“For we are what [God] has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Eph. 2:10)
I would like briefly to compare this verse with another from the Psalms:
“Know that the Lord is God. It is He that made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” (Ps. 100:3)
Many people these days believe that their identity is something they choose for themselves. They are whatever they make of themselves, and they are free to choose between any number of possible identities. Many do not believe in any kind of predetermined notion of human identity, any kind of fundamental “givens” that might place limits on what a person can actually be. Rather, they follow the Sartrean maxim that existence precedes essence: first they simply are, and only later, as a result of their choices, are they something or other.
The biblical notion is somewhat different. There is no denying that a person can choose to be this or that, a husband or not, a carpenter or not, a mother or not, etc. But there is also a fundamental sense in which human identity is given by God, and not chosen for oneself. For example, everyone, in virtue of being human, is made in the image of God and thus inherits the responsibility implicit in this title. No one can avoid the responsibility of being the image of God; this is an aspect of human identity which is entirely received from God and which cannot be escaped.
Going even further, in the act of redemption and salvation, God gives a new identity to people. Abraham, for example, went from being a random person from Ur of the Chaldees to being the father of all the faithful (Rom. 4:11). The Hebrews went from being slaves in Egypt to inheritors of the Promised Land. And we, too, through the salvation that came in Jesus Christ, go from being strangers to God and without hope in the world to being children of God (1 John 3:1). This identity is something given to us: we are supposed to receive it and live in it.
Just as the Lord made the children of Israel to be His people and a royal priesthood when He saved them from slavery in Egypt (Exod. 19:4-6), so also God adopted us and saved us in Christ Jesus. And more than that, He made us to be new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17). God recreated us and gave us a new identity, a new way of being, that is centered around Christ. We look towards Christ as the example for our new way of being.
As Paul emphasizes here, our new way of life is one of good works. No longer do we live in the selfishness of sin, but rather we do good: we live in righteous obedience to God’s Law, we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and we are concerned to live in harmony with God and with His world. This is the new identity we receive in Christ, though we must also take this identity up voluntarily, through an act of the will. There are always these two aspects: first God gives, and then the human being receives and appropriates. As Paul says elsewhere, we have to consider or understand ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:11).