Identity, Ethnicity, Culture, and the Gospel

Personal reflections about identity and ethnicity as a mixed race Christian

“Before my identity was ruined for/in Christ (more on this later), I found a big part of my identity in my ethnicity. I am the only child of a white father and a Puerto Rican mother. When we visited family when I was growing up, I always felt different. I “felt” Puerto Rican around my white family, but I also “felt” white around my Puerto Rican family.”

 

You have an identity. Every person in the world has one. I don’t mean the one that can get stolen causing you to cancel all your credit cards, but the identity of how we conceptualize ourselves. Every human being that has ever existed has had some sort of self-image. As thinking and reasoning creatures we have the ability to perceive ourselves based on a variety of circumstances within our culture. Captivated by culture, we can miss our true identity as believers. Our perception becomes our reality. And our reality becomes the framework of our identity if we don’t choose to define ourselves by what God has said in Scripture. So if not by Scripture, how do we define ourselves?

Who Are We?

To answer the question of who we are, one could think about our personhood through a variety of different lenses. Self-identity is wrapped up in so many different aspects of our humanity. The vantage points of our self-image can be viewed from personal choices we make, like what we associate with spiritually; our political views; what we do for a career; personal style; or interests and aspirations. Even aspects of our life that we don’t choose such as where we were born, our physical appearance, or our ethnicity, all play a part in our self-image. Usually the lenses we see ourselves through are the ones that we value most, and we tend to find pockets of communities that serve to further affirm our identity in those particular areas.

The Struggle of Multicultural Identity

Before my identity was ruined for/in Christ (more on this later), I found a big part of my identity in my ethnicity. I am the only child of a white father and a Puerto Rican mother. When we visited family when I was growing up, I always felt different. I “felt” Puerto Rican around my white family, but I also “felt” white around my Puerto Rican family. As I grew older, I subconsciously learned how to navigate the cultural differences between the two different sides of my family. My inner allegiance chose to be Puerto Rican, no matter how “white” my name sounded or how light my skin was. Even though I had a good relationship with my father and his side of the family, I felt embarrassed to be part Anglo-Saxon.

The Cross Ruins Our Identity

Part of the process of becoming a Christian is coming to terms with our ultimate identity. When we become Christ followers, our identity is ruined for and in Christ. Our identity is ruined for Christ when Jesus calls us to take up our cross and to deny the very things in which we had once found identity (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). Our identity is also ruined in Christ by the call to identify our life as a life that has been crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20). Both of these lead us to a new identity, but what is it?

The cross is our new identity: what Jesus accomplished through the cross so that when we die to our self-imaged identity we can find a new identity as we are raised again into life in Jesus (John 11:25). Our new identity is as a son or daughter of the Father, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. Our new family is the Church, a people who have been washed and redeemed in the blood of Christ, across all ethnic and cultural boundaries (Revelation 7:9). Our identity is ultimately found in who God says we are in Scripture and not who the world says we are in culture.

But…

With this we can run into a problem. God doesn’t recreate our personhood and turn believers into some sort of neutral ethnicity with an ethereal culture separate from the world we inhabit. Instead, he uses who we are, culturally and ethnically, in our current time, for his glory. I love aspects of the Puerto Rican culture in my family such as our close relationships and the varieties of food and music, yet I have to always remember that I am first and foremost a Christian whose allegiance is with God and his written Word.

Also, God created me half Caucasian. If my identity is truly in Christ then I will appreciate that part of me as well and not be ashamed of who God created me to be. The Gospel revealed the foolishness of my own ethnic biases and idolatries, allowing me to recognize the full worth of culture from God’s perspective.

My Son’s Identity

I thought I was a prime candidate for cultural and identity issues—and then my son came along. My wife is also mixed, being black and white, and so when our son was born a few months ago, I knew I wanted to be intentional in raising him to appreciate his differing cultural identities. I want my son to see ethnicity and culture as a gift and reflection of a God from whom all cultures and ethnicities derive their humanity. A lot of times we see God through the lens of our culture and picture him to be just like us in our cultural setting, but every culture has attributes that reveal God’s goodness in unique ways. In this understanding of ethnicity and culture, I want my son to be rooted in his identity and allegiance to the Gospel.

The Gospel

The salvation and redemption of mankind, God’s identity bearers, was planned and perpetrated by and through the infinitely good triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father sent the Son into the world through the Spirit to be the Man-God, God incarnate, God in the flesh, to live the perfect, sin-free, and errorless life that no mere man could live, so that he could die the death we deserved. He absorbed the wrath that we could never satisfy and was raised for the identity that we could never obtain. The redemption of our identity in God is only possible because of the cross and the good news of what Jesus accomplished on it.

This article first appeared on raanetwork.org, and is used with permission.