The western church is at an age and time in modern civilization where the competitive pursuit for vocational success is at the maximum capacity, economical uncertainty fuels the next generation toward obtaining professional prosperity. The condition and corpus of an individual is not rooted in who he/she is rather what the person can accomplish and achieve. The identity of an individual has shifted to the respective occupation or trade. Many adolescents are struggling with particular life systems “such as educational accomplishment and healthy relationships . . . because they spend a substantial amount of time and energy thinking about the future.”1 The next generation is forced to juggle with the high demands of production while wrestling with the understanding of their individual purpose. Individualism has encouraged autonomy, which “refers to self-directing freedom and moral independence,”2 while increasing the severity and weight on teens to identify personal direction at a faster rate. One of the many “reasons why the future is daunting for many teenagers is that they are still working through basic considerations about the meaning and purpose of life. It is only natural to find so many young people feeling their way through the maze of possibilities regarding life’s opportunities and striving to discern how such experiences relate to their reason for being.”3 This constant wrestling with purpose and direction can cause students to question their identity and purpose in life.
Not only are students struggling through vocational direction many young adults are engaging in unhealthy relationships. Much of the cause for sexual participation among Christian adolescents is grounded in their lack of identity in how the Creator God has designed them. Though students are proclaiming Christianity they engulf themselves in viewing marriage, relationships, and sex through the lens of the secular world. Though the percentage of sexually active teens has gone down Urban Institute published a shocking research that found that “sixty-six percent of male teenagers had engaged in”4 other forms of sexual activities other than intercourse. A Journal for Sex researched showed “that 75 percent of undergraduates experience some form of hooking up, with one-third reporting intercourse with a stranger or acquaintance.”5 Research indicate that the next generation has a high desire for relationships,6 yet the functional data “depicts young people today as self-centered in relationships, where the underlying tone is freedom and few obligations. Personal, momentary gratification is not experienced as love and is often not characterized by any sense of moral commitment to one another — it is a relationship with no rigid strings of attachment.”7 Why the paradox? Could it be rooted in the realization that the upcoming generation, believer or non-believer, is blinded to their identity and rootedness in the work and person of Christ?
It should be no surprise that the critical question among adolescents is “Who am I?”
Through much of history the individual was known through the interaction of community. There was a moment in history when “people did not think of themselves in primarily individual terms. Instead, what it meant to be a person was largely defined by one’s relationship to such communities as family, history, parents, ethnicity, nationality, city, religion, and trade.”8 God created humanity in the Imago Dei and the functionality in bearing the image of God was formulated through communities. The natural discrepancies to which the human race orchestrated communities was “consistent with the fact that we know each person of the Trinity not by isolating them but rather by seeing them in relationship with one another at work in our world and for our salvation.”9 Much of this worldview changed through the trajectory of Saint Augustine in publishing his book Confessions. While the intellect marveled at the mountains and stars Augustine meditated on the profound inner self. This was the starting point of transition while “views about the earth and the sun would change fairly quickly, opinion about soul, mind, and body would prove resistant to rapid revision.”10 The new discovery elevated the significance of the autonomous individual in apprehending the human race.
Building on the concepts of Augustine was a Christian philosopher Rene Descartes who confirmed the person as an autonomous individual and “defined the essence of what it means to be human in terms of the mind.”11 Descartes is famous for coining the phrase, “I think, therefore I am.” Following Descartes’ lead was the celebrated American theologian Jonathan Edwards who “taught that the autonomous reasoning individual can be saved and improved by God’s grace to God’s glory.”12 Later on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a non-Christian philosopher took the autonomous individual and pressed the idea that the self can be improved through self-acceptance and self love. Intrinsically the individual was not to look for an outside source for renewal — mainly God — and was to pursue transformation in becoming a better version of the self. The next influential mind came in the person of William James an American psychologist. He stressed the fact that the improvement of the individual through loving the self could reach the full potential in psychology. Transformation was not found in God rather the functional savior in the professional psychologist. Lastly, Abraham Maslow subscribed that the autonomous individual could be “improved by self-acceptance and self-love aided by psychology to self-actualization, which is the defining principle of what it means to be human.”13
Psychologically speaking these theories seem to obtain valid points and ideologies, yet at the foundation of their rationale the root issue still remains — sin nature. At the core of humanity the Scriptures indicate that man is “dead in [their] trespasses and sins.”14 Within Pauline theology “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”15 The autonomous individual seeks for fulfillment and transformation in the self; yet, biblically speaking, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.”16 How can restoration come from a vessel to which wickedness, filth, and defilement finds their root? In the state of humanity spiritual intervention is necessary to obtain fulfillment, restoration, and completion.
