Following God's Heart, Not Our Own

My husband recently made this statement in a sermon: “As Christians, we believe in an alien identity and an alien purpose. We believe that our identity and purpose come not from within, but from above.” These days, that kind of statement can be an unusual way to talk about identity!

Who Does Identity Come From?

We are practically indoctrinated to believe the opposite by the stories, movies, music, and ideas of our time. We commonly hear identity spoken of in a way that I’ve taken to calling “The Disney Gospel.” Does this sound familiar?

“Believe in yourself; be true to who you are on the inside.”

“Follow your heart.”

“The truth and strength you need are within you.”

Yes, I do enjoy many Disney movies, but this philosophy that is explicit in almost all children’s movies today is also infused into much of our adult entertainment. And this way of thinking about identity is deceptive. No matter how nice it sounds, this belief in ourselves will fail us in the long run, because ultimately, it is not based in truth or reality.

As Christians, we believe in a Creator. Our identity is determined, not by our own feelings and perceptions, but by Him. In Genesis 1 we read,

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Created by God's Design

From the beginning, all humans were created with a specificity in their very bodies—all of us are created either male or female. The first man and woman were created within the context of the first marriage, and their identities were defined by their relationships with God and with each other. Our physical design as either male or female was intended by our Creator to continually point us to our dependence on Him. God is the giver of all good gifts. He created all of creation to sustain us. He gave Adam and Eve as gifts to the animals and all living creatures, to nourish and care for them. And He gave Adam and Eve as gifts to each other, so that together they could fulfill their calling to, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28), and so that they could find comfort and joy in each other.

Martin Luther writes in his explanation to the first article of the Apostles' Creed:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have.

God has given us our bodies and souls and continues to care for them, and one of the ways He does this is through the gift of relationships with others. Although not all men and women are called to marriage, all men and women are designed and created as male and female as a first-article gift of God for their benefit and for the benefit of all creation. Our bodies tangibly point us to our dependence on each other and remind us that we are all gifts to one another. Parents are gifts to their children and children to their parents, husbands and wives are gifts to each other, and all members of the Body of Christ are gifts to the Body. We all are called to represent (or image) God to each other through interdependence and care. This design is a gift!


Defending God's Design Today 

Today, however, the idea that we are all created either male or female and that marriage is to be between a man and a woman is not always welcomed as a gift or a good design. This kind of message is popularly considered to be oppressive. The truth that we are designed and called to live for our neighbor and not for ourselves flies in the face of what we want to believe, that we should follow our own hearts. Indeed, because of sin many people do not experience their gender and sexuality as a gift. The existence of homosexuality and transgenderism point to the fact that we live in a fallen world, but they are not the only way that men and women reject their God-given identities. Any time we face the temptation to separate sex from God’s gift of marriage, any time a husband is tempted to abdicate his role as the spiritual leader of his household, any time a spouse thinks of their partner as someone for them to get something from instead of someone for them to serve, we see God’s design tainted by sin.

Because of sin, we are often tempted to reject our design, just as Adam and Eve were tempted in the garden to reject their dependence on God and to live independent of His Word. Romans 1:25 says, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” When we believe that our identity comes from within our own hearts, we are exchanging the truth for a lie. We are turning inward and elevating ourselves as the creature over the Creator.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
(Jeremiah 17:9)

The good news is that God is not content to let our hearts deceive us forever. Through Jesus Christ, He re-creates each of us to be His children once again. In Ezekiel 36:26, God describes the way our hearts are re-created by the Holy Spirit: “And 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.” Left to our own devices, we all have hearts of stone—unwilling to hear God’s Word and unwilling to live according to His design. But through the work of the Holy Spirit, God makes our hearts soft again so that we can hear His Word and once again see the beauty and joy of living as creatures dependent on Him and on each other.

To learn more about God’s design for men and women and the way this design reminds us of our dependence on God and points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, check out Male and Female: Embracing Your Role in God’s Design.

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Written by

Christa Petzold

Christa lives with her husband and four children in Bartlett, Illinois. She has an MA in theology and a BA in mathematics and Lutheran secondary education, and she is coauthor of Male and Female: Embracing Your Role in God’s Design. She spends her time homeschooling, teaching theology, writing, and learning as much as she can about church history. Find her at

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