Interview with Emily Oakley: Keeping Your Identity Anchored in Christ in 2024
Evangelist Emily Oakley shares her testimony and the importance of staying grounded in Christ.Editor’s Note: Emily R. Oakley, 34, was raised in Wichita, Kansas. An Evangel University graduate, Oakley is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God and is the founder of Rebirth Ministries, a ministry that provides counseling and equips and trains churches to address today’s most controversial topics with biblical compassion and conviction.
AG News: Would you please give us a bit of your personal background and history?
Emily Oakley: I have always been a church kid. I grew up in church and sensed a unique calling on my life for ministry when I was just 12 years old. Growing up in the church, I developed into a kid who always wanted to fix things for other people. Helping people and finding approval in the eyes of others is how I began to find value. The flesh issue that arose out of that was codependency. Seeking that approval became something I constantly craved.
When I turned 14, my need to fix people and situations, and my issue of codependency finally came to a head. I got involved with a group of friends who I thought I could save but the friendships quickly became intense and volatile. As these unhealthy relationships continued, I was lured into a web of deceit and manipulation with the girls, and it became a breeding ground for the enemy. Soon, the people I was hanging out with were validating sinful choices I was making, and I began to feel a need to control my life as much as I could. I started to be tempted with same-sex attraction, controlling of what I ate, and I began to self-harm. Seeking an emotional void that only God was meant to fill, I began to attach myself to females in a co-dependent way. I knew what I was doing wasn’t right but, because I was anchored in all the wrong places, I couldn’t get free of the things that were holding me down.
AG News: How did all of this affect you as you continued to be involved in your church?
Emily Oakley: The next few years, I was so ashamed of my struggles that I kept completely silent. I knew I had been called into ministry and I knew God had a plan for my life, but I began to hide from that, thinking my issues had disqualified me. The spiral continued as I played hopscotch from one warped attachment to another, all the while hiding my issues in darkness instead of bringing them into the light. It was a very miserable time.
AG News: What made you finally decide to confront some of the things that were holding you captive?
Emily Oakley: The turning point for me was when I was 18 years old. I was home from college on winter break with a friend, and was in an unhealthy place, spiritually. Late into the night, the Holy Spirit began challenging me to tell my friend what I was facing. I really didn’t want to. I was afraid of losing the friendship, but I knew it was time to surrender to the Lord. So, I started sobbing and began telling my friend about the things I had been dealing with for the past four years. The two things she said to me immediately after I shared my struggles changed the trajectory of my life. First of all, she said she still loved me. Secondly, she spoke right to my identity and said, “I know who you are and that’s not it.”
Although I hadn’t quite figured out what had been going on, I had been having an identity crisis. I had forgotten that I was a child of God and that would never change.
AG News: The issue of identity has become a big cultural hot-topic. Why is the issue of identity so important for believers?
Emily Oakley: I think a lot of times we get wrapped up in an identity that reflects our current roles, our present circumstances, or our past choices. When we allow these temporary things to define us, we risk experiencing a lot of grief and pain because things change. If our identity is in the temporary, when it changes or goes away all together, we lose sight of who we are. Losing sight of our true identity in Christ comes about because we’ve anchored our identity in the wrong place.
AG News: For those who may be struggling, how can Christians rediscover their God-given identities and what safeguards can be put into place so that they aren’t misplaced again?
Emily Oakley: First of all, I would encourage anyone struggling to ask God to show the root of misplaced identity instead of just tackling the symptoms. We need to understand what the underlying issue is that is causing us to find value outside of God. If we ask Him, He will tell us. He’s not a hide-and-seek type of God; He wants to bring to light all the things that have been covered in darkness.
Secondly, we have to stay anchored in what we believe; that Jesus died to save us and adopted us into His royal family. That has to be our anchor point. He chose us even when He didn’t have to. We are co-heirs with Jesus before God and, no matter what, we can trust that God loves us and wants us in His family.
Once we have established our true identity, we have to continue to seek the presence of God and the accountability of others. Our goal in everything should be to draw closer to Him and seek His presence. However, we can still be tempted. Our weakness is an opportunity for God’s strength to be made perfect if we allow Him to do that. It will also take the encouragement and support of other strong believers to help us keep things in perspective.