Practicing the Promise of Belonging

Our sacred identity is rooted in the biblical declaration that we are the “image of God,” not because we have won auditions, beauty contests, or out-performed anyone. The cues and clarifying clues of our identity begin with the testimony of the patriarchs, prophets, the apostles, and our Lord. Our sacred identity, that is, identity that is holy and not tainted by the culture’s system of aggressive competition and status, is about belonging—being chosen! It is not about an ability to out-achieve or ascend up a hierarchy of significance or superior performance. It is simply, first and foremost, about belonging because we’ve been chosen!

Sacred identity as belonging is the hub of our generalized sense of identity. Again, it is not about achievement and the mixed motivational blurs that are involved in securing or strengthening our place in a social (I’m more popular), intellectual (I’m smarter), or spiritual (I’m closer to God) hierarchy. That is why it can be called the “sacred” hub of our identity: it is about holy belonging, not striving to secure or improve ranking, strivings which are by their very nature a necessary mixture of selfish and unselfish ambition. We belong because we have been chosen by God!

In contrast to our culture’s emphasis on identity being dominated by various hierarchical orders of prominence—be they family hierarchy, social and work hierarchies, or the cult of celebrity’s hierarchy—the Bible does not associate our identity with hierarchical realities at all. In Scripture, the dominant emphasis is on chosen-ness and belonging. It is, primarily, “I belong to God; therefore, I am.” In fact, Jesus scolds the disciples for being overly concerned about status when they were arguing amongst themselves about who would be the greatest in the coming kingdom (Luke 9:46).

In faithfully practicing our chosen-ness and the graces of belonging, consider two assertions: first, we belong to our Creator. Our value is not tied to our placement along a hierarchical ladder of spiritual prestige. Our value as humans is tied to our belonging to the human family as God’s image-bearers and the unique task for which He has placed us on earth—to cultivate and take care of the garden.[i] This belonging to God, as is all biblically-informed belonging, is gloriously waist-deep in the graces of God’s sovereignty. This includes identification with the wisdom and folly of our earliest spiritual forebears and their journey in discovering the necessity of faithful belonging. Abraham and Sarah were chosen by God, not because they were able to out-perform the rest of the world in the arena of impressing their Creator (Genesis 12: 1-3). They belonged because they were chosen. Our identity is deeply tied to belonging to the work of God amidst and through people since our first parents.

Second, the Bible describes believers as most importantly, belonging to Christ and being chosen to participate in His church. Thinking wisely about our identity invites us to rest in our belonging to and being chosen by Him. This means rejoicing in our shared history with Jesus, of being “crucified with Christ,” baptized into His death, and rising with Him. This is an identity detached from hierarchical ladders of significance and acclaim. Our identity should not be dominated by aspirations of rising up charts of ministerial or cultural renown. As the Apostle Paul notes, our belonging to Jesus Christ, our being chosen by Him, has the believer “seated with Christ in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2: 6).

We belong because we have been chosen by God!


[i] See Genesis 2:15

Paul D. Patton, Ph.D., is a professor of communication and theater at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. He has graduate degrees in Guidance and Counseling, Religious Education, and Script and Screenwriting, and a doctorate in Communication with an emphasis in theater arts. He has been married to his wife Beth for over forty years and has three daughters (all actresses)—Jessica, Emily, and Grace, three sons-in-law, David, Joe, and Eric, and four grandsons, Caleb Rock, Logan Justice, Micah Blaze, and Miles Dean.