Fighting the Lies Our Culture Tells Us about Identity

In this video, Melissa Kruger, Betsy Childs Howard, and Trillia Newbell address the distorted sense of identity that Christians struggle with as they listen to the messages of the culture and suggest ways to recover a right view of our identity by looking at God and his gospel through the Scriptures. For more from these authors and others—including Megan Hill, Jen Wilkin, and Hannah Anderson—pick up a copy of the new book Identity Theft: Reclaiming the Truth of Our Identity in Christ.


Melissa Kruger

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things each year was going to the state fair. And inevitably I would find myself in the funhouse with my friends, and we would laugh to see ourselves in the different mirrors. Sometimes your head would be huge, or sometimes you’d be really tall and skinny, or sometimes you’d find everything below your waist would be wide. We enjoyed laughing as we looked at ourselves in these misshapen ways.

I feel like sometimes I have that view of myself in a spiritual or emotional or even physical sense when I think about my identity. And I can get a really warped view of who I am because of things I’m hearing from culture. So, when you look at culture, how does it give us this warped view of who we are?

Betsy Howard

I see two primary ways that we can get our identity warped by messages that we’re receiving. The first is, “You are who are other people think you are.” It’s the idea that peoples’ impressions of you are what defines you. Whether you please them, whether you live up to their expectations, that’s who you really are.

The other message is, “Who you feel deep down is who you are. Your desires, your longings, that is you at your core.” Now if you feel really great about yourself, you are really great. But if you feel really terrible about yourself, you’re really not worth much. Both of these messages are very easy to hear, take on, and live out as a driving force of our lives.

Trillia Newbell

I think to get specific in culture, some of the ways that I have had to struggle include even the simple things like a magazine cover. It can distort your view. You can begin to wonder if you’re supposed to look like the model in the photo. Distortions can also come in the form of unrealistic expectations. You can even see this in church when you encounter what you think is an “ideal family” and begin contrasting your own family life to theirs. We are forced to wrestle with these distortions and ask whether the view we see in the culture or in the church is what we see in Scriptures. We need to question whether these things are what God has called us to.

When I mistake my identity for how it is defined by my culture, I arrive at a distorted view then of myself and how God views me. So, in culture, we can be influenced in so many different ways, ways that we don’t even perceive. Watching television or consuming social media feeds our souls. Culture can in many ways affect our view, distorting and twisting how we see ourselves and understand what God says.

Melissa Kruger

The kind of distortion you’re talking about happens in culture frequently on concepts of beauty or self-identity, but you also can see it in the church. One of the things I’ve seen in my own heart is I can get really consumed with my failure, and I can be really comfortable with the “sinner” label. I’m a sinner, but one thing I love is going to Scripture and seeing how Paul always addresses the sinners he’s writing to. He calls them “saints” (e.g., Eph. 1:1). And when I say to myself, “I’m a saint who struggles with sin,” versus “I’m a sinner who’s trying to be a saint,” it makes a big difference in how I live.

When you are combatting these wrong images, what truths do you remind yourself of from Scripture? For me, it’s that I’m a saint. “I’m a saint, I’m a saint.” I have to say it to myself again. What do you all do? What things help you remember? Who am I?

Trillia Newbell

“I’m in Christ. I’m in Christ. I’m in Christ.” I think of Ephesians, particularly the first few chapters. There I discover that I am a new creation. I am, in Christ Jesus, born again, chosen for the foundation of the world, which is absolutely ridiculous. Who am I that he would think I’m his soulmate? He’s created the heavens, but he’s thinking of me. I must remind myself of who I am in Christ Jesus, that I’ve been chosen, adopted, that I’m an heir of Christ, that I am covered by his blood—in other words, I remind myself of the gospel.

When I preach these truths to myself, it helps remind me that I am a saint and that I have to fight sin. I find that I need to remind myself that I struggle with idolatry. I want to identify where that struggle is and then fight it. I need to remember that I’m in a fight. I need to know where I’m placing my hope and trust and faith, because that’s what we’re doing when we identify with anything other than Christ. And once I can see those idols for what they are, then I can ask God for help to fight them.

Betsy Howard

Your identity is who God says you are, not who you feel deep down, or who you’ve always been afraid that you might be. As far as speaking to what other people think of you, it really helps me to remember I am living my life to please God, not to please the people closest to me, not my boss, not even my parents. Yes, I want them to be happy with me, but ultimately that’s not what matters.

I have to keep looking to what God asks of me. And sometimes what God asks from me is going to displease the people that I love most, or it might just be that there’s nothing I can do to please them. But God knows my heart. God knows my desires and his opinion of me—which is based on the righteousness of Christ and the Holy Spirit’s work in me—is what is most important.

Melissa Kruger

We need to remind ourselves of these truths over and over again. It’s just so easy to open the magazine and, one more time, the lies that surround us capture what we’re thinking.

Betsy Howard

It’s not always easy for me to move from those lies to the truth. When you realize you’re living out a false identity, when you’re feeling incredibly insecure about how you look, when you’re worried about what someone thinks of you, what do you do? What does it look like for you to take off that false identity and put on your true identity in Christ?

Trillia Newbell

For me it helps to say things out loud. So God says, if we confess our sin, he’s faithful and just to forgive us and to purify us (1 John 1:9). For me, if I can do the hard work of recognizing that I am actually placing my identity, my hope, my trust, my faith in this thing, then I can confess it. I speak about this sin to a friend, to my husband, to the Lord, and even sometimes to my kids (“Let me tell you why mommy is doing this.”). Once I’ve verbalized my problem, then it helps me to say the truth of God out loud, preaching God’s Word back to myself. I can’t just sit there. I need to speak out loud to remind myself that I am covered by the blood of the Lamb and that I am new creation. And if we confess our sin, he really is faithful to forgive and to purify and to change.

We have to fight. We’re waiting to be with him forever, so we have to fight for that truth.

Melissa Kruger

Yes, in this battle we have to remember confession and repentance. Sometimes I think we forget that in our Christian walk. Another observation as I consider my spiritual identity comes as I look at the physical world. If you want to have a healthy body, you know that you should eat right and exercise. But sometimes you go for a run one time and you may wonder why everything hasn’t changed and you don’t suddenly feel better. And I think our spiritual lives are similar. We know that growing a healthy spiritual life and a healthy view of ourselves takes time in the Word and time in prayer. It doesn’t just happen that we read what God says about our identity once and then we get it. Instead, it’s a process that takes a lifetime.

Trillia Newbell

It’s an educational process.

Melissa Kruger

Yeah, it’s a lifetime of digging into those truths, exposing what we didn’t even see. The Word is the perfect mirror. It’s not a funhouse mirror. The Bible gives us the right, accurate assessment of who we are. And as we live daily in God’s Word, the Lord is faithful to show us the false identities we tend to live in as well as who we really are.

Trillia Newbell

We also need to remember who God is.

Melissa Kruger

Yes, yes, even more importantly.

Trillia Newbell

As we look at who God is—Jesus, the wonderful Savior, God who is holy and just and awesome and righteous—it reminds us who we are not, and it helps to reorient our focus, setting our minds on Christ and on God rather than on self.

Betsy Howard

And that process of reorienting, of confession and repentance, is not something that happens once and you’re finished. It may have to happen a hundred times in one day, but that’s okay. To reorient, confess, and repent is to continually make progress. So, we must do it as many times a day as we need to and, by God’s grace, we will live as the women that he says that we are.