that changed the course of history in the Kingdom of God (Macedonia was the area where missional communities started in some of the most culturally influential areas such as Philippi, Thessalonica and Corinth).

In real life… it’s a process of trial and error in seeking the “will of God” or figuring out a “calling.” And, it has a lot to do with not what we do in life but how we live in relation to being connected to God and connected to others. 

But, if we want a concrete answer to our questions about our identity and purpose, we have to go back to the beginning…

Creating and Flourishing

Genesis 1:26-31

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.  And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  

So God created man in his own image,

            in the image of God he created him;

            male and female he created them.

And God blessed them.  And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”  And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit.  You shall have them for food.  And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”  And it was so.  And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. 

Our identity and purpose, in the ideal setting of Eden, is not to toil, but in the already set context of great provision for us and everything that is under our care, to be God’s representative as co-ruler to create and flourish the culture around us.  Essentially, my identity is that I carry God’s characteristics and loves and thoughts inside of me; and my purpose is to do what He does – create mini-Edens for the flourishing of everything and everyone around me. 

Essentially, my identity is that I carry God’s characteristics and loves and thoughts inside of me; and my purpose is to do what He does – create mini-Edens for the flourishing of everything and everyone around me. ~ Eun Strawser Click To Tweet

Our identity is the Imago Dei – God’s image bearers

Our calling is to live out the Cultural Mandate – create culture to flourish those around us

But, we live in a broken world where we as image bearers of God are broken and the culture around us is broken.  How do we even begin to live out our identity and purpose as God’s image bearers, when brokenness inside of me and around me makes it impossible for me to be and do this? 

Matthew 16:24-25 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Our identity is a Follower of Jesus – Imitator of Christ.

Our calling is to lay down my life – for the flourishing of the culture and those around us.

Jesus defines our identity and our purpose.  Since we’re not quite sure what it truly means to be God’s image bearers, He tells us, I am; so follow me, imitate me.  And since we’re not quite sure what it truly means to set mini-Edens around me because my own selfish ambitions or envy or brokenness will set in, He tells us that the specific way to do this is to die to ourselves.  Self-giving love is the way of Jesus that sets flourishing for the culture around us.

Exploring Your Identity and Purpose

Spend some time exploring your identity and purpose more: 

IDENTITYPURPOSE
Who am I called to be?What am I called to do?
Who does God say that I am?
What does the Father think about me?
What are some of my spiritual gifts?
What does God say that I should do?
Is there anything the Holy Spirit wants me to do?    
     How does Jesus feel about me?
What are some of the unique ways God made me? How I think? The ways in which I feel?  My 5-fold/APEST gift?  
What are some of the unique ways God has used me to flourish those around me? In making or building something? In relationships?
What am I passionate about? What kinds of things make me upset/angry? Does it meet a need in the world around me?
What hinders me from stepping into this?
Do I have a low or high version of myself?
Does something or someone else speak louder to me than God about my identity?
Is there something that I need to mature in?     
What hinders me from stepping into this?
What or Who am I afraid of that makes me not do this?
What questions do I have about what I need to do?   
How am I imitating who Christ is?How am I imitating what Christ does?

T. à Kempis said, “Jesus has now many lovers of the heavenly kingdom but few bearers of His cross.” As we, as church planters and church leaders, lead and love our communities, how do we lead and love them into their identity and calling? 

Do we keep our identities to our individualized selves, or do we lead and love our people to move towards one another in valuing thick community?  Do we keep our purpose to something we’re meant to accomplish, or do we lead and love our people to move towards participating in a personal connection with God? 

Do we lead and love our people to become God’s image-bearers to create culture for the flourishing of those around us?  And do we lead and love our people to become imitators of Jesus, who learn to live in self-giving love for the communities around us? 

Our identity and calling in Christ are much more than what we think.   

About the Author
Eun Strawser

Eun Strawser

Eun is a bi-vocational church planter and physician in Honolulu, HI where she’s surrounded by her tribe, Ma Ke Alo o, a people of Presence, which includes her red-bearded husband and their three, seriously, amazing children.

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