The power of our new identity


One of the most common questions asked by young Christians is whether following Jesus worth it. This question comes in many forms:

Is it worth the cost to my comfort?
Is it worth losing the approval of people I respect?
Is it worth not being the boss of my life?
Is it worth trusting Jesus when the world around me says I am foolish?

Our answer is always a big, Yes! We then spur the youth to action: look to heaven, hold on to God’s promises, pray for courage, stick with church, resist temptation. Young people often nod at these ideas but their eyes are less convinced.

The Thessalonian church faced this same question. In the midst of severe suffering, they heard God’s word, turned from false gods to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9—10). These early Christians willingly traded the comfortable life to follow Christ and his word.

No doubt many questioned whether it was worth it. It was hard being a Christian in the first century. So it is with great joy that Paul reports that they were standing firm in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:8).   

What helped the Thessalonians answer this question?

No doubt the fellowship they enjoyed, the constant prayers of Paul and the transformation they experienced in their lives would have encouraged them to keep going. However, there was a deeper reason: Christ had given them a new identity.

Paul reminds them that they are now and always the loved, chosen people of God (1 Thessalonians 1:4). They are indwelt and filled with the Holy Spirit to worship God. They are no longer people of the world or enemies of God; they are in Christ. They share in his death and resurrection and live under a new rule and serve a new king. Through Christ they are forgiven and declared righteous, an heir, a citizen of heaven, secure, loved and at peace with God. Each of these is true whether they felt them or not because they are found in Christ, not in their actions.

The wonderful news is that all people, young or old, who trust Jesus as saviour and king enjoy the same new identity as the Thessalonians. This does not depend on our actions or feelings. Christ gives us, his people, a new identity.

Young Christians also face the same temptation as the Thessalonians. They doubt their new identity and question the value of Jesus in their lives. Arzola reflects that our churches are “filled with young people searching in the wrong places and the wrong ways for identity and meaning” [1].

Interestingly, Jesus faced the same temptation about his identity in the desert. Twice Satan attacked his identity (Matthew 4:1-11); mocking God’s declaration that Jesus was his beloved son (Matthew. 3:17). Satan offered Jesus an alternate identity with the lure of power, comfort and security. In response, Jesus rebukes Satan and trusts God’s word as the source of his identity.

As we disciple young Christians through different questions and doubts, we can help them grasp their new identity in Christ in three ways.

We help them listen to what God says about their identity, just like Jesus did in the desert

My youth leader had three passages he kept reading with our small group to help us understand who we were as Christians. Great passages include 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 where Paul explores how we are new in Christ; 1 Peter 1:3-5 where Peter explores our new life of secure hope in this dark world; and 1 John 4:10 where John affirms the permanent and abounding love of Christ.

We give young Christians opportunities to articulate their new identity

One of the key findings of the United States National Study of Youth and Religion was the inability of Christian teenagers in the United States to talk about their faith [2]. Many young Christians cannot articulate the difference Christ makes in their life and this directly impacts their ability to navigate doubts. Each week at youth group is a great opportunity to invite young Christians to put their faith and new identity into words. This will help them recognise where God is present and active in their lives.

We work hard to affirm their new identity in our teaching

There are times when we passively or directly undermine their new identity by questioning their assurance or exhorting them to moral actions without the gospel motivating the action. Instead, young Christians benefit from constantly hearing teaching that affirms their new identity and the impact being in Christ makes on life.

The wonderful truth of the gospel is that through faith in Christ we receive a new identity. Those who grasp this would not swap it for the world. In our discipleship let’s help young people grasp the incredible difference Christ makes in their life.

[1] Arzola, F. Towards a prophetic Youth Ministry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008) 78.

[2] Smith, C., & Lundquist Denton, M. Soul searching: The religious and spiritual lives of American teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) 131.