What’s in a Name?

What we learn from the Bible is that names often mean something, and often we are told the significance of names in the biblical stories. So, we are told that “Esau” was named because he was “red” and “hairy” (Genesis 25:25). His twin brother, “Jacob,” which means “supplanter” (Genesis 25:26), got his name because he held onto his brother’s heel. Later, Jacob was given the name “Israel,” which means “one who contends with God” (Genesis 32:28) because he wrestled with an angel of God.

As the founding father of the nation of Israel, God renamed “Abram,” meaning “exalted ancestor,” to “Abraham,” which means “ancestor of a multitude” (Genesis 17:5). We are told that “Moses” means “drawn out from the water” (Exodus 2:10) because he was found in the Nile River by a princess. The book of Isaiah includes a whole series of names that have significance. Less fortunate names include the longest personal name in the Bible, “Maher-shalah-hash-baz” meaning “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil” (Isaiah 8:1). I think I’d just call him “Baz.”

Names mean something. They give people an identity. These words have significance. What we call ourselves and what we call others, matters. We get this concept when we teach our kids to not make fun of others by name-calling. We get this when we come up with nicknames for people. So what names are we calling ourselves in our private thoughts? Do we call ourselves a looser? Unattractive? Unlovable? Popular? Smart? Articulate? Gay? Straight?

What is our identity rooted in? The Bible calls us to find our identity not in ourselves, but “in Christ.” The most powerful symbol of this imagery comes from Christian baptism where believers are described as dying to their old selves by identifying with Jesus’s death and experiencing new life through his resurrection (Romans 6). Paul also uses the image of the “body of Christ” to describe both the differences and unity that Christians experience (Romans 12:4–8; 1 Corinthians 12:12–31).

“In Christ,” followers of Jesus can die to our bad thoughts and behaviors and find ourselves alive to God (Romans 6:11). Further, “in Christ” we also don’t have to remain condemned by our past (Romans 8:1); instead, we are new people (2 Corinthians 5:17). “In Christ,” we are put in right relationship with God and others (Galatians 2:16).

“In Christ,” nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:39). “In Christ,” we join God’s people, are made part of God’s family, and become heirs to God’s promises (Galatians 3:14, 26, 29). “In Christ,” racism, sexism, and elitism are all abolished because we are all the same (Galatians 3:28). “In Christ,” we are blessed with spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). “In Christ,” we have a future since we are promised eternal life (Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

Being “in Christ” means that our new identity is tied to Jesus’s reputation. We understand what it means to have our reputation tied to a larger group or person. So, sports fans get associated with their teams. Think about who you associate with the Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, or San Francisco 49ers? College students get associated with their universities, and we sense the difference between saying that we went to community college versus going to Harvard. People can be identified by their political parties, so what comes to mind when we think of a Democrat, Republican, or Independent?

So what about you? Are you religious? What is the reputation of the church in our society today? What is the reputation of being a Christian? Is it possible that we need to realign our reputations, so that we ground our identity in Jesus rather than upon ourselves? Christmas offers us a chance of rebirth and reinvention. We can come to the manger, worship the king, and find our identity in Christ.

Image: Eviatar Bach – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17249326

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