But now, this is what the LORD says — He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
— Isaiah 43:1, NIV
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of names lately. I remember how surprised I was when I first discovered that my name meant “Living in Freedom as God’s Chosen.” Neither my parents nor I had any understanding of the significance of my name or the fact that it revealed God’s loving desire for my life. In truth, I spent far too many years not really knowing who I was or who I was meant to be. That’s a dangerous position to be in, because as pastor and author Rick Warren explains, “If we don’t know who we are, then we are vulnerable to other people telling us who we are.” That is never good for us or for God’s Kingdom advancement. However, when we understand God’s purposes for us in Christ, “we don’t lose ourselves;” Warren says, “we become our true selves as the people we were meant to be.”
I found this to be the case. Once I understood and finally embraced my true identity in Christ, I gave myself permission to stop trying to be somebody else. Trying to wear the clothes of another was exhausting. Besides, they never seemed to fit me anyway. I found that my own clothes gave me freedom, and for the first time, the confidence to fully function within my own God-given gifts and talents. I now rejoice in the fact that God knows me so intimately that even before I was born, He had already fashioned an identity that would be for my good and His glory (see Jeremiah 29:11). His clothes for me suit me well, indeed.
While parents today often choose their children’s names based on family tradition or current trends, this has not always been the case. We only have to refer to the Bible to see that God placed great importance on a person’s name. In fact, it is worth noting that the biblical meaning of the word “name” is actually “character manifested.” This is borne out in Paul’s pragmatic insight into what happens when we function according to God’s design for us.
My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
–Galatians 2:19-20, The Message
Even if we haven’t always walked in that understanding, but have, instead, lived within the confines of a false label, Christ invites us to “return” to our true, God-given identity. Make no mistake, though. Satan will always try to undermine and reverse God’s plans at every turn. If God gives each of us a name, then he will, too. “Loser.” “Stupid!” “Worthless!” “Undesirable!” If we accept what these names say about us and act accordingly, we unwittingly set the stage for living far below our full potential. Thankfully, this does not have to be the case.
Consider Daniel and his three Hebrew friends. When they were taken into captivity, their names were forcibly changed to reflect the Babylonian pagan culture and their function in a strange, new world. Daniel, which means “God is my judge,” became Belteshazzar, “Protect the king”. The name of Daniel’s friend, Hananiah, “Yahweh has been gracious”, was changed to Shadrach, “I am afraid of God.” Meshael, a confident-sounding name meaning, “Who is what God is,” was changed to Meshack, “I’m despised, contemptible, humiliated.” Lastly, Azaariah, “Yahweh has helped,” was renamed Abednego, “I’m a servant of Nebo,” possibly a Chaldean deity of the Babylonians. Despite the undesirable names imposed on them, they set an example worth following today. They never doubted who God had called them to be, and with full understanding of who they were in God’s economy, they had the courage to stand strong in the face of the overwhelming trials and challenges of their day.
As Ecclesiastes 1:9 confirms, “There is nothing new under the sun.” While this has far reaching implications for God’s redemptive plan, it can also be said of Satan’s obsessive desire to destroy the work of God’s hand. Author Madeleine L’ Engle dramatically illustrates this truth in her 1973 young adult book, “A Wind in the Door,” in which she spins a fictional tale of the evil darkness spreading across the universe. The echthroi (Greek plural of “enemy”) systematically annihilate matter, knowledge, and understanding “making people not know who they are.” That is the antithesis of God’s plan! As L’ Engle explains, when God named the stars, “part of the purpose was to help them each to be more particularly the particular star each one was supposed to be.” Well said! In effect, the dirty work of the evil force, as she describes it, is to “un-name” or “X-out” people’s individuality and specialness. In this, L’ Engle’s work of fiction actually becomes a work based on profound truth, as no doubt she intended. When we belittle ourselves, or put down others, we further imprint the false identity imposed on us. Like the echthroi, we un-name those God has already named, and when we do, we extinguish, or blot out their true identity in Christ. Remember; God is in the business of redeeming and transforming, not condemning and destroying. That’s the work of the enemy; we must not let it become ours. Won’t you discover this day the person God says you are and allow Him to “summon” you by your true name?
Lord, forgive us, and help us to forgive ourselves, for falling prey to the Devil’s schemes. Give us the determination to affirm every name You have so lovingly bestowed on each of us. May we do everything in our power to encourage and uplift others, and to embrace Your work in us and in those we know and meet. In Your sovereign Name, we pray. Amen.
— Francine Thomas