Identity and Purpose: Which Comes First?

Posted on August 2, 2017 in Community

Second in a series of articles on Identity, Purpose, and Vision


In last week’s blog, The Most Important Question We Ask Ourselves, I shared my initial processing of the challenge I and twenty-three other men received at our annual retreat to consider how we think about ourselves and our purpose using Stephen De Silva’s Purpose Train model.

As a follower of Jesus, I know who I am in Him and how He defines the purpose of my life. But, as I wrote last time, all followers of Jesus share those same identities and purposes.

Yet God imagined me. And you.

We share our essential humanity, yet we’re unique. Stephen challenged us to discover our unique, individual identity and the life purpose that flows from it.

Stephen taught me that identity isn’t found in what I do. It’s something greater—fountational, personal, specific to me. And that’s what’s been hardest to unpack. Purpose—why I exist, why I’m here, now—seems to be about function, doing. Identity, on the other hand, seems to be about a state of being, an intrinsic self. And the more I dig in, the more it seems like purpose is the precursor of identity.

For me, this isn’t mere heady, philosophical stuff. I’m driven to get this right. However many days I have left, I want to finish well and be one of the victorious ones to whom Jesus gives the white stone with my new name, understood only by me. I need to get this earthly identity and purpose thing right so I will one day understand that white stone name as He intends.

Today, I want to share a highlight of my processing over the last week—an excerpt from my journal entry on Tuesday. Caveat: it’s raw, unfiltered dialogue with God. I’m confident I hear Him well but I don’t claim to hear perfectly.

(If the idea of two-way journaling is unfamiliar to you, I recommend checking out Communion with God Ministries and the teachings of Dr. Mark Virkler.)

Okay, here goes…

Tuesday, August 1

Ok, Papa…the must-do tasks for today are completed. I’m ready to talk with you again about my identity. Where would you like to begin today?

“The yearnings of your soul are in the right direction. You share a common identity with all humanity, made in My image, and with all of your brothers and sisters who’ve been adopted into My family through Jesus, My child, a new creation in Christ. Examine the handout on identity you give to your Conejo Valley Healing Rooms guests…write down the key identity words.”

Here they are (you can read the entire handout here):

  • Child of the King
  • Co-heir with Jesus
  • Salt of the earth
  • Light of the world

“Now consider Jesus…He is the Christ, My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. He is Lord of all creation, the One through whom all things were made. He is the Savior of mankind, the restorer of that which was lost. He is the beginning and the end of all things. He is God. As am I. As is Holy Spirit.

“Jesus, then, has a hierarchy of identity:

  • God – I Am
  • Son of The Father
  • Lord of All Creation
  • The One through Whom all things were made
  • The Savior of mankind
  • The Restorer of what was lost
  • The Good Shepherd
  • The Great Physician

“So, to fit this into the Purpose Train construct with which you are working, Jesus has both an Eternal and an Incarnate identity. His eternal Identity is I Am, Son, Creator, Lord. His incarnate identity is Savior, Restorer, Shepherd, Healer.

“Just as My Son has both an eternal and incarnate identity, so do you have an eternal and earthly identity. Study this, refine your understanding of Jesus’ eternal and incarnate identity and purpose. He is the model I want you to follow to discover your eternal and earthly identity and purpose. Also study and analyze what others have discovered about identity and purpose, starting with what’s on your bookshelf.”

Wow. Eternal identity and earthly identity. The beginning of the discovery. The distinction between the identity and purpose I share with all followers of Jesus and the identity and purpose God imagined and planned for me for my time on earth.

“Just as My Son has both an eternal and incarnate identity, so do you have an eternal and earthly identity.”

Rick Warren calls this life a “temporary assignment.” We each have an assignment, and while they share common foundations they have individual distinctions. My heart tells me getting clear about the elements of that temporary assignment that are specific to me is the difference between fulfilling the destiny God planned for me or not. I’m excited to continue this exploration with Him.

By the way, God highlighted three books among the dozens of titles on my “spiritual growth” shelves—The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Three classics, three of my go-to resources. It’s been a while since I cracked any of them open, so I’m looking forward to new insights from their pages.

What about you? Have you considered any distinction between your eternal and earthly identity and purpose? As a fellow sojourner, I’d sure like to hear from you.

Let’s keep the conversation going.