I watch a good amount of YouTube while doing my daily cardio. I watch a lot of fitness YouTubers, but I am willing to bet that this extends far greater than the fitness industry and our content-creating industry. This applies to me as much as it applies to you. There’s this pattern that speaks volumes to our culture.
Each of these fitness YouTubers experiences this identity crisis, usually, it occurs once the number of subscribers rises unexpectedly. There is this epiphany where they realize maybe they do not want to be known as the “shredded guy,” “the fitness fanatic who makes low-calorie recipes,” or the “women’s figure competitor.” They have built this entire empire through fitness but simultaneously feel trapped because of fitness. Suddenly, they face an identity crisis. Do you keep up with the brand you created for the audience or do you take the risk and change your brand, hoping that you do not lose a large number of your subscribers? Either way, you cannot please everyone.
Now before you claim, that’s part of the cost of becoming a content creator, I think it’s deeper than that. That is the cost of being a human. We desperately need an identity. I see this with myself and in several areas of my life. I have a specific identity on social media, at work, and even in the Church. I find it quite exhausting to keep up with these identities, and I think you will be able to relate.
As you probably know by now, I have high respect and passion for the sport of bodybuilding. The way I fuel and train purposefully help me achieve the bodybuilder-style goals, and I want to capture the process. I want to post progress photos, I want to share the knowledge I’ve gained from feeding my body correctly, and I think it would be entertaining to post the day-to-day experiences I have. I want to post these things, but it doesn’t fit my “brand,” so I can’t.
My brand is this blog. My brand is this podcast. My social media content contains Christian apologetics, screenshots of Bible verses, and invitations to see the truth found in the gospel. I love this gospel-sharing brand I’ve created, but simultaneously I feel stuck. Can you relate? I want to post fitness-related content but it seems inappropriate to do so because of the identity I have already created.
But it’s not simply social media, I see this with work. I’ve unwittily “branded” myself as the research engineer that is always willing to learn. I’m the research engineer that works through her lunch breaks. I’m the research engineer that will jump into any given project without complaints. But what if I accidentally created an identity that I’m not happy with? I like learning and I am always willing to learn, but now I feel overwhelmed with the number of projects I’ve said “yes” to. I found that isn’t healthy to work through my lunch breaks. I need rest. Or what if we expand this scenario a bit wider: what if there comes a day when I am not a research engineer? What happens if God calls me to a job that has nothing to do with engineering? I created this identity and concurrently am trapped because of this identity.
I see this same thing play out within the Church. What kind of churchgoer am I? Am I the one who chooses a new place to sit every time? Am I the one who is expected to have read every single book on Christian apologetics? Am I the one who is transparent about being in a recovery group? What is the identity I’ve created?
We seek identity, purpose, and value, and that’s not a bad thing in itself. I have friends whose Instagram accounts are dedicated to encouraging others to donate to those in need. I have friends whose entire brand is on sharing their artwork. I have friends who make me laugh throughout the day and their Facebook page is about gym jokes. I have friends who have built their careers on their passion for robotics. I have friends who have made photography their weekend side hustle. I love that. Praise God for the way He has gifted us so uniquely. I see Jesus in all of you and the diversity is beautiful.
But there’s an unavoidable trap with our created identities, we decide who gets to be the judge. It could be yourself, your significant other, family, friends, or your following. We make them the judge and they are the ones who get to decide how we are doing. It begins with crafting some identity, choosing who will get to hold onto our scorecard, and then forcing ourselves to keep it up. Our judges cling to our scorecards and they have the power to tell us how we are doing, so you better not slow down.
That’s an exhausting rat race to be thrown into. With each of the personal examples I gave, that’s the moral of the story. The anxiety is from sprinting to keep up with whatever identity I created because the moment I slow down or go silent, whoever is holding my scorecard has the opportunity to call me out for it. Our value becomes dependent on the approval of our behavior. That does not sound like true freedom, but it does not have to be this way. This is what I am learning.
Created identities are not bad after the gospel. When you understand where your true and first identity is, we can healthily take on these created identities, but it must come after we root ourselves in the gospel. That is the only way we can avoid this trap. That is the only way to taste true freedom by resting in the identity Jesus gives us.
God’s kids are diverse. He has made us uniquely and wonderfully in His image. The cure to our culture’s identity crisis begins with us accepting our received identity first. You can be all about justice, but it only works after understanding who you are in Christ. You can be all about fitness, but it only works when you see that at your core, you are chosen by Jesus. You can be all about selling your artwork online, but you will only feel truly free when you first accept your received identity.
Melina Penner, an author at Stand to Reason shares this about Gospel Identity
"Gospel identity, in contrast to both, has an external standard of validation—God—but the means of living up to that standard has already been achieved in Jesus. There’s nothing more for us to do other than receive Jesus’ righteousness as a gift. He took our sin and gave us His righteousness. It’s final and complete. God looks at us and sees the beauty and perfection of Jesus’ righteousness. The beauty and freedom of Gospel identity is that it’s offered in unconditional love and is unchanging because Jesus achieved it for us. We don’t have to strive to find validation from any other source, outside or inside."
You do not have to be stuck in this rat race. You do not have to give your scorecard to others. There is another way, and it is by resting in Jesus. I am continuously learning and re-learning what it looks like to visit the gospel, go deeper in the gospel, and be overwhelmed with the joy found in the gospel. There is another way, and it is by seeking Jesus. Created identities are fantastic, but it only works after the gospel and after you understand who you are at your core: chosen by God. You are loved fully and unconditionally by the Author of the Universe. I would love to end by sharing with you what this identity received is like.
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.9 God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him. Ephesians 1:3-14