I recently heard Condoleezza Rice speak at a University event. Even though she grew up as an African-American girl in segregated Alabama, her parents had the audacity to tell her that one day, she could be the President of the United States. She knew they believed in her, and it caused her to set her sights high above her circumstances and onto the possibilities of where her life could go.

At a dinner afterwards, the man who created this event for his alma mater, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, shared his story with me. He was raised in various foster homes for more than 14 years. He was a D-student in high school, completely directionless, when his new foster family asked him if he had considered college. They made it sound like a real possibility for him; they believed in him, and he said this made all the difference.

What happened to both of these people when someone believed in them? It impacted their sense of identity. They didn’t define themselves by the reality they were living in, but by the way they were believed in. They saw themselves as someone with the potential to rise above their circumstances. And then they lived out that identity.

The more I learn about grace, the more I realize how deeply God understands this phenomenon of the human story. Once we know who we really are, there is no stopping us. And who does God repeatedly tell us we are? His beloved children, holy and blameless before him. We are his workmanship, created for good works. He rejoices over us with singing, hides us under his feathers and rescues us because he delights in us.*

This is possible in light of our weaknesses and sin because Jesus took all our shame, allowing God to look at us with no condemnation. Through grace, he changes our identities first, before we ever change our behavior. He even risks the possibility that we’ll take advantage and not change our behavior. That thought may make us uncomfortable, but maybe he knows something about us that we easily forget. He knows we need to have our identity settled before we can overcome the challenges in us and around us.

Sometimes when people first hear the ProGrace® approach, they get a bit nervous. They wonder if it’s ok to extend unconditional grace to women. Don’t we need to talk to them about changing their behavior first? But for me, it always goes back to God’s order. He first gives us a new identity, no strings attached, all based on Christ’s payment. And when we take him at his word and step into this identity, we change. It’s impossible to stay stuck in our current reality when we know the truth about who we are.

By Angie Weszely (@AngieWeszely)

*1 John 3:1, Ephesians 1:4 and 2:10, Zephaniah 3:17, Psalm 91:4, Psalm 18:19