Many women today struggle to answer the bigger questions. What does it mean to be a woman? Should I marry? How should I spend my time and energy: career, home, or both? Who am I if my children are grown or my husband is gone? The most critical questions, however, deal with our identity: Who am I? Why am I here? Am I enough? The answers to these three philosophical questions have practical implications for all aspects of daily lives and for our destiny. Our identity forms the bedrock for all our relationships.
Society suggests we base our identity on several different and sometimes competing sources: the roles we play, our appearance, our educational or financial status, and our gifts and abilities. A glance at the news reveals clashes over which group memberships should have preeminence in the way we see ourselves: race, ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation, etc. Within the church, definitions of biblical womanhood or femininity often lead us to believe that our identity depends on our clothing choices, our marital status, or our submission.
As a result, many of us find ourselves in an identity crisis: confused about our God-given identity. Identity has been defined as the fact of being who or what a person is. I like to think of it as that permanent part of who we are that remains when all else disappears. Ellen G. White tells us: “Our personal identity is preserved in the resurrection.”1 Our God-given identity is not defined by other people’s perception of us. It is not tied to our personalities. Our core identity underlies and outlasts our roles and affiliations.
Our identity as Christian women lies not so much in what we think about ourselves as in what God thinks and says about us. The theologian A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”2 To which C. S. Lewis responded, “How God thinks of us is not only more important but infinitely more important.”3 Both are vitally important. Our God-given identity depends not just on who we believe God is, but also on who we believe we are to Him. In exploring our identity as godly women, we can benefit from looking more closely at what God thinks of us.
We build our identities as Christians on three aspects of how God looks at us and therefore how we should look at ourselves. I identify each of these pillars of our core identity with a name God associates with us.
Who We Are From the Beginning: God Calls You Beauty
In Genesis 1:27 the Bible tells us God created us in His own image; male and female He created us. When He had finished His work, He pronounced His creations “very good.” What does it mean to us as women that we are created in the image of God? that we carry His image? When God created you, He created a beauty in His image. Yes, decades have marred the image, yet we remain “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). God is beautiful. We continue to be His image bearers. When He looks at us, He sees reflections of His beauty.
Professor Julie Foster conducted an experiment captured in her short YouTube video Come Sunday.4 She asked her participants to close their eyes and imagine something beautiful. People thought of nature and other kinds of beauty. As they opened their eyes, she showed them a reflection of their own faces. Many looked shocked and amazed as they realized someone had just called them beautiful. Like them, we may struggle to see ourselves as God sees us. Others may judge our beauty on our physical characteristics: a body shaped to the current ideal, the right hairstyle or outfit, our display of our physical assets. But God uses a different standard. He sees us as beautiful.
Like the participants in Professor Foster’s study, acknowledging ourselves as beautiful changes the way we operate in the world. We no longer feel the need to create our own beauty physically or spiritually. We can simply rejoice in the wonder of the woman God has created—who she is today and whom she is blossoming into under His care.
Who We Are Through the Blood: God Calls You Beloved
Despite all the changes to the status of women over the past five or six decades, women still struggle to determine their value in society and in the world. Debates within the Christian community often center on the value of being a homemaker versus having a career, being single versus married. Many of us struggle with feeling “less than.” The value we place on ourselves forms part of our identity.
Our God-given identity is based not just on our origin but also on the price paid for us. Some years ago my aunt gifted me with a beautiful bag—an orange leather bag roomy enough to hold my daily work paraphernalia and professional enough to take to meetings. I used it a lot and enjoyed it as a gift from someone who loved me. My bag drew an unusual number of comments. Curious about all the attention, I looked the bag up online. My jaw dropped. I could never have afforded a bag like that. I enjoyed it because of the source of the gift, but my students noticed it because they knew how much it cost.
Our worth as Christian women is based on how much we cost. I grew up believing Proverbs 31 set the standard for my worth as a Christian woman. It seemed she was worth far more than rubies because of all the things that she accomplished. One day I realized how wrong I was. Those things made her rightfully precious to her husband and her children because through those acts she demonstrated her love for them. Those things, however, did not determine or indicate her worth. Our worth as Christian women does not come from us. We cannot earn our worth with our modesty, our obedience, or our submission. Our worth is measured by the price God is willing to pay for us: Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection. At the cross, Christ restored to us the value that we seemed to have lost in the Fall. Calvary makes us priceless.