Colossians 3:10 ESV, “10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”
“26 The God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on earth.’ 27 So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created Him; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:26 – 27 ESV
To comprehend the nuances of mankind’s identity and purpose understanding is rooted in the origin or beginning of humanity. In the creation account within the sacred Scriptures found in Genesis, Moses describes the central piece in recognizing the core essence of man. Apart from the rest of creation God constructed Adam in the Imago Dei, the image of God. This is to be understood as “man is like God and represents God,”17 but is “not identical to the thing it represents”18 — namely God. Biblically speaking, “verse 26 is God’s statement of intention; it includes the terms [tselem] and [demuth], translated respectively, ‘image’ and ‘likeness.’”19 Ultimately mankind is the vessel to which God uses to “‘mirror’ His invisible attributes to the world, somewhat like Moses, who radiated the glory of God after being in God’s presence.”20 With that being said, “the image of God is what makes humans human. Our understanding of the image will affect how we treat our fellow humans and how we minister to them.”21 In obtaining the image of God humanity simultaneously retrieves their purpose which is to reflect God’s image.
In reflecting God’s image mankind can achieve mirroring God’s glory in two different ways. Imaging God forward is meant to be understood in “both personal and communal. By personal, we mean that we as individual worshippers must continually ask whether we are good reflections of our God. By communal, we mean that churches, families, and Christian communities must continually ask whether they are good reflections of God to one another and the world.”22 Consequently the more believers engage in their sanctification process and in spiritual “maturity we grow in greater likeness to God.”23 It is evident that those who are sealed in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit is being “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son.”24 In turn “one of the best ways to think about God’s infinite enjoyment of His own glory is to think of it as the delight He has in His Son, who is the perfect reflection of that glory.”25
In a time and season of life when there is pressure to choose a major, find a direction in life, and marry the perfect person it is essential to take a step back and remember that the ultimate goal in life is to reflect the goodness and glory of God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Many young people put Christ in the back seat and pursue their career, love life, or family and find themselves empty and hallow in their pursuit. They have idolized those pursuits and positioned them to be functional saviors for their life. Yet it is in the losing of oneself in Christ where one will truly find their identity. In the depth of humanity “we were made to center our lives upon Him, to make the purpose and passion of our lives knowing, serving, delighting, and resembling Him.”26 Jesus articulated this truth sincerely in proclaiming that “whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses His life for my sake will find it.”27
The starting point to engaging one’s identity is coming to terms with the reality that mankind has been created in the image of God. Though that image has been tainted through the fall of mankind the work and person of Christ is meant to restore, recover, and reconcile His image to Himself. In “the full measure of our creation in the image of God is not seen in the life of Adam who sinned, nor is it seen in our lives now, for we are imperfect. But the New Testament emphasizes that God’s purpose in creating man in His image was completely realized in the person of Jesus Christ.”28 Through His infinite mercies “God has bestowed upon us the amazing ability and awesome responsibility to be His mirrors on the earth, reflecting His goodness and glory to all for His glory and our joy. All persons are God’s image in a basic sense, but Christians image Him more than non-Christians and mature Christians do so even more.”29 Coming to terms with this reality will set the individual as well as the church on a trajectory that will empower, embolden, and supply the believers with the fuel to love Christ and make Him preeminent to the glory of His Name and the joy of His people.
1 George Barna. Real Teens: A Contemporary Snapshot of Youth Culture (Ventura: Regal, 2001), 81.
2 Julie Gorman. Community that is Christian: A Handbook on Small Groups (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 47.
3 George Barna. Real Teens: A Contemporary Snapshot of Youth Culture (Ventura: Regal, 2001), 82.
4 Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor. Engaging Culture A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2005), 41.
5 Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor. Engaging Culture A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academics, 2005), 42.
6 George Barna. Real Teens: A Contemporary Snapshot of Youth Culture (Ventura: Regal, 2001), 66.
7 Julie Gorman. Community that is Christian: A Handbook on Small Groups (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 43.
8 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 111.
9 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 112.
10 David G. Myers and Malcom A. Jeeves. Psychology: Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: Harper, 2003), 4.
11 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 112.
12 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 112.
13 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 112 – 113.
14 Ephesians 2:1 ESV, “1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.”
15 Romans 3:10 – 11 ESV, “10 as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
16 Jeremiah 17:9 ESV, “9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
17 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 442.
18 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 443.
19 Millard J. Erickson. Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 519.
20 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 118 – 119.
21 Millard J. Erickson. Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 518 – 519.
22 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 119.
23 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 445.
24 Romans 8:29 ESV, “29 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.”
25 John Piper. Desiring God: Meditation of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2011), 43.
26 Timothy Keller. Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 228.
27 Matthew 10:39 ESV, “39 Whoever finds His life will lose it, and whoever loses His life for my sake will find it.”
28 Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 445.
29 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 119.