What Does “I Am” Mean?
Recently, I’ve been becoming aware of a growing trend in speech — or maybe it’s always existed and I’m just finally aware of it — that really betrays a lot about the human heart.
It’s two simple words. They are “I am.” You hear them all the time. They can range from very innocuous statements like these spoken by Steph Curry in this article:
Obviously, nobody’s perfect and stuff is going to happen but I am who I am and I don’t feel any extra pressure to live up to people’s expectations.
They can also come in the wake of momentous declarations like when Gregory Greiten comes out with a statement declaring his sexuality. He said in this article:
I am gay.
This may seem like nitpicking. Who knows, maybe I am? But it bugs me. It bugs me because it’s a statement that we tend to use as a cathartic uplifting of whatever we tend towards. It enables us to pursue our desires, and pushes us to pursue self-acceptance no matter the cost or whether it is actually appropriate to accept who we are.
Most notably, I think these kind of statements tend to carry the concept of immutability, or an unchanging nature about ourselves. In fact, this is Biblically how the statement gets used. It really takes its root in the name of the Lord of all creation. When God reveals Himself to Moses at the burning bush, Moses asks this question in Exodus 3:13:
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God gives a simple, but wonderful answer in verse 14:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”
God’s name that He reveals to the Israelites is either the most terrifying thing you’ve ever read or the most comforting. The Israelites would have actually understood this name to be something closer to “I will be what I will be.” But in His immutable state, these statements actually are synonymous. What is certain is that this name would have been a balm to the Israelites. They had a God who was coming for them, who had heard their cries, and was capable of being what they, the Israelites, so desperately needed for liberation from their captivity.
This is not a finite, limited God. This is a God who is promising inexhaustible resources to protect and preserve a people so that they may have the opportunity to love and serve Him. So God, in giving this name, is declaring something amazing! He’s declaring that He is who He is and that He will be who He will be, and when you realize that those things are both true you get an immensely critical lynchpin between our present and our future that is unfathomably comforting!
Why Is “I Am” Dangerous To Say?
First of all, I don’t think it is always wrong to use this phrase. In fact, I think there’s one clear instance where it’s a very admirable thing to say. Here is an exhibit of such a use in Romans 7:24-25:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Well done, Paul! You used “I am” correctly in a sentence. There is one way in which the human heart and person exists immutably during their life on Earth. That is, we are sinful people. Even as Christians, we need our hearts and minds totally refreshed every. single. day. (e.g., Ezekiel 36:26, Romans 12:2) Because the truth is that our hearts and minds are wicked above all things (e.g., Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:14-23, James 1:13-15).
So Paul is correct. Left to himself, he is immutably wretched in this life and needs constant rescuing and deliverance through His Savior, Jesus Christ, to not be anything like who he naturally is.
This makes it problematic when we say “I am” and then shrug off any thought that who “I am” may not actually be a good thing. I’d even go so far as to say that this may be one of the worst spiritual signs we can observe in people. It is often a clear sign that our ears are stopped up and reveals a hard heart unwilling to bend and change before the Lord.
Many of you may be thinking, “But this is really who I am!”
I have no doubt that, right now, “You are” a specific type of person.
You may be gay. I have no doubt that people experience very real attraction towards the same sex.
I have no doubt that Steph Curry feels like he doesn’t have anything to prove at this point in his life.
I have no doubt that a whole host of you identify as something or other. You are a Type B personality. You are an INFJ. You are a career man or woman. You are a Republican. You are a vegetarian. You are [insert your preferred voluntary identity marker].
But is who you are currently who you really ought to be for eternity? Replace “ought” with “want” and ask the question again. Is who you are really who you would want to be forever? Beware answering yes to that! If you say “I am, I am, I am” too many times and use it to enable passivity in your life, or if you use it as a more active rebellion towards changing your conduct, the Lord may just make your perceived identity a set reality. (Romans 1:18-32) You will become like God. You will become immutable.
And your reality will be set in stone as you spend eternity in Hell apart from him, permanently entrenched in a way of life that leaves your very soul tormented.
Also, I want to point out that this post is not primarily written to those who don’t identify as Christian. That’s actually not the group I’m most concerned to hear this language from! I imagine some of you who don’t believe in God will disagree with my entire premise, and that’s not that surprising to me.
But the concerning trend is the Christians I hear using this! Those who say things like:
“I’m not a morning person,” which is a weird inverse “I am” statement that means “I am not good at rising early and so it’s okay that I’m here late.” (e.g., Romans 12:10, Matthew 5:37, Mark 1:35)
“I am just a very blunt person” as if you couldn’t learn to say things with a bit of grace and love. (Colossians 4:6)
“I am not a planner” as if it’s acceptable that the freedom of your schedule is not subjugated in the service of other people. (Galatians 5:13)
These are just a few examples I spouted off the top of my head. If I thought longer, I’m sure I could think of more. But I’ll leave it to you to reflect on how you use these words, and how you hear them in the people around you.
What “I am” Going To Do About This
Some of you will dismiss this as a silly issue. But I hear these words all the time, and I don’t think many of us are using them like Paul. We don’t use them as a desperate cry and prayer to a Lord who can, thankfully, make me someone who is completely unlike who I am. Because I don’t like who I am most the time.
I’ve spent enough years being a selfish, egotistical control freak who only pursues his own purposes. I’ve hurt people along the way. I’ve left some in tears and in need of counseling, and I regret so much of it. I remember the girl I made throw her English textbook at me in anger at the same joke I had been making for 2+ weeks. “But I am just sarcastic!” was my reply. What I should have said was, “I am a selfish jerk who won’t consider your needs before my own.” (Philippians 2:4)
I don’t want to be me anymore. I want to be like Jesus Christ. One who can save me from an eternity of, well, being me. I believe He created me fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14) So I have no doubt some of my unique quirks, and, yes, even some of my failings will ultimately allow God to be glorified. (Romans 8:28) But that doesn’t mean I’m content with who “I am” if that doesn’t line up well with who Jesus Christ is. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
So I resolve to not be someone who says “I am” in a way that enables me to not listen to people who bring suggestions about my conduct to me. I resolve to not use “I am” as a blinding mechanism that makes me unable to reflect on where I ought to be changing and just feel I cannot.
I do resolve to use “I am” as a prayer to the great I AM so that He may deliver me from my wretchedness, and so that He might refine me fully so I can enjoy eternity with Him.
I hope you’ll consider how you could do the same. And I hope how you’ll see what you say can even subconsciously dictate how you approach life.