As a young adult living in the 21st century, I often hear that the teenage years are the crucial moments where one can explore the world to figure out who they really are — the things they like and what they would like to do when they grow up. Many teenagers are given the freedom to do all sorts of things — taking classes, applying for internships, or maybe even backpacking through Europe — to answer the big question, “What am I going to do with my life?”
This liberty of experimentation encourages us to see everything the world offers so that we may know ourselves better. Thus many nurture romantic relationships, apply to their favorite schools, choose career paths, believing in their hearts that it is the right thing to do. However, this exploration journey might not be forever a smooth sail — relationships may end with heartbreaks, school applications replied by rejection letters, and wrong career decisions leading up to frustration.
Sometimes we are unconsciously experimenting with our own lives, following the demands of our culture, with the hope that we’ll get the much-aspired answer to the question of our identity. Shall we find it in relationships, academic reports, or our professional accomplishments? Or have we been looking in the wrong place all this time?
Experimenting with the Heart
People have a lot to say about hearts. The heart is a delicate thing, they say. When we are about to make important decisions, we’re told that we should follow our hearts. “Go with your gut!” they say.
The Bible also has a lot to say about hearts. Ever since the fall, the disobedience of Adam and Eve has led humans to eternal death (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12). Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The famous reformer and theologian, John Calvin, goes even further, saying that the human heart is a “perpetual forge of idols.”
Naturally, our instinct tells us to follow our hearts, for it is the moral compass we’re commended to rely on. On the other hand, the Bible sees things quite differently; instead of trusting it, we’re presented to the only solution that only God can accomplish – change it, and follow Him instead.
God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God is the solution to our heart problem.
Timothy Keller says, “If you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God, it is going to be too small. It is going to rattle around in there.” None of our heart-forged idols — our relationships, study, or career — can ever fit to the God-shaped hole. We can experiment all we want, but none will quite fit. Ironically, in this search, our natural state fails to distinguish things that are truly beautiful and mere vanities (Romans 1:21-23).
About this C. S. Lewis says, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We are far too easily pleased, indeed.
New Heart and Our Identity
Only a restored heart, the gift of salvation given by grace through faith, can point us to the only One who truly matters, God Himself. It is through Christ, “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature” that we’re enabled to know Him (Hebrews 1:1-3).
In our search for fulfillment, look at Christ who humbled Himself, not counting “equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philipians 2:6-7). Fix our eyes on the One who came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15, John 3:16), by “making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20).
About this Paul testifies, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philipians 3:8).
The experiments can now end. Our identity is found in Christ. What are we supposed to do with our lives? Glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
This is the gospel. This is our identity.