new name true name
Years ago I was playing a name game with some elementary-aged children at church. I asked each child to say their first name, preceded by a word that described them and started with the same letter as their name. So we had “marvelous Mary” and “sweet Sarah.” I was “royal Robert” or something like that. And then we got to Brock. Brock was about six years old and was VERY quiet and timid. When we came to him, he just looked at me and didn’t say a word. After a moment, the others began to suggest some words that weren’t the most helpful or kind. So, I decided to jump in and name him myself.
“You’re BRAVE Brock,” I said. Now, if you had known him, this would have seemed like a real stretch, and some of the other kids looked at me like I had lost my mind. But the interesting thing was that Brock smiled real big and said out loud, “I’m brave Brock.” As it turned out, brave Brock was about the third of ten children in the circle. So, seven more times, Brock heard his name out loud: “marvelous Mary, sweet Sarah, BRAVE Brock…” And would you believe me if I told you that he seemed different after that? He was still quiet, but he seemed a little stronger—a little more THERE—and a little braver. Names are powerful things!
I remember seventh grade in Greenville, S.C. One of the things most kids did at that age was take a season of ballroom dancing classes. One night, on the way out, one of the popular and athletic guys said how dumb he thought I looked dancing. In hindsight I can imagine that he probably thought HE looked dumb dancing and he was just taking precautions to divert the attention onto someone else and I was the lucky target. But at the time all I felt was intensely embarrassed and ashamed. It was approximately four seconds of horrible shame that felt like much longer.
But then a girl spoke up. She was one of the very pretty and popular girls and she just happened to have been my randomly assigned dance partner that night. And she said very loudly, “I think Robert is the best dancer of all the guys.” Something happened in my head and my heart in that moment. I had been on my way to carrying “dumb and uncoordinated” home with me—and probably would have carried those names for a long time—when Sonya spoke other names over me. And all the embarrassment and shame melted away and gave me a boost of confidence that lingered for a very long time. Names are powerful things!
You may have grown up hearing from your father, “You can’t measure up!” And you still call yourself FAILURE.
You may have grown up as a cast-off from the popular kids and have accepted the name LONER or LOSER.
You may have lost a job—or jobs—and can’t seem to land anything with permanence and think of yourself as WORTHLESS.
You may have made bad decisions, immoral decisions, and feel unclean and full of shame. Though you have trusted Christ, you still would label yourself DIRTY.
And yet God has declared you and me new creatures in Christ. God has given us a new name: a True Name. Isaiah 62 describes how God gives a new name and identity to those who trust and follow Him:
…You will be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will designate. You will also be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,” nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”; but you will be called, “My delight is in her,” and your land, “Married”; for the Lord delights in you, and to Him your land will be married…
The old names no longer say. You will be called “My delight is in you.” Can God delight in such as me? Such as you? Listen! This is God speaking right here in His Holy Word: “My delight is in you.” Your land–your life–is marriage material: pure, holy, clean, and new.
Hear the good news: Jesus Christ has come that we might have life and LIVE life the way God meant for it to be. Through Jesus, you ARE a new creature. Say it, repeat it, embrace it, and receive it. Your True Name is beloved, chosen, fruitful, blessed, Son and Daughter of God. Amen!
The Rev. Dr. Robert Austell has served as pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, since 2002. Check out his writing (and links to other endeavors) at his blog (robertaustell.blogspot.com).