In various countries around the world it is customary to select a new first name when one converts to Christianity. Commonly referred to as the “Christian name,” it is carefully considered before being chosen. Much like naming a child, the meaning and history of the name are important. Often times the names of prophets, disciples or other titans of faith are selected. It symbolizes rebirth and a new identity in Christ.
A young man in Indonesia came to know the Lord and planned to be baptized. He was set to announce his Christian name right after he came out of the water. Before that moment, it would be his secret to keep. He had been part of a religion that was very closed to hearing the Gospel, so it was an exciting time in his life and for the missionary who led him to the Lord. It was always special to learn what name a person had chosen. This young man’s conversion had been hard won, so it was particularly meaningful.
The moment arrived, and as the missionary proudly stood beside the drenched young man, he asked, “What is your new name?” The man replied, “Cinderella!”.
We could hear that story and chuckle or even tell it to someone else if we thought it was funny enough. But let’s not miss the value of the moment. He picked the name because it was the one he most closely associated with transformation. It was the name he believed best demonstrated how he had experienced Christ’s deliverance from his past life into the hope of eternity. Isn’t that the crux of faith in Jesus?
Last Sunday, our pastors taught on the story of Jacob, a scammer who swindled his way through life and associated with others like himself. In Genesis 32, he has a physical encounter with God while hiding from the brother he wronged. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. He is the father of Joseph and is listed in the genealogy of Christ. His name, Israel, appears throughout the Old and New Testaments as a synonym for God’s chosen people. Quite a transformation, wouldn’t you agree? You might even call it a “Cinderella story”.
If you have never given your life to Christ, you are missing the greatest opportunity ever offered (John 3:16). If you are already a believer and are struggling today, take heart.
“God meets us at whatever level He finds us in order to lift us to where He wants us to be.”
— Warren Wiersbe, Be Authentic: Exhibiting Real Faith in the Real World
Our Father has the power to change your story. If you are a believer and in a season of blessing, give thanks. God is the source of every good gift (James 1:17) and the one who gives what we need to prosper (Deuteronomy 8:17).
We have the opportunity today and every day forward to be changed from the inside out by encountering God. He is the same God today who wrestled with Jacob thousands of years ago. He is willing to be just as close to you, just as life-changing for you. What will be your new name?
OK, let’s play a game. I’m going to start a poem, and you finish it for me:
Roses are red
violets are blue…
Did you know the rest? Many of us can’t even remember where we first learned that poem. Was it in kindergarten, during Valentine’s Day? Who knows? The point is that you didn’t even need to think about it. The rest of that little rhyme came automatically. You didn’t have to work hard to conjure it up. It was just there.
That’s what happens with our names, too. Have you ever been in a crowd when someone called your name, and you turned automatically? Instant head swivel in the direction of that voice. It may have been a complete stranger calling out to someone else, but in that moment, you reacted automatically, without even thinking.
The funny thing is that we do that with other names as well, names that we don’t readily share with the world. Names we have been calling ourselves for years. Names like Broken, Guilty, Stupid, Crappy, Lazy, Ignorant, Slut, Dirty, Unworthy, Shy, Incompetent, Uncreative, Disappointment, Liar, Adulterer, Addict, Victim, and the list goes on. It’s not that we consciously label ourselves with these names. They tend to begin when a wound is inflicted, when we are either the perpetrator or the victim of some type of hurt. Often, this occurs in childhood. Then every time we are wounded again, or we wound someone else, we repeat that name to ourselves. It sticks and stays. We may not be completely aware of the name’s existence, but that doesn’t keep us from living up (or down) to that name. What we are unaware of can still drive us.
We’re busy people living hectic lives. Many of us don’t take the time to stop and examine ourselves very often. We don’t ask the hard questions. What name do I call myself? Where did it come from? When have I unconsciously repeated it to myself? What has this name kept me from? What has it stolen from me?
How can I claim that we don’t often stop to examine? Well, for starters, look back at that poem above.
Roses are red
violets are blue…
Are they really? Are all roses really red? Not so much. And how many violets are really blue? Aren’t they mostly, well, violet colored? But since the poem is so familiar, and we learned it so long ago, we still automatically repeat it as if it were true.
