From the moment we are born, the words spoken over us begin to mold our identity, for better or for worse. Relatives, teachers, and peers comment on our appearance, our character, and our personality. As we grow, these words build an image of who we are, or more accurately, who we think we are or should be.
The reality that words have the power to identify and shape us first struck me while I was researching more effective ways to reach people in my generation. As I brainstormed, I realized that the first step to reach and serve my peers was to gain a better understanding of how they see themselves.
So I posted this question on my Facebook page: “If you could describe the young adult generation today in one word, what would it be?” The majority of the answers that came in were: Lost. Unhappy. Searching. Hungry. Distracted. Lazy. Broken. Lacking. Entitled. Disillusioned.
It broke my heart to see that many of these disheartening responses were from my peers. These words expressed what they believed to be true about themselves—which was so much less than what they are called to be! As I read through the comments, I remembered some passages in the Bible that declare the opposite of the negative words people had written.
For example, 1 Peter 2:9 uses words like chosen, royal, and holy to describe who we are. Note what this verse does not say—that we are lost, lazy, entitled, or broken. In other words, we are called to fulfill God’s plans and live up to his expectations, not the world’s.
“But you are God’s chosen treasure—priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world.”1 Peter 2:9 TPT
The reality about labels is that they’re limiting. They speak to who we are now, limiting us to what has already happened. That is the tendency of the world and society around us—to define us based on our past or present. A calling, on the other hand, speaks to the future, to whom God has created us to be and what he plans for us to do. It goes beyond the trauma or pain we have been through, the mistakes we have committed, and the circumstances we are in right now. The tendency of the world is to limit us to what they can see in the natural, whereas God speaks to the eternity within our hearts and calls it forth. He speaks to the potential that we have found in him, not to who we have been. Therefore, our identity is not found in labels from this world; it’s found in the calling that we have from God.
In the gospel of Matthew we find the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. The enemy comes to tempt him, but first, before he tempts, he attacks Jesus’ identity. He poses the question, “How can you possibly be the Son of God?” (Matthew 4:3 TPT). If the devil can cause us to question our identity, then he can get us to compromise and succumb to temptation—behaving out of character.
When Jesus’ identity was called into question, he didn’t react out of a place of insecurity. He didn’t show some cheap display of his power to prove who he was. He simply spoke Scripture back to the enemy. You have to understand, the enemy knew exactly who Jesus was; he had been with Christ in heaven before the foundation of the world. What he was trying to do was get Jesus’ focus off of his mission and onto himself.
When people attempted to put labels on Jesus, they had no place to stick. Jesus knew what Scripture had spoken and didn’t stray away from it. Unfortunately, I’ve seen our generation stray from this approach. We are a generation with the most information but yet, I hate to say, the least amount of transformation. We know what the most recent podcast or message says about us or what the well-known pastor recently posted on Instagram, but I’m afraid we’ve exchanged that knowledge for the information where you find true transformation—God’s Word.
This is why worldly labels are able to take root in our hearts: When we hear people saying things about us, such as that we are broken or entitled, we begin to believe them. We’re unaware of what Scripture says over us. We don’t know how to use the Word to combat the enemy. This is like going into battle with a sword but not knowing how to use it or without the strength to lift it.
I believe this generation is called to transform this world, but in order for us to step into this calling, we have to shake off the false labels that have been placed on us. I admit, there were far too many times that I reacted to things in 2020, rather than responding in alignment with my true identity. At certain times, I felt like a ship at sea caught in a violent storm. We don’t know what all 2021 will bring, but what I do know is what we can build our foundation on that will weather any storm: the Word of God.
Here’s the bottom line: Our callings trump labels every time. Labels shrink our world; callings enlarge our world. Labels disqualify and limit us; callings qualify and release us. Labels are temporary; callings are eternal. When the storms of life hit, we can be a generation that stands out from the world and truly is a light for people around us.
In my book, Redefined: Confronting the Labels That Limit Us, I try to show you how to use the Word of God to combat the labels placed on us from this world. I want so much more for this generation, my generation, and I know we are capable of it—but it’s time we get back to the Word of God and all its transformative power to redefine us and the world around us!