If it is true that for those who do not know Christ self-identity is essentially a compromise between 'who I find myself to be' and 'who I consider myself to be (or want myself to be)', the gospel of Christ admits of no compromise. It says, with the force of God's command, 'you must be yourself' - even as it says with the force of God's liberating good news 'you may be yourself'. But command and permission are predicated on and derived from the simple factual statement: 'Jesus died and rose for you'.
Sometimes the NT describes a Christian as one whose self has been crucified with Christ, or as one who has died and been buried with him. On the other hand, sometimes it presents an imperative - put to death your old self, kill your sinful deeds. How can the indicative be true, and yet the imperative have force? If my 'self' is dead, how can I kill it? Conversely, if I must kill it, how can it be true that it is dead?
We need to remember that the death of the old self is accomplished in Christ - and we know this because of his death and resurrection. But we do not see it. It is a Christological reality, which means it is really true, as true as the victory of Jesus over death is true. But it is not yet seen. The Christian's life is hidden with Christ, to be revealed only when he is revealed. It is not revealed even in part in this life, but is perceived only by faith - faith which is itself awaiting the fulfilment of the promise that what it believes will one day be seen and experienced. That is why the apostle can write that he no longer lives, since Christ lives in him - but on the other hand, that the life he continues to live in the flesh (that is, with his old earthly self still there) is lived by faith in the Son of God. Christologically speaking, something fundamental has happened; he had died. But that is received at this point only by faith.
Nevertheless, faith that is really faith finds an answer in action. It is an answer, not a new and independent action, but an answer nevertheless. That answer is to bear witness to the reality as it is in Christ by putting to death the old self in the here and now. We do not set out to crucify the self so that the old self might die; that would be a new action. Rather, as an answer to what Christ has done, we set out to crucify the self because it is already crucified in him. Our action is not the thing; it is the witness to the thing, the faint echo which nevertheless shows that the original Word has been spoken and heard.
Rather than a life of compromise, that sets up a life of conflict. We look for a new self, perfected in Christ, currently hidden, coming with him. It will be a resurrection identity; in continuity with this self we know, but transfigured. To get to resurrection, you have to go through death. The Christian life is death, putting to death. That is why we are fools to live this way if Christ is not raised. If Christ is not raised, we should find a happy compromise between the person we are and the person we want to be, and learn to happy with ourselves. But Christ is raised from the dead, and therefore we fight and die. It is worth it. 80 years of constant tearful struggling for righteousness is worth it if just over the horizon there lies my resurrection, and that glorious moment when I see him as he is, and myself as I truly am.... It is worth it.
Anyone who says 'this is just the way I am' has left the way of Christ.
This is hard, so hard. A narrow gate and a hard way. But he is with us, and even on this hard way there are still waters and green pastures. And he will give us rest.