I was talking to a buddy the other day about the benefits and drawbacks of programs like AA and NA for dealing with addiction. While there is no denying the efficacy and overall benefit of the programs, my buddy struggled with the fact that so often people in the program are trained to identify themselves with their problems. Of course, that only solidifies the addiction’s grip on our life and imagination because we live out of our perceived identities.
Paul David Tripp, again, cuts to the heart of why creating an identity beyond our problems and sins is so crucial for actually overcoming them:
In the press of everyday life, it is easy to forget who we are. As we try to replace old behaviors with new ones, it is easy to take our eyes off our status as children of God. In fact, the longer we struggle with a problem, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that problem (divorced, addicted, depressed, co-dependent, ADD). We come to believe that our problem is who we are. But while these labels may describe particular ways we struggle as sinners in a fallen world, they are not our identity! If we allow them to define us, we will live trapped within their boundaries. This is no way for a child of God to live!
There is a radical difference between saying, “I am a depressed person,” and saying, “I am a child of God ‘in Christ’ and I tend to struggle with depression.” The second statement does not pretend the war isn’t raging, but it is infused with hope. It says, “Yes, I wrestle with depression every day, but I am not alone. I do not rest on my own strength and wisdom. I have come to understand that my Creator and Savior is also my Father. I am beginning to grasp how rich I really am because of my place in his family, and I am learning to live out of the riches he has provided, rather than the poverty of the identities I used to assign myself.” It is never a waste of time to remind people of who they are in Christ. Doing so stimulates hope, courage, and faith. —Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, pp. 260-261
Instead of identifying ourselves primarily in terms of our struggles, the Biblical call is to constantly remember who we are in Christ and the great resources that come with being a part of the family of God. It is only as we are reshaped in light of the Gospel by the power of the Spirit that we are able to become the kind of people who, yes, struggle, but in Christ are defined by his victory, not our failure.
Soli Deo Gloria