Prior to 2016, if you were a native of Cleveland, Ohio, involved in a discussion of sports with a group of new friends, you received sympathy. The city is home to three professional sports franchises—basketball, baseball, and football. Through 2015, those teams had gone 147 combined seasons without a national championship. Clevelanders self-identified as losers when it came to professional sports.
But that identity changed in 2016. The Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA basketball championship! People couldn’t believe it. The drought was over! And then—the icing on the cake. The major league baseball Cleveland Indians made it to the seventh game of the 2016 World Series before being narrowly defeated. So after 149 combined seasons, suddenly Cleveland was a city of winners.
They had a new identity—something not always easy to embrace. In fact, when the World Series began, The Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled “Success Is Giving Cleveland an Identity Crisis.” But the city has embraced its new identity. Nobody is feeling sorry for Cleveland and her long-suffering fans anymore.
We use the term “identity crisis” less accurately than we should. We apply it to anyone who seems to have lost his or her way in life. But, clinically speaking, the phrase was coined (by psychologist Erik Erikson) to refer to a person who fails to establish a solid personal identity in adolescence. That person then enters adulthood not knowing who they really are, which can lead to an identity crisis.
That clinical definition of “identity crisis” applies helpfully to the theme of this month’s Turning Points magazine. It’s my concern that many adult Christians came through the adolescent period of their spiritual growth without solidifying their identity according to the teaching of Christ. That is, Jesus taught His disciples that there was one thing that should be the priority of their lives—one thing that would instantly identify them as His followers.
See if you can select the option that Jesus said (in John 13:35) should be the core of His followers’ identity:
A. “By this, if you belong to the right political party, all will know that you are My disciples.”
B. “By this, if you condemn aggressively most aspects of your culture, all will know that you are My disciples.”
C. “By this, if you retreat into a holy huddle instead of engaging with society, all will know that you are My disciples.”
D. “By this, if you fail to befriend your non-Christian neighbors, all will know that you are My disciples.”
E. “By this, if you are against more than you are for, all will know that you are My disciples.”
F. “By this, if you have love for one another, all will know that you are My disciples.”
I hope you picked “F.” as the words of Jesus. But consider this: If we took a poll of a cross-section of society’s non-Christians, which would they pick as the words of Jesus based on their perception of the actions and priorities of most Christians? I fear most would not pick “F.”
Is the Church having an identity crisis? Did we not learn, in our formative spiritual years, what our identity as Christians in the world is to be—people who are known by how they love one another? We seem to be known today more for what we don’t like, what we don’t believe, and who we can’t vote for than for being people of love.
I know—love can require hard choices and even hard words at times. But if the world sees us as hard people more than loving people, I fear we have lost our identity. We need to review the teachings of our youth. We need to remind ourselves of verses like John 13:35 and John 15:12 in which we are exhorted to be people of love.
To that end—in addition to this month’s Turning Points—you can hear my Power of Love series via radio this month and explore a destination website called Love Changes Everything. You’ll find details on both as you explore this month’s magazine.
Let’s address our identity crisis! We need to embrace what Jesus said so that when the world sees us they see Him and His love.