rebelling against low expectations

The Identity Crisis of Today’s Christian Teen


Gen Z is facing an unprecedented identity crisis.

Every time I ask a youth pastor or Christian leader what they think is the biggest struggle teens are facing today, the answer is the same: identity.

I’ve observed this myself. Teens are struggling to know who they are and if they matter. I hear their questions and as an early-twenties Gen Z, I can relate.

Who am I? What determines my identity? What is the purpose of life?

Do a quick web search on “identity crisis” and it’s not hard to figure out the general consensus on how to fix one. We’re encouraged to “look inward and explore,” “go on a journey of self-discovery,” “do things that make you happy,” “ignore judgment” and in short, turn our focus entirely toward ourselves. Our identity is something only we can define and our emotions get the ruling vote on who we are.

Any objective standard of identity has been torn away and relocated on the shaky, shifting ground of our ever-changing emotions. Growing up in the midst of such uncertainty, is it any wonder teens are questioning who they are?

Identity in Christ…or Identity Crisis?

Even Christian teens are fighting the identity battle. I’ve heard numerous sermons, read dozens of articles, and listened to countless songs that talk about “who God says we are,” or encourage that we’re loved or valuable or worthy.

It’s the right desire, but often, it starts at the wrong place. Understanding who we are in Christ is critically important, but beginning a theology of identity with who we are leaves out the most important piece of the story—who God is.

Understanding who we are in Christ is critically important, but beginning a theology of identity with who we are leaves out the most important piece of the story—who God is. Click To Tweet

Lists of “who you are” statements are filled with deep truth, but often little substance. You are loved…but those words make little dent in love-hungry hearts if they doesn’t understand who loves them. You’re chosen…but chosen by whom? Why did they choose us? You’re redeemed…but those words lack impact if we don’t deeply comprehend what we’re redeemed from and the greatness of our Redeemer’s heart.

Far too often, we open with the “You are,” “We are,” “I am,” story instead of the “He is” story.

Identity in Christ Begins with the Gospel

Teens (and adults) do need to know who they are. If we disregard the important truths that we are loved, chosen, redeemed, forgiven, etc., we have a truncated theology of identity. But when our default responses to important questions of identity focus more on us than on God, we settle for answers that mimic the world’s self-focused approach. “Identity in Christ” cannot be separated from Christ and all that comes within the message of the gospel—God’s holiness, mankind’s rebellion, and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. If our teaching of identity glosses over these foundational truths, “identity in Christ” simply becomes a Christian catch-phrase that leaves the hearers wondering how to find identity in God when all they’ve been told is more about themselves.

Identity in Christ Understands the Imago Dei

To have a solid understanding of biblical identity, we also need to comprehend the rich theology of the imago Dei—the image of God. Scripture tells us “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

The imago Dei has radical implications upon identity that go beyond information about ourselves. After all, it’s about His image, not our own. We’re simply bearers—reflections and shadows—of that image. As the only creation who can boast this incredible distinction, the imago Dei imbues humanity with intrinsic value, reveals the depth of God’s character and creativity, outlines guidelines on how we should live, work, and use our bodies, and defines the ultimate goal of our lives—to glorify and exalt our Creator.

Yet the greatest power and beauty of the imago Dei is found in the character of the God whose image we bear. Our understanding of identity is enriched and made secure as we plunge deeper into the immeasurable depths of God’s goodness, power, and wisdom. The more we know God, the more secure our identity will be. Created in the image of a perfect and holy God, shaped by His hand, we can rest securely, knowing that the DNA within our bodies, and all the days of our lives were written before our hearts began beating and the One who wrote the script is sovereign over all.

We Need More God-Discovery

The true reason for today’s identity crises is not that we have forgotten who we are, but that society has rejected the God who created them. Cut off from the source of all life and truth, humanity naturally flounders. Hardened hearts sink into confusion and despair as they refuse to grasp hold of the lifeline of truth extended to them—the knowledge of God and saving blood of Jesus.

As I say in my book Stand Up, Stand Strong: A Call To Bold Faith in a Confused Culture: “Understanding our identity begins with a greater understanding of God. While culture places secure identity within a journey of self-discovery, that journey is a dead-end road. We don’t need more self-discovery. We need more God-discovery.”

We cannot find within ourselves what can only be found within the heart of God. But within His heart, we find all we need and more besides. Click To Tweet

There is a greater and more lasting standard of identity than what can be found on an internet search. Look to God’s Word and explore His truth. Go on a journey of knowing the God who created you. Do things that glorify God and serve others. Ignore the lies that tell you identity is found within yourself. Because, to be honest, the deeper you go within yourself, the more you’ll find out that Scripture is true, that the heart is deceitfully wicked and that no one is righteous (Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10). Turn all the focus to Jesus Christ and let His truth and righteousness get the ruling vote on who you are.

We cannot find within ourselves what can only be found within the heart of God. But within His heart, we find all we need and more besides.

A version of this was previously published on The Gospel Coalition.

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  • Great reminder Sara. What a beautiful thing it would be if we gave up our obsession with self-discovery and exchanged it for pursuit of our Saviour instead!

By Sara Starkey
rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →