I listened to an acquaintance explain her family member’s career change, almost apologizing that he hasn’t decided what his life’s occupation should be. As someone who has also switched careers, I understood his conundrum, but not her apologetic comments.
Where do we get the idea that we need to pick one job and stay with it forever? There are benefits, of course, to staying in the same field for years or even decades, but where God calls us to spend our energies may change. We aren’t defined by our careers. Or are we?
The girls’ Bible study I help lead at church finished studying Galatians a few weeks ago. I’m always amazed by how much more I gain from a Bible passage or book when I slow down and study it, especially with a group. I’m sure I’ve read Galatians several times, and probably even heard some sermons on it. But I feel so much more familiar with the book after a few weeks of talking about each section with several preteen girls.
Basically, the apostle Paul worried that the Galatians were listening to false teachers who insisted they combine faith in Christ with Old Testament Jewish laws. The book of Galatians showcases some of Paul’s strongest language as he railed against church members who were ranking something — even a good something — above or equal to Christ. Over and over, he worried about the “extras” they were tacking onto their faith and putting their trust in. The Galatians defined themselves by their adherence to religious laws — laws that Jesus had already fulfilled for them.
No finger-pointing here
You may not be trying to add to the requirements for salvation, but are you defining yourself primarily by something other than Christ? Are any of these categories where you find your main identity?
Single. Dating. Engaged. Married. It’s so easy to give these descriptors outsized importance, and it doesn’t help that most of the world seems to group us by these categories. Attend the singles group at church? Going to a couples event? But if in Christ there is no slave and free, not even male and female, but all are one — then the same is certainly true for singles and marrieds.
“What do you do?” is one of the first questions we ask people we’ve just met, and we’re not asking what they like to do for fun or how they celebrate holidays. We’re asking what people do from 8 to 5 on Mondays through Fridays. We group ourselves by profession and even make first impressions of others based on their occupations. Certainly, our professions are a big part of our lives, and we’re all affected by the work we do day in and day out. But is who we are really wrapped up in our job titles on LinkedIn? I think not.
High school track record. Frisbee championship title. A completed Goodreads booklist. Encyclopedic knowledge of all Marvel Avengers movies. We take pride in any of these things. A quick scan through some Guinness World Records proves that we humans will literally invent things to excel at. There’s something in us that naturally wants to take pride in what we can do better than other people. But no matter how many push-ups we can do or how many hula hoops we can…hula?…or even how many pencils we can break in a minute, those accomplishments don’t define us. Honestly? If any of these things do define us, that’s just sad.
Our ability (or attempt) to accumulate wealth is often something that trips us up. It’s silly, really. Think of all God has made and is sovereign over: not only the cattle on a thousand hills, but the krill and jellyfish of 352 quintillion gallons of ocean water (I Googled it). The stars of unknown light years of galaxies and solar systems. Yet we pride ourselves on accumulating money or cars or expensive clothes?
What do people think of me? Do they remember that embarrassing faux pas from last week’s meeting? Did they notice I misspelled my own name in that email? Do my shoes look like I bought them in another decade? There will always be someone who disapproves of something about us. If we let people decide what defines us, we’ll always be guessing. Funny, I think Paul even said something about people-pleasing specifically.
A life of freedom
What does it look like to keep these secondary factors in their place?
As in many areas of the Christian life, calls to obey are really calls to freedom. In each area where we demote our secondary interests and traits to their rightful place, we find deeper freedom from some of the worries and fears that pester us.
Ever feel like a failure at work? You are not defined by your ability, accomplishments, or lack of both.
Feel distant from friends because of differing relationship statuses? You — and your friends — are not defined by singleness, dating or marriage.
Wonder if the people around you think poorly of you? Honestly — and this is easier said than accepted — their opinions literally don’t matter. If you are in Christ, your identity is sealed no matter what opinion anyone holds about you.
Praise God that the book of Galatians is still for us today, reminding us that we are not what we do, try, or fail to accomplish.
We are saved by Christ, not by Christ plus circumcision or good works or religious adherence or anything else. And we are defined first — first! — and most importantly by what Christ has done in us and for us. Everything else? Just secondary.
Copyright 2022 Lauren Dunn. All rights reserved.