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Name Badges

Who are Eric Bishop, Thomas Mapother, Mark Sinclair, Krishna Pandit Bhanji, Caryn Johnson, Paul Hewson, Robyn Fenty, Katheryn Hudson and Edson Arantes do Nascimento? Not sure?

They are in fact actors Jamie Foxx, Tom Cruise, Vin Diesel, Ben Kingsley and Whoopie Goldberg, musicians Bono, Rihanna and Katy Perry, and footballer Pelé.

Names can be important signposts of who we are – or want to be. Reg Dwight doesn’t quite have the appeal of Elton John, and Stevie Wonder sounds a bit more glamorous than his real name which is Steveland Judkins.

You might perhaps be known by a different name than the first one recorded on your birth certificate; perhaps a contraction, a middle name, or a nickname. My father was called Michael but all his friends knew him as Mike. Or Kermit. My mother is Sylvia but she prefers to be called Sally. At school, to my friends, I was only ever 'Lambo'. Or other names that are best not repeated here.

In the Bible, names are even more important than in 21st Century show business and entertainment. They do not so much project a more desirable public image as express someone’s real character and personality. This is particularly true of God himself who pins names to himself to tell us what he is like. He is Yahweh Yireh – my provider, Yahweh Nissi – my banner, Yahweh Rapha – my healer, Yahweh Tsidkenu – my righteousness, Yahweh Shalom – my peace and Yahweh Shamma – the Lord who is always there.

This explains why there are so many name changes in the pages of Scripture. Sarai becomes Sarah and Abram becomes Abraham when they go from being unable to conceive to becoming a mother and father. Jacob becomes Israel after the pivotal episode in his life when he wrestled an angel after dreaming of a ladder reaching to heaven. Gideon became Jerub-Baal after he demolished his family’s idolatrous altar.

Jesus renamed Simon (meaning reed) Peter (meaning rock) to signify his transformation from unreliable weed to solid and fearless leader. Joseph was given the name Barnabas (meaning son of encouragement) because of his constantly positive, uplifting personality. Saul (Jewish) became Paul (Latin) on his first missionary journey as his unique calling as Apostle to the Gentiles came into ever-sharper focus.

It is tragic that we sometimes allow things that we did long ago or that have happened to us in our lives to end up somehow classifying us. Someone who has battled with addiction to drink is labelled an alcoholic. Someone who has struggled with addiction to drugs is branded a junkie. Someone whose marriage irretrievably broke down in pain and acrimony is categorised as a divorcee. Someone with a prison record, however long they have been reformed, is marked for life as an ex-con.

But, as Christians, our core identity is in Christ and in Christ alone.

Are you letting something from your past - or present - describe you or even define you? Do you wear, as a badge of identity, the label “I’m disabled”, “I’m unhappily married”, “I’m unemployed”, “I’m a widow”, “I’m old”, “I’m… whatever”?

In Christ, our status and core identity is rooted in better things. Every one of us who believe in Jesus as our Saviour and Lord can - and must - consider ourselves as loved, chosen from all eternity, the apple of his eye, born again and adopted into a new family, ransomed at huge cost, forgiven our past, made holy, declared righteous, blessed with every spiritual blessing, seated in heavenly places with Christ, our names indelibly written into the Book of Life. This is how God sees us. This is who God says we are.

In the post-Christian West, the fashion is for self-definition and self-identification. To exist in uncontested delusion has become a kind of holy grail for our post-truth subculture.

But, if you are a Christian, who you say you are - and who everybody else says you are - are just random name badges. Unclip the badge and put it down on the table. The truth is that you are who God says you are.


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