Who Am I?
A popular refrain from a song in “Les Miserables” takes a stab at answering the question, Who am I?
Who am I?
How can I ever face my fellow man?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope, when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on
Who am I?
Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!
And so Javert, you see it’s true,
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?
Likewise, an update in a Casting Crowns song by the same title:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the bright and morning star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wondering heart?
Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are
Both interesting reflections on the age old question of children, adolescents, and senior citizens as well. The answer is found daily and throughout God’s Word. And, in my mind, it is a question that we should never stop asking no matter our age or life experience.
Contemporary culture works diligently to convince us that we are a product of our environment. We have little control over who we are except in response to the places we live, the organizations we associate with, the nature of our family, our jobs, and the other experiences that work to shape us. Such a perspective denies the very essence of biblical teaching found in Genesis 1:27*. We are made in the image of God, and God alone, not our surroundings or circumstances: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
The postmodern conception that absolutes do not exist is confounded by this fundamental truth: we are made in God’s image. That is the beginning and the end of the question. The question of what is “…the image of God…” would probably be subject to much debate. I know God does not look like me, so physical image cannot be it—what we would normally think of as a photograph. Instead, it must be some other property of our existence.
So, Who am I? A human being made in the image of God.
I am a unique individual. No other person is like me. And, even more awe inspiring, God knows every part of us, as if a house made by a single carpenter.
David makes this clear in Psalm 139: 13, 14. For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
God knew and knows our individual trials, temptations, predispositions, and ultimately our salvation, from the time we were created in “my mother’s womb.”
So, Who am I? A distinctive individual but made precisely as God planned.
Yet, over time, as a practicing believer, I become more like Christ. This would seem to mean that over time, my distinctiveness disappears. That as Christians we become like automatons, becoming less distinctive and more alike as we approach the likeness of Christ. In fact, we do become more like Christ. In Galatians 2:20 Paul says this, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.
This process of growing to be more like Christ does nothing to diminish our distinctiveness, but rather shapes our distinctiveness in a way that is pleasing to God. Our experiences that shape us over time also make us more Christ-like. Again the Apostle Paul makes clear how our distinctiveness grows in Romans 8:28 – 29, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”. What would seem to be a contradiction is not. Instead, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. No one shares exactly the same life experience, but as believers we all share a commitment to serve Christ and become more like Him and simultaneously more distinctive.
So, Who am I? A man shaped by God’s love through personal experience to become more like Christ.
The personal circumstances of our lives are challenging for all of us. We should never look at others’ circumstances in comparison to our own as a measure of our standing with God. This is true whether you are a teenager, or a retiree. Yet we have a propensity to value and relate to what we can see. However, our faith walk demands that we focus on Christ in our lives so that we can become who He wants us to be. Circumstances are a tool of God, even when they appear to us to be unpleasant. The price of giving in to circumstance is made clear in Proverbs 25:26, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked”. Instead, our responsibility is to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize as Paul admonishes us in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. It is our race to run, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the assurance that in the running of the race, a transformation takes place that makes us more like Christ.
So, Who am I? A child of Christ that must be committed to a walk of faith.
We are a work in progress. We continually fall short of the glory of God. As we listen to His voice in our lives, as revealed to us in His Word we develop and grow to be more Christ like. Some of the trials that each of us face will be demanding. The life of Job cannot be a more convincing picture of the burdens of an individual man of God, who lived an innocent life, but faced the most challenging circumstances. He remained committed to his walk with God.
Paul reminds us in the book of Romans, 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The process of sin, separation, confession, and forgiveness is a never-ending one in the life of the Christian. Our determination, whether 16 or 60, is to remember who we are, what plan we are part of, our continuing development to be like Christ, and committed to a walk of faith. All result in the simple determination of Job, after a torturous trial, the last he uttered, ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:4-6)
Ray Stedman says this regarding the end of the Book of Job: “God will begin to heal a life that repents before Him, and He will fill it with blessing and honor and glory and power. None of the prideful things to which we cling will be worth the smallest portion of the glory and joy we have discovered in coming into a relationship with God Himself.”
So, Who am I? An individual with no value outside of Christ, so that he can continually show God’s love to me when I give my life to him.
Praise be to God creator of heaven and earth and me.
*All Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version
Dr. Walter Wendler
Wendler has served as president of West Texas A&M University since August, 2016. Before moving to Canyon to accept the position, Wendler led in various academic roles, most recently at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Wendler is a New York native and earned an associate degree from the State University of New York at Farmingdale and a bachelor’s degree in environmental design from Texas A&M University. He received his master’s degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife Mary have two sons and five grandchildren.