1. Identity Given (Gen. 1–2)
If you want to see what something is—what it was made to be and do, you need to go back to its origin. In Genesis 1, we see God create the world, and thus can understand what He made it to be and do.
Read Genesis 1:26–31. We spot a number of key things there for our understanding of identity. Firstly, God makes man in His image. That doesn’t mean we look like God (no matter what you might deludedly tell yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning). But it does mean that we are made for community, to communicate, to make decisions, to love, to be moral, to know truth, and more.
Secondly, God makes gender. God makes a man and a woman. They are both equal, and both reflect the image of God. Thirdly, God gives humanity a purpose; to mediate His good rule to His good creation. And as God surveys His creation, He says it’s very good. Everything He has made, including our gender, identity and purpose, are very good. That’s how God designed it.
In Genesis 2, the lens zooms in on day six to give us a close-up to the creation of humanity. We see some key building blocks of identity, purpose, and how humans can flourish. Sexuality and sexual activity is a God-given gift—it’s good, and is to be enjoyed. But there’s a right context in which we enjoy sex, and that is in marriage between a man and woman.
We also see that we’re made to know God and enjoy Him. And that we show our love for God by our obedience to who He has made us to be and by fulfilling his purpose for us. We do this joyfully because we know He is good.
The first vital pillar in the Bible’s story of identity is that God the creator gives us our identity. It’s not something we get to create for ourselves; it’s not self-determined. In fact, we don’t have the right to create our “own” identity. And we don’t need to—God in his grace and mercy has given it to us. And that is good news from a good God.
2. Identity Abandoned (Gen. 3)
But as Satan slithers into the garden and hisses into Eve’s ear whilst Adam stands mute at her side like a spectator, he’s in the business of stealing identities. Detaching humanities identity from worship of, and relationship with, a good, loving, all-powerful God and fixing it on something else. As Satan tempts Eve, he strikes at the foundations of the good creation that reflects its creators glory and goodness. He questions who God is and who we were made to be.
First, Satan gets Eve to doubt God, then he lies, and thirdly he suggests they make their own identity, claiming they could be equal to God. Instead of embracing their identity as children of God, Satan tempts them with false promises of a new identity of godlikeness. An identity where they would be able to decide everything for themselves.
Of course, we know what happens. They take of the forbidden fruit and eat.
As a result, they abandon their identity. They’re no longer who they were. Now they’re ashamed and hide their nakedness. They lose their intimacy. They lose that foundational, joy-filled, intimate, relationship with God, and as a result their very identity and purpose is shattered and the world along with it. And the consequences are huge, like an earthquake that devastates and undermines everything, and whose aftershocks are still being felt thousands of years later. It affects everything: our bodies, our psychology, our desires, the story we live out of, and more.
We now rebel against God’s goodness and His word by nature—that’s seen in the rest of Genesis. In chapter four, Cain kills Abel, wanting to remake his identity as a worshipper. Lamech breathes out death threats. In chapter six, wickedness spreads—without God and His word, man’s heart is corrupt. By chapter 11, despite wiping clean and starting again, we see man’s heart has not changed, man’s identity is now as a rebel, not a worshipper, and there is another attempt to overthrow God. To throw off our God-given identity.
But God is loving and gracious; He punishes, yes—as a loving God must. An unloving God would let sin and harm run unchecked. A loving God disciplines and judges. But God is also gracious–he doesn’t give humanity what we deserve, He doesn’t wipe us out and start again, or just stop there. Amazingly, He still provides, He still speaks, He is still involved, and He promises a future hope.
That’s the story of the rest of the OT; sin and rebellion. A restless, endless searching for identity, a fixing of that identity in the wrong things and a refusal to find it in God. Which is met by God’s love in judgement and grace, and always the promise of hope; of one day, one man, one king who would change everything.