Have you seen Disney’s The Lion King? The movie begins with the birth of a lion cub named Simba. Simba is the son of King Mufasa and future king of the Pride Lands. Simba’s jealous uncle kills Mufasa and blames Simba for his death. Simba flees far from home and grows up living a carefree lifestyle void of responsibility. One night, Mufasa appears to Simba and reminds him who he is. Simba returns to the Pride Lands, confronts his uncle, and takes his rightful place as king.
Identity determines behavior. In other words, who you are determines what you do. Problems arise when you don’t allow who you are to determine what you do. This is true in your relationship with God. Many Christians dwell on the shame and guilt of who they used to be instead of remembering who they are now. They continue in their sinful habits and tendencies instead of living holy lives and obeying God.
When God saves you through faith in Jesus Christ, He gives you a new identity. He also gives you the Holy Spirit who empowers you to let your new identity determine new behavior. In other words, God makes you a new person so you can do new things. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” You used to be a sinful person; now you are a saved person. You used to be condemned, characterized, and controlled by sin. But “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
There is a lot of pressure to behave in our old ways. The world seduces us to do sinful things and our old self constantly tries to express itself through sinful behavior. That is why Paul says “you were taught…to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires…and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22, 24).
To grow in your relationship with God, you have to stop being the old person and start being the new person. This is easier said than done. Although “our old self was crucified with Jesus so that we should no longer be slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:6), my flesh has a lot of life in it! I still have sinful urges and impulses. It would be nothing for me to lapse back into my old sinful lifestyle. I must ask the Holy Spirit to make me like Jesus, obey the commands He reveals in the Bible, and yield to the convictions He lays upon my heart.
Taking off the old self and putting on the new self is a daily decision. Becoming more like Jesus is a slow, painful, frustrating process. We fight against who we used to be and what we used to do, and at the same time we fight for who we are in Christ and what we’re supposed to do now. Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to grow into your new identity and develop new patterns of behavior. Don’t make excuses when you sin, but don’t expect to be like Jesus overnight either.
If you belong to Jesus then “you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Col. 3:9-10). Reject your old identity as a sinner and the sinful behaviors it produced. Embrace your new identity as a saved person and never stop striving for holiness.