The first step to overcome the name we’ve adopted is to ask God to help us ferret it out. King David wrote a poem, too. It’s one that can be trusted, one that can be an example for us to follow:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.hYou hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. Teen gKKERY SFor you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you. Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
— Psalm 139
… The sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name…
— John 10:3
One of my favorite artists of the ’70s was a folk/rock singer named Jim Croce. Between August of 1972 and December of 1973, Jim Croce stayed near the top of Billboard’s Top 100 with an endless string of great songs released almost every month. Unfortunately, 30-year-old Croce died in a plane crash on September 20, 1973, just one day before the release of his last album, I Got A Name. To this day, I still enjoy hearing his unique voice sing:
Like the pine trees lining the winding road
I got a name, I got a name
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad
I got a name, I got a name
— Jim Croce, I Got a Name
Indeed, we each have a name. To those who know me, mine is Pat. To the few who would recognize me only by my driver’s license or other official documents, it’s Patrick. Then too, don’t you remember that feeling of dread when you heard your mother calling out your name — first, middle and last — in that unmistakable tone of voice. Believe me, when the words “Patrick Alan Cooper” would rattle the walls of our small two-bedroom house, instinct said, “Run Pat, run!” But fear of having to later deal with my dad taught me that my better interest would be served standing at attention before the woman whose voice I heard calling my name and just face the music, whatever the song she was about to sing might be.
As I look back, unfortunately and much to my shame, I heard my mom use my full name many, many times. Too many. To speak of myself as a rebellious child would be a most extreme understatement. A wild child, I was, and not to be tamed easily. Honestly, there’s just no other way to say it: I gave my parents hell growing up. I can only be thankful my dad wasn’t an Old Testament scholar. If he had he known the Hebrew word translated as “rod” in Proverbs 13:24 (“Whoever spares the rod hates his son…”) referred to a shepherd’s club, you wouldn’t be reading this today, because I’d probably be dead.
Today, though I no longer hear my mother’s voice, I hear another voice as clear as I once heard hers. “Pat,” I hear. It’s the voice of the Good Shepherd. Sometimes he speaks as a concerned father giving correction. Sometimes like my dad offering a bit of advice. Then, at other times, his is the stern voice of rebuke. But at all times it is the voice of love calling out, as it were, to that one lost sheep gone astray. And I feel safe, I feel secure, knowing that he knows my name.
Does he know your name?
My mom died 12 years ago today. I really miss her. She’s the one who gave me my name. If she told the story once, she told it a couple hundred times. Because of an illness and treatment my father had had years before I was conceived, they didn’t know if I would survive to birth. So they didn’t attach to me and, when I was born, I didn’t have a name. For three days, I was “Phelps girl.” On the third day, my mom looked at me and said, “You’re my bundle of joy.” I’ve been told countless times that my name fits me. Actually, I think I came to fit my name. All my life, my parents treated me like I was wanted and loved, like I was a joy to the family. I became who they said I was.
I did the same thing to our son, Matthew. For no reason whatsoever, I was sure he was going to be a girl, so we never settled on a name for a son. When he was born, he, like me, was nameless. My husband left the hospital that night and said, “You know the names I like. Tell me his name in the morning.” Really. He did that. The next morning, after much pondering, I looked at our son and said, “You are my gift.” “Matthew” means “gift of the Lord,” and I realized his name was Matthew. He is 19 years old now, and is the most content and abundant person I’ve ever known. He needs and wants nothing. I wonder if this is, at least in part, because his whole life he has been told the story of his name. He has been filled by the knowledge that he was wanted and of his basic value before he had ever done a thing. What else could he want?
So what’s your name? What’s your story? This is not necessarily about your literal name, but the labels that have been placed on you, the stories that have been told about you. Matthew’s story and mine attest to the power of a name and a story. It matters greatly who you say you are and who others say you are. Your name can lift you up or bury you. The good news, the great news, is that our God is in the re-naming business. He loves to give people new names and new stories. Simon became Peter, which means “rock” (John 1:42); Abram became Abraham, “the father of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5); and Sarai became Sarah, “mother of nations” (Genesis 17:15). This is just scratching the surface. These names communicate the promise of God and project who they are — and will be — as God’s children. These folks all lived in to the new names God gave them.
Have you been carrying around a name that isn’t true? One that isn’t consistent with who God says you are and will be? Others may have called you by that name, but our God loves you and wants to give you a new name: beloved, precious child, perfect as you are, promising, worth dying for. Maybe it is time for a re-naming.
You are one thing only. You are a Divine Being. An all-powerful Creator. You are a Deity in jeans and a t-shirt, and within you dwells the infinite wisdom of the ages and the sacred creative force of All that is, will be and ever was.
