Get ready to be God.
Over the next two nights, the world will watch as Lance Armstrong enters the celebrity confessional booth organized under the auspices of culture’s great high priestess. He will confess his sins, cry his tears, and cower in remorse at Oprah’s feet, seeking mercy from the Mother of Morality.
Meanwhile, we get to play God. We get to cast our vote through blogging and social media to decide if he’s forgiven (salvation) or must be punished (damnation). The entire drama is exceedingly religious, with a priestess who ultimately cannot mediate between us and God (unlike Jesus), and a man in pursuit of a forgiveness that cannot save.
Whether or not he walks away from the worst crash of his life, Lance Armstrong will forever stride with a limp. Mr. Livestrong will be Mr. Crashhard. The International Cycling Union stripped Lance Armstrong of all seven of his Tour de France titles back in October. His decorated identity is gone forever. The man formerly associated with perseverance and triumph over adversity will now be known as a cheat, a liar, and a self-absorbed worshiper of the god he sees every morning while brushing his teeth. No matter how many tears he sheds on national television, no matter how much money he pays in lost endorsement deals, and no matter what sanctions or legal punishment he endures, nothing will ever buy back the sterling reputation Lance Armstrong once enjoyed.
His plight reveals just how fragile and fickle an identity truly is. When one of the greatest heroes in the world turns into a villain virtually overnight, each of us should take the opportunity to consider who we really are.
You may not have any prestigious cycling awards to your name, but if all the ways you measure your value disappeared in an instant—health, wealth, spouse, children, beauty, girlfriend, Facebook friends, résumé, GPA, car, job—would there be any “you” left? Would your identity survive if your dark secret suddenly became international news?
How we see ourselves is our identity. As a parent, a pastor, and a sinner, I believe that correctly knowing one’s true identity is the one thing that changes everything. The problem is, most of us don’t. The world’s fundamental problem is that we don’t understand who we truly are, and instead define ourselves by our appearance, our possessions, our relationships, our sexuality, our achievements, our suffering, our failures, etc.
When we get our identity wrong, we become guilty of idolatry: living for a created thing (like cycling, people’s praise, victory, or money) rather than the Creator of all things. Tragically, many who lose their individual identity idol either fight desperately to keep it (so goes Mr. Armstrong, pedaling up a steep hill trying to regain his status as decent human being), or simply choose another one and repeat the entire painful process over and over and over. We move from one addiction to another, one religious commitment to another, one relationship to another, one cause to another, and one possession to another, continually seeking the answer to the question, “Who am I?”
There’s only one true answer to our identity crisis: Jesus Christ.
The absolute worst place to begin constructing an identity is yourself, which is precisely where most counseling begins. The absolute best place to begin constructing an identity is Jesus Christ, which is precisely where Scripture begins. Knowing that Jesus made us, and knowing that we are saved by him through faith is the key to your identity. It’s not about you—it’s all about Jesus.A lesser-known figure in the sporting world articulates the practical implications of this theology well. “What I do is not who I am. If I become what I do and I become just a football coach, then you’re asking for disaster,” Georgia's Mark Richt said recently. “My identity is in Christ. I am a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. I know that he died for my sin and I am going to heaven when this is all said and done, forever. That gives me peace, no matter what happens here.”
A relationship with Jesus isn’t just about future life in eternity—it’s about new life in the present. Jesus offers freedom from the pressure to create, maintain, hide, achieve, buy, or race your way to an identity that’s ultimately going to fail anyway. Jesus has already done all the work on our behalf: he lived the perfect life we could never achieve and died to cover our guilt and sin—so all we have to do is enjoy God.
Get Mark's new book here.New identity in Jesus is God’s great gift to humanity, and it’s much better than anything Oprah or the watching world will offer Lance Armstrong. I pray that Lance receives it. And I pray that you receive it—before the other identity you’re clinging to crashes and leaves you with nothing but bitter confusion and pain as you lay on the shoulder of the road of life.