In school, picture day was the worst day of the year for me. Not the day they let you out of class to take your picture. That was no big deal. I hated the day that came a few weeks later. The day the pictures came back.
For most of my middle and high school years I had a mullet and really bad acne. I trained myself to pretend like my hair cut was really cool. I was cutting edge, ahead of my time. Looking back, I really was ahead of my time. Joe Dirt wouldn’t come out for several more years. I trained myself to pretend like those huge marks on my face that people made fun of weren’t really that bad.
But on the day we got our pictures back and I sat at my desk staring at myself, I was brought back to reality. I always wished that the guy in the picture wasn’t really me.
By the time my high school graduation rolled around, I got a haircut and most of the acne cleared up. This time I wasn’t embarrassed when my senior pictures came back. There was no mullet and absolutely no acne. But the pictures were doctored. Before we saw the finished product, a computer removed all of our flaws. This time, the guy in the picture really wasn’t me.
The gospel tells me that my identity is not found in my shortcomings, failures or embarrassments. In Christ, that’s not the real me.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
For Paul, whose thorn in the flesh was almost certainly deeper than any self-image problem, the gospel helped him to understand what he once saw as a weakness as a benefit. It was in his weakness that he began to know the grace and power of God.
The gospel also tells me that my true identity is not found in the times when I get it right, knock it out of the park or look the part.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8
When we search for our identity in our accomplishments we become conceited and forget to rely on Christ. We act as though Christ exists only to save us from hell and affirm us in our position at the center of the universe. When we place our identity in our failures, we become self-centered and trick ourselves into believing that God doesn’t really care about us. Both errors divert our attention away from Christ. One makes us think that we are gods and the other makes us think that we have been abandoned by God. Both are dangerous.
The gospel reminds me that I was once dead (Ephesians 2:1). I can try to dress that up all I want but it’s still death. At the same time, the gospel tells me that God saw me in my death and made me alive “together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5).
I am not last week’s parenting blunder or last Sunday’s sermon. My true identity dates back a long time before those things, back before middle and high school, even before the foundation of the world when God, in his grace, adopted me as his son through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-6).
I am a blood bought child of God. Bad haircut and all.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21