"Conversion to Jesus is best defined as the transformation of identity in Christ, the conversion of a person in his deepest being; conversion means the transformation of an 'I am who I am' to an 'I am who I am in Christ' identity." Scot McKnight & Hauna Ondrey, Finding Faith, Losing Faith (Baylor Press, 2008).
What would make someone accept Christ's view of her rather than her own view of herself? If being a Christian is really allowing Jesus to give you an identity, to name you, to tell you who you are, then what would make someone willing to allow him to have that kind of power in her life?
Well, who do we normally allow to tell us who we are? Our parents. Our friends. The people we allow closest to our hearts.
So it seems like one of the most important steps toward faith for a person whose barrier is her identity must be to learn who Jesus is. More than that, to really know Jesus, as you might get to know a human being in your life, and to learn that he is trustworthy and good. And even more than that, to actually begin to trust him at an emotional level.
I saw a lot of that going in the Encounters with Jesus stories we've been doing on Sunday nights. One after one, the people met Jesus. Usually they'd heard something about him before. They also had the benefit of seeing his effect on other people within the community before they had their own encounters. Then they met with him, and they trusted him, and most of them accepted his invitation into a life based on who he is and what he said about who they were.
So it seems to me that the only answer/response to a person's identity barrier to faith is to introduce her to Jesus. It's to pray night and day for the Spirit to move in her life. It's to walk with her as Jesus would. It's to invite her to hear the voice of Jesus in the stories of the gospels, and eventually to hear his voice in her own life.
Intellectual barriers to faith can be discussed at an intellectual level, and there are hundreds of resources to suggest that might answer those questions. Emotional barriers can be responded to with thoughtful questions and loving listening and a commitment to walk alongside a person. But identity barriers will only be overcome when a person trusts the One who is offering a new identity. I think that will only happen when someone truly encounters the living Christ.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come. May those in our lives who do not yet know you experience your presence in as real a way as Nicodemus, the woman at the well, or Zaccheus did. Transform your church to be your true image-bearers in the world, so that those who encounter the church can encounter you. May your invitation to "come, follow me" reverberate in the hearts and souls and lives of our friends. Your voice is the only voice that has the power and gravity and love to issue such an invitation and to proclaim a new identity. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.