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A Former ‘Celebrity’ Pastor’s Perspective on Freedom

When I was at my absolute worst and most desperate—lost, confused, bitter, angry—my friend Paul Zahl said something to me that I will never forget. He said:

“The purpose behind the suffering you are going through is to kick you into a new freedom from false definitions of who you are.”

I don’t know what you’re going through or what you’re currently losing. I don’t know what you’ve suffered or what you’re guilty of doing. I don’t know your background, what makes you afraid, or what your deepest insecurities are. I don’t know if you hate yourself or love yourself. But what I do know is this: Who you are has nothing to do with you. It doesn’t have to do with how much you can accomplish, who you can become, what you’ve done or failed to do, what other people think of you, the things you’ve accumulated, your behavior (good or bad), your strengths, your weaknesses, your family background, your education, how your kids turn out, how many times you’ve been married, your looks and so on.

Your identity is firmly anchored in Jesus’ accomplishment, not yours; His strength, not yours; His performance, not yours; His victory, not yours. You are NOT what you do (or don’t do). You are what Jesus has done for you. That is the truth.

However, knowing this to be true in my head doesn’t mean that I always believe it in my heart. I still struggle with knowing who I am without some of the people and things I had for the first half of my life. I still struggle with trying to recover some measure of what I used to have and who I used to be, just so life can feel more familiar. There is still so much that I miss. I often feel like a man without a home—an outside wanderer trying to find a recognizable sight or sound, something that I used to know. At times I feel myself internally crying out:

“All that I need is this (familiar) moment,
To send me away with a smile on my face;
I tried to leave but I turn back,
On my heart remains a trace…
If there was a way to get back this feeling of chase…”
(Nic Chagall. “This Moment.”)

But there is no “getting back.”

God, as it turns out, is still setting me free from false definitions of who I am. Despite my legendary efforts to resist, He is still kicking me into new vistas of freedom from my romanticized notions of who I used to be, defined by the life I used to have.

So far, He hasn’t shown any signs of backing off His loving mission to set this stubbornly sentimental captive free.

And I’m pretty sure He won’t back off of you either.

Like it or not, that’s just who He is. God is committed to setting us free.

He can’t help Himself.

This article originally appeared here.

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Tullian is a graduate of Columbia International University, where he received a degree in Philosophy, and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, where he earned his Master of Divinity. A grandson of (Evangelist) Billy and Ruth Graham, Tullian was the Founding Pastor of the former New City Church (in Fort Lauderdale, Florida) which merged with the historic Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in 2009. He served there as Senior Pastor until June 2015.