Christ’s death on Calvary gives us the right to the name Beloved (John 3:16). I found an interesting comment on the Internet: “Beloved should only be used in formal writing/poetry or when you are writing a very serious love letter.”5 The Bible is God’s serious love letter to us, His Beloved. In Isaiah 43:1-6 God talks about our worth. He calls us precious because He loves us (verse 4). He calls us by name, claims us as His, and promises us that He will ransom us even at the price of entire nations. God rescued us when the devil stole and enslaved us like women stolen from their homes by sex traffickers. Our God-given identity comes from the fact that we were created in God’s image, redeemed by His blood, and adopted back into His family.
Who We Are Through Adoption: God Calls You Daughter
In our age of travel, immigration, and competing identities, women often question “Where do I belong? Whom do I belong to?” In answer to these questions, God calls us daughter of God.
What does it mean to you when you say “God is my Father. I am God’s daughter”? When we strayed from God, He not only rescued us, He reclaimed us. He adopted us. Adopting us means He chose us again. He chose you with all your imperfections, to be His—to be part of His family.
The Bible records only one example of Jesus calling a woman “daughter.” The only woman Jesus directly calls “daughter” in His earthly ministry is the woman with the issue of blood—an unnamed woman outcast by society, ritually unclean. I imagine people had called her all sorts of names as they scurried to avoid touching even her clothes. After 12 years she must have gotten used to answering to the label “unclean,” seeing herself as ugly and unloved. No one called her Beautiful or Beloved. Yet in one word God restores her to her rightful place. No longer an outcast, she belongs—irrevocably claimed.
A second adoption account, in Ezekiel 16:1-14, moves me to tears each time I read it. God finds us, an abandoned baby, dirty and kicking in its own blood in a field. God looks at the child with love. He sees in this baby the beautiful woman she will become. He rescues her and takes her home. He washes her, dresses, nourishes, and nurtures her as she grows. He adorns her as His princess. Eventually others can see her beauty too. Our adoption means more than simply giving us the family name. Our adoption connects us permanently to God. Paul uses the analogy of a limb grafted onto a vine. As they grow together, they become permanently bonded.
Even though we are adopted, sometimes we don’t feel beautiful, beloved, or belonging. We still worry about our place in the world. Perhaps it is because of the name you answer to. The devil is a liar. He calls us by names that are not truly ours. Society seeks to label us in ways that don’t match God’s view of us. Ralph Abernathy is quoted as saying “What matters is not what others call us, it is the name we answer to.”6
Under difficult circumstances we may forget our God-given identity and change our own names. After Naomi lost everything, she refused to answer to her real name. She chose another name, Mara (bitterness), that she felt reflected who she had become. She confused her circumstances with her identity and forgot that God could change her circumstances. We don’t have to wait for our circumstances to change, until we get married, finish our degree, get our dream job, or become holier to answer to our God-given name and walk in our God-given identity. It is OK to answer proudly to our roles (wife, mother, director, doctor, daughter) or to acknowledge our racial, ethnic, national and political identities, as long as those roles, those other identities, do not conflict with our core identity—our God-given name.
Claiming Our God-given Identity: Answer to Your Name
A friend challenged me to an experiment, to choose a nickname that reflected a character trait I wanted to develop, and to use that nickname when called in public. Struggling to accept God’s view of me, I chose “Beauty.” The first few times someone called me Beauty I didn’t answer. I didn’t recognize my name. The next few times, I responded, sheepishly looking around to see if anyone noticed that my name didn’t match my face and my figure. Eventually I remembered. God-given beauty is “baked into” our DNA. It cannot be removed. Hidden—yes. Distorted—perhaps. But never removed. As godly women, we need to assert our God-given identities at every opportunity—to ourselves and to others. Claim your name over and over, Beautiful, Beloved Daughter, created in His image, redeemed by His blood, permanently irrevocably adopted as His child. Our view of ourselves will show in the way we carry ourselves, in the way we dress, in the way we treat others, and be reflected in all our roles. All our other identities will reflect our core identity: created, redeemed, and adopted. May God help us live our names.
1 Ellen G. White, Maranatha (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1976), p. 301.
2 A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1978), p. 1.
3 C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Macmillan Co., 1966), p. 10, quoted in C.S. Lewis Institute, “Reflections: Standing Before God,” Reflections (blog), Mar. 1, 2010, https://www.cslewisinstitute.org/resources/reflections-march-2010/.
4 Julie Foster, Come Sunday, YouTube, Mar. 4, 2018, video, https://youtu.be/MqF8Olo_904.
5 Murray Hill, “How and When Do You Use the Word Beloved,” Quora, https://www.quora.com/How-and-when-do-you-use-the-word-beloved, accessed Sept. 8, 2023.
6 Ralph Abernathy, quoted in “Top 15 Ralph Abernathy Quotes,” Quote Fancy (blog), https://quotefancy.com/ralph-abernathy-quotes, accessed Aug. 30, 2023.