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Identity in Spirituality by Paul David Tripp


Identity In Spirituality

We’re in the middle of a series focusing on identity, examining some dangerous places where we substitute identity “in Christ” for identity in the created world. Last week, we considered our misplaced identity in relationships and the week before, identity in achievement.

Today I want share a third identity trap with you through the vignette of a man I knew named Joe. His struggle was that he misplaced his identity in his personal spiritual performance.

When Joe first met Jesus, he was overwhelmed by his desperate need for God’s grace. He saw his sin everywhere and was constantly thankful for the daily mercy and patience of the Redeemer.

Since no one is better at giving grace than the person who knows they need it most, Joe was patient with the people around him who struggled. He knew that they were essentially no different from him and that he was only kept by God’s grace.

But as Joe grew older, something began to change in his heart. He felt as though he deserved to be a child of God. He was proud of his theological knowledge and had little patience for Christians who weren’t motivated to study their faith. He looked down on brothers and sisters who struggled faithfully to participate in public worship and small groups.

When Joe put his check in the offering plate on Sunday, he scanned the sanctuary wondering who was getting a “free ride.” He loved to show people the photo albums of the many short-term missions trips he had been on, and he didn’t understand why some people were never willing to give up one week to serve God. The once tender, grateful Joe had given way to a hard and self-assured Christian man.

What was Joe’s ultimate problem? He misplaced his identity “in Christ” and transferred it over to his personal spiritual performance. He didn’t realize what was happening, but Joe started to approach every Christian activity as an opportunity to put another notch in his belt of righteousness.

Before we distance ourselves from Joe, let’s humbly consider that we may be more like him than unlike him. It’s tempting to respond to Joe like the Pharisee does in Luke 18 (“God, I thank you that I am not like other men…”), but isn’t that exactly what Joe said to God? Wasn’t he essentially declaring that he didn’t need grace as much as the others?

Brothers and sisters, could it be that although we’re heavily active in church, we’re doing it out of a sense of duty instead of with a willing, loving and worshipful heart? Might it be that in what we say we do for God, we actually do for ourselves and our own misplaced personal identity?

Here’s what you need to ask yourself: “Do I live today like I need Christ’s grace as much as the first day I believed?” Or is there evidence of a cold-hearted, duty-bound relationship to religion? It’s a hard pill to swallow when you find out that you’ve left a Pharisee’s legacy, but God will transform us, even when we don’t think we need his grace.

Don’t attempt to place your identity in your personal spiritual performance; the whole reason Christ came to earth was because our performance was inadequate! Rather, rest in the perfect performance of Christ on your behalf and live in humble, loving and grateful relationship with God and others.

God bless

Paul David Tripp


  1. What was your life like when you first came to know Christ?
  2. How have you matured since your early days of faith? Who deserves the credit for your spiritual growth?
  3. In what ways has your passion for the Lord faded since those early days? Why could that be?
  4. What evidence is there in your life that you might be more like Joe than unlike him?
  5. What can you do to live like you need Christ’s grace as much as the first day you believed?

This resource is from Paul Tripp Ministries. For additional resources, visit Used with permission

10 thoughts on “Identity in Spirituality by Paul David Tripp

  1. Ryan Smith

    That hit me between the eyes. I was literally thinking that I can’t stand people like this and thank God I’m not like them because I believe in the unmerited grace of God and am not like those legalistic people. Then Paul Tripp used my exact thoughts to show me that I am the one who went away unjustified in the parable. Okay. Humbled. So the legalist’s sin of trusting in himself is a warning to me now. The parable is not for “those people” but for me.

    • ajcerda

      Well put Ryan!

  2. Wow I agree with Ryan! Nothing like some humble pie for lunch. I always appreciate Paul Tripp.

  3. Lenette

    I’m a new reader AJ and have a much different background than most of your readers probably do. I usually find the stuff you post to be like water for my thirsty soul. I really like this one. I get the feeling that I am missing out on so much grace but I am starting to see that we have different understandings of what Grace is. I have been taught that there are two graces. The grace within us which is not natural but necessary for eternal life and given at baptism and the grace that we get from God by participating in the sacraments which keeps the other grace within us alive. I don’t remember what they are called. I can’t boast of my inner grace because it was given to me not earned but the grace that I get from the sacraments is something I have earned. I can absolutely have more or less of the inner grace depending on how I respond to God through my life. So if I can have more than the next person I can be thankful that I’m not like the person who hasn’t received communion in a year. But what this guy is saying is no, doing that makes me proud and makes me impatient with others. I see this in me at Mass. I look down on those who are not doing as well as I am and I think this is because I might not understand grace at all. The last paragraph is hard for me to understand but I think I’m getting it. I have read similar things here and it puzzles me. Because the fact is my entire identity is in my spiritual performance. My spiritual performance is what determines where I end up after I die. This guy said to rest in the perfect performance of Christ on my behalf and be humble. This is a grace that I know nothing about. But I need it. I have no rest. I have no confidence because I continue to sin.

    • ajcerda

      Hi Lenette, I’m glad God is using the posts to quench your thirst for grace. I really like what Marie said. Start with the Bible. After all that is what should guide any of our religious language right? If your church has changed the meaning of grace then Marie is right…get out! After all, if it is by grace that we are saved (Ephesians 2:8) then that is a word that we want to understand properly! The Bible doesn’t speak of grace as something which we possess. It speaks of it as a disposition toward us by God. God’s disposition toward us is to give us what we can not merit, what we can not earn. This neither increases nor decreases because it is not based upon our accomplishments or failures but upon what Christ has done. He earned perfect and un-dilutable grace in his own obedience. So once we are in Christ, we are the recipients of grace upon grace. But though we are given it, it isn’t an object. Rather, we receive God’s unmerited favor…his disposition of favor toward his children.

  4. Lenette hi! I totally know what you’re going through and the problem is your church is not teaching the same faith that the Bible teaches. Seriously! It may sound strange to think about but look up all the times you find the word grace in the bible and then see if it is defined how your church says it is. Then find a new church sister! Where do you live? Oh, here’s a link to all the times grace appears to start you off!

  5. Lenette

    Oh good morning Marie. I don’t know why I keep coming back here. It never makes me feel good but I think it is all true. I just don’t get this kind of teaching at church any more. Aaron what you said makes so much sense but it just seems all too good to be true that I’m afraid if I start believing it I will be making an excuse to sin and won’t be able to restrain the sin I see in me. I want it to be true but I don’t want to let go just in case it isnt. I looked up all of those verses on grace and I think you are right. They don’t say anything about keeping God’s grace by going to church receiving communion or penance. But where does this come from? I thought my church was using teaching from the Bible. Or at least I believed they were.I live in Wichita.

  6. Oh Lenette! I am so happy to hear you say those words. Okay well listen I did some calling around from a friend who I trust who has friends in Omaha who have friends in Wichita and they said there is a great church in Manhattan,KS . They said the people there are all from different backgrounds and the teaching is good. It’s called Christ the Redeemer Church and they are at
    610 S. Scenic Dr.

  7. Lenette

    Oh dear girl. That’s nearly two hours from here! Thank you though.That was very sweet of you.

  8. Oh so sorry Lenette! I don’t know the area but they said it was nearby but I think each time another person got in the loop the “nearby” shifted a bit to what is nearby them lol! Can I look more or am I assuming wrong that you would be interested?

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