Last night team USA's David Boudia and Steele Johnson took home the silver medal in the 10-meter men's synchronized platform diving at the Olympics in Rio. (I missed the event, but you can watch their dive, as well as the gold-medal dive by the Chinese men, on the video above.) It's an incredible thing to see.
But what lit up social media last night was Steele Johnson's faith. In July, after the duo qualified for the Olympic team, Johnson told NBC Sports, "It’s cool because this is exciting, this is fun, but this is not what my identity is going to be in the rest of my life. Yeah, I’m Steele Johnson the Olympian, but at the same time I’m here to love and serve Christ. My identity is rooted in Christ and not in the flips we’re doing." (You can watch the qualifying dive and the interview here.) Boudia also spoke of his faith on the occasion, but it's Johnson's remark that people are talking about: "My identity is rooted in Christ and not in the flips we're doing."
There are all kinds of things—good, important things—in which we can find meaning and purpose: in our work, in our passions, in our family, in our accomplishments. These things all help form our identity: I am a husband; I am a mother; I am a teacher, a nurse, an uncle, a musician, a pastor, an Olympian.
Yet, being a Christian means allowing Jesus to give you your identity.
The apostle Paul realized that after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me a gave himself for me...Paul used to find his identity in his faith and his heritage: he was "a Hebrew of Hebrews" (Phil 3:5). Now he finds his identity in what Jesus has done—the love and faithfulness that we see at the cross—and in the new thing that Jesus is making out of Paul's life ("a new creation," Gal 6:15). Christ gives him his identity. Who he was before has been "crucified." That life is over. Now he lives a new life, a life of love and faithfulness, a life that comes from Jesus.
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (2:19-20; 6:14)
His identity is rooted in Christ.
What is my identity rooted in? Am I trying to keep on living my own life, or am I letting Christ live in me? Am I trying to make my own identity—husband, son, friend, pastor—or is my identity found in Jesus: what he's done and what he dreams that I can be?
Is my identity rooted in Christ, or in the flips I'm doing?
I'm grateful that Steele Johnson gets to love and serve Jesus as an Olympic diver. He is! He's being a light to the world, and he's reminding those of us whom claim Jesus that Jesus wants to claim us. Christ is not only the Son of God we worship on Sundays, pray to before meals, and ask for help when the going gets tough. He is our foundation, the roots of our identity. The only way to be a faithful pastor, friend, artist, grandparent, chef, CPA, or anything else is to first be the new thing that Jesus's life can create inside of us.
You can read more about Steele Johnson's faith and his road to the Olympics here.