By: Susanna Kozlow
As I sat down to write from my heart on what identity in Christ looks like through the lens of work and prestige, I thought through how I view this today. But, what I kept returning to was how I viewed work and prestige in the past – how I identified with it and how it shaped the core of who I believed I was.
Come with me on this journey. I grew up in an Italian structured home. My father and grandmother came on a boat to New York and began their lives as immigrants in the United States. My mom came from Chile to the United States as a nanny. My parents married, started their lives together, and had four kids. I remember my mom didn't work when my siblings and I were very young. My father seemed to provide for us, but he would fall off the grid very often. My mom was left worried how she would feed her kids. I remember this battle with my parents ALL THE TIME.
By the time I was an early teen, we had moved to several states, and my parents were never together. My father was never around. When my parents split, my mom was left alone to raise four kids. We struggled, and my mom cleaned homes in order to provide. I watched my mom. She was tired but still worked hard every day.
My view as I grew up was shaped by this. I admired my mom for her strength and resilience, but my view on what I wanted for myself was different: I will work hard, I will make a name for myself, and I will have a career so I never live this way. I won't struggle this way.
As I became an adult, I focused my life on work and prestige. I built a career for myself, and my personal life took a major hit because of it. I couldn't keep a marriage together. My value came from how much money I could make and how quickly I could spend it. I had prestige and thought it defined me. What I didn't realize is that it would bring me to a place of big mistakes and a false feeling of being my own god. This is no secret in the lives of men, but you see it also happening to many women as well. We are pushed to succeed. It's admired. And if we are not driven by success, we are driven to find the acceptance of people and become people pleasers. So, we find our worth in who people say we are or by our performance in the workplace – how the world measures identity and success.
Today, women battle this whether they work 9-5 jobs, stay at home raising their families, work endlessly in their churches, dedicate their lives to their kids’ sports, events, schools, etc. The list is endless. Do you ever sit down and wonder, What am I doing today that defines me? Where is my purpose? Where do I seek to identify myself? Is it in all I am doing as opposed to who I am in Jesus? If I am defined by what I am doing as opposed to WHO I am in King Jesus, then I have placed my god somewhere else.
Prestige: How much money can I make? How big is my home? What kind of car do I drive? Is my kid in the best school? Do I wear the best clothes? How do people see me? Do people look up to me?
Work: Am I leading in my career? Do I work long enough hours? Am I making a difference, and is it moving forward?
And the ultimate question is this: IF MY WORK AND STATUS WERE TAKEN AWAY FROM ME, WHAT WOULD MY LIFE LOOK LIKE?
Would I fall apart?
Would it cause division in my marriage?
Would I lose myself and sense of purpose?
Would I lose friends?
Would I lose HOPE?
And ultimately, if I follow Jesus as I say I do, would His plan in my life take a turn, and would I give up?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then there is a chance your identity is found much more in what you do than in who you are in Christ.
Let's look at what God has to say about this, because He already knew we would battle the world against the spirit, so He mentions it many times in His Word. Why? Because it would be a constant problem. God knew we would fight the world and it would collide with His truth. And without Jesus, we will ALWAYS seek to lift ourselves above our God.
Jesus spoke about consistently dying to who we believe we are and being in surrender to Him, apart from this world:
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23 NIV
Paul made it very clear how important it is to live in this world but not be driven by it:
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Colossians 3:23-24 ESV
Paul told us that it's not US who live, but Jesus who lives IN us:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Galatians 2:20 NIV
Scripture is filled with constant reminders to die to oneself and the new spirit that is birthed within us – the Spirit of Jesus Christ. With a new birth comes a new person, and with a new person comes a view of life that is much different than one of the flesh.
I told you the story of what shaped my life as I grew up and what motivated me to make the decisions I did, but as a new creation, I am now shaped by one person and one goal. I am DEFINED by Jesus Christ, who lives in me, and my PURPOSE is to live for the glory of GOD in this world. That is the commitment I make as I lay down my own life and pick up my cross.
Our labor can and will be used by God, as long as we are willing and able to give it to Him. Does this mean I cannot have success in my career? No. It means that my purpose is not in my success. Does this mean I cannot have things of value in this life? No. It means that I am not motivated by having these things. It is not my goal to attain these things. Does this mean I am not able to want to work with excellence and look forward to being recognized for it? No. It means that my goal is not to be recognized by any of the platforms God has ordained us in. Because, that is what God has given us in our workplace. He has given us a harvest for His name to prosper through all.
We must remember that Jesus ALREADY accomplished the most important work on this earth, and we must live with that power and truth. Our HOPE is in HIM. It's wonderful to be ambitious and want to work with drive in us. But we must always remember WHO we ultimately work for. We must pray through all decisions and all work we do. Our graceful God will always remind us that finding our identity in what we do as opposed to who we are will be a foundation that will fall.
“When your identity is in Christ, your identity is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Criticism cannot change it, failing cannot shake it, and lists cannot determine it. When your identity is in Christ, your identity is rock solid.”
Our workplace is our ministry ground, because it belongs to our God. We have all been given gifts to work in this world in order to glorify Him and bring the GOOD NEWS of JESUS.