― Anthon St. Maarten, Divine Living: The Essential Guide To Your True Destiny
Do you think Maarten is correct? Are we all deities in jeans and t-shirts? Are we all divine beings that have within us “the infinite wisdom of the ages and the sacred creative force of All that is, will be and ever was”?
Who would have the audacity to say such a thing? How could we ever embrace such a ridiculous lie? We all know that there is only one true God, and it sure isn’t us.
A. W. Tozer writes on this matter:
Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, I AM. That is sin in its concentrated essence;
— A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
Sin is refusing to bow before our Creator and God in worship, and instead erecting our own thrones, sitting upon them, and declaring that we are God. Every sin that we commit is, at its core, a declaration of “I AM” from our self-appointed thrones. All rebellion begins with breaking of the first commandment:
You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
― Exodus 20:3–4 NASB
You and I will never fully understand the degree to which we break this command. You may have never bowed down before an idol made of wood, metal or stone, but there is not a day of your life that you have fully abdicated your throne and bowed down with all you are before God and loved him “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
You might not believe that you are a deity, but know that you have lived part, if not all, of your life as if you are.
Everyone reading this devotional probably believes themselves to be a Christian. But believing you are a Christian and actually being one — a born-again new creation, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and being conformed into the image of Christ — are two different things. It would be presumptuous of me to assume that everyone reading this devotional was a true Christian.
If you are a born-again child of God, be assured that no matter what you did or didn’t believe before your conversion, you lived your life as a “deity in jeans and a t-shirt.” The unregenerate person has a corrupt heart (Jeremiah 17:9) that is a “slave to sin” (Romans 6) to such a degree that they will never abdicate their throne and bow to worship before the throne of God. But when you were regenerated, God did for you what he promised he would do through the prophet Ezekiel:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
― Ezekiel 36:25–27 NASB
When God regenerated you, he essentially dragged you off your throne, crucified the idol-worshipping sinner that you were, created you anew in Christ Jesus, gave you a new heart capable of loving and worshiping him, and placed his Spirit within you to empower you to obey his commands.
But what about those who merely believe themselves to be Christians? I’m sure that none of you reading this would believe yourself to be in that group, but that is the nature of sin. It blinds us to the truth of our spiritual condition.
Yet so subtle is self that scarcely anyone is conscious of its presence. Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal thing.
― A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
But God’s word encourages us to take an honest look at ourselves and see how we measure up:
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you– unless indeed you fail the test?
― 2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB
So, even if you believe you are a Christian, put yourself to the test. If you test yourself and pass, then you have all the more reason to be secure in your salvation. But if you test yourself and fail, then you are free of a deception that would’ve taken you by the hand and led you blindly into the eternal wrath of God. If this is the case, know that there is still hope, because you are not dead yet. There is still time to cry out to God to save your soul.
So, are you ready to “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith”? Jesus is the test maker. He defines the terms of having a relationship with him. He tells us who is and who is not a Christian.
Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
― Luke 14:25–27 NASB
If you want to want to follow Jesus, your affection for him must be above your affections for everyone else: your parents, your siblings, your spouse and your children. Your affection for Jesus must also be put above your own life. To carry your own cross is to consider yourself dead to the things of this world. All your affections for this world and the things of it are gone. Jesus is your one true love, and you will abandon all to follow him. He may not ask you to abandon all, but if he did, you would abandon everyone and everything, even your own life. You will do whatever your one true love asks of you. That is what Jesus is saying. That is the test. That is what it means to be a Christian.
If that sounds foreign to you, ask yourself why. If you can’t imagine abandoning all for Jesus, then you ask yourself, “Is Jesus my one true love?” Where do your affections lie? Who calls the shots in your life? At whose throne do you worship? Are you sitting on the throne of your own selfhood from an elevated position, declaring, “I AM,” or are you bowed down before the throne of Christ, following him wherever he may lead?
If Christ is speaking to your heart right now, revealing to you some hard truths about yourself, calling you to abdicate your throne and bow before his, you best do what he says and take up your cross and follow him.
The natural man is a sinner because and only because he challenges Gods selfhood in relation to his own. In all else he may willingly accept the sovereignty of God; in his own life he rejects it. For him, Gods dominion ends where his begins.
― A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
His best religious works God rejects as He rejected the offering of Cain. Only when he has restored his stolen throne to God are his works acceptable.
― A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy