At the heart of human identity is the fact that God made us in his image. In other words, at the heart of human identity is a reference to someone else. This is a striking reality! One of the foundations of the biblical account of the world and our purpose in it is an indication that we can’t look to ourselves in order to know what our purpose is. We have to look to God since we are made to be an image of God.
This is an especially striking thing to say in our contemporary American context. We are often told something like the opposite of this biblical truth—that a successful and fulfilling life will be precisely the life which looks only to itself for approval. “Don’t worry what anyone else thinks!” “Be true to yourself!” Personal authenticity is the hallmark of happiness.
But the God who made us in his image says: “Care what I think!” “Be true to me!” “Show the world what I am like!” These are not graceless demands or legal requirements. God has graced us with the wonderful privilege of reflecting his character. And God knows that we will be fulfilled and successful through our fellowship with him.
It turns out, actually, that human flourishing is in concert with God’s desires for us. We flourish when we live in harmony with God’s purposes for us. The reason for this is again the fact that we are made in God’s image. Living without reference to God or in rebellion against God is living inauthentically. It makes a person a living contradiction. It makes a person duplicitous. The person is made as an image of God; yet, she has forgotten the primary point of reference for her life. When we live in fellowship with God and express that fellowship in the world, we are living authentically because we are living into the fundamental truth of our human identity.
And this is all a matter of grace. God the Father cared so much about extending this grace to us that he sent his Son to restore our fellowship with God, to unite us to his Son and so adopt us into his family, and to enable us to realize our identity as those made in God’s image by the power of the Holy Spirit. This means that God’s gracious action toward us in Christ Jesus brings about the fulfillment of God’s purposes and the fulfillment of human identity. How marvelous!
In celebrating Christmas we are celebrating God’s commitment to save us by bringing human identity to fulfillment in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Through Jesus Christ and his work, the obstacles to fellowship with God are removed, and human fellowship with God is secured. Through faith in Jesus Christ, this fellowship with God becomes ours as does the potential to live authentically as people made in God’s image. The Spirit of God seals us for redemption and conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ. This established fellowship and progressive conformation to God’s character steadily displaces our self-approval and self-fulfillment, replacing these with the approval and fulfillment that comes from Jesus Christ.
This is what it means for Christians to talk about finding our identity in Christ. Jesus Christ recovers for us our authentic identity. And in this sense, authenticity really does lead to happiness. Finding our identity in Christ does not mean that a new thing has intruded into our individual lives and taken over. Rather, we were always meant to find our human identity in God since we are made in God’s image. And so, integrity, personal fulfillment, and genuine authenticity is given in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has made this possible even for those of us who have sinned, like you and me.
Christmas, then, is the celebration of our reconciliation with God and the fulfillment of human identity in Jesus Christ. When these gifts of grace are present, we are filled with joy and gratitude. And our gratitude turns into generosity as we reflect the character of the generous God in whose image we are made.