Originally published Wednesday, 25 February 2015.
When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I struggled to find a name we both liked. Some we didn't like the sound of. Some were already taken by close friends. And then of course, there were those names that reminded us too much of people we had known in our past. The names were so connected to those people that we couldn't imagine naming our child the same name.
When we give someone a name, it separates them from others and gives them their own identity. Some names can even transform one's identity. I recently attended an adoption proceeding where my friends adopted their three foster children. It was a long and arduous labor leading up to that happy day. Sitting there in the courtroom, I wanted to cheer when I heard the judge say the children's new names out loud. It was official; their last name had changed to that of my friend's. They were now bound together as a forever family.
While hearing a judge officially change someone's name is an amazing and wonderful thing, even more amazing is when the Judge of the universe speaks our names.
When God Speaks
In Tim Keller's new book on prayer, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God,
he explains how something different happens when God speaks than when we speak. We have to first speak and then perform an action. We can say that we will turn on the light and then we have to go over to the wall and actually flip the switch to turn it on.
When we name someone, our naming doesn't transform the person we are naming any more than our words turn on the lights. My name means "Christ follower." When my parents named me Christina, their act of naming me had no power to make me a follower of Christ. The same is true of the things we say about others, be it good or bad. "You are kind." "You are annoying." In language arts, it's called a predicate nominative. In saying, "You are annoying" we are renaming the subject "you" into "annoying." But our renaming someone doesn't actually make them into the words we say that they are.
God's words however, are identical to his actions; his speaking and acting are the same thing. God's spoken words during the creation account actually made the light appear. This is also true of the names God gives us. Tim Keller says this: "When God names someone, his very word also constitutes the person." (p.52). In Genesis, God renamed Abram to Abraham. This wasn't simply a name change. In giving Abram the name Abraham, God's word made him capable of fathering multitudes. We are the living evidences of that promise (Galatians 3:29). When Jesus renamed Simon to Peter, his act of renaming made Peter the rock of the early church. We can see this dramatic change take place between the Peter we see in the gospels, before the cross, to the Peter we see in the book of Acts and in 1 and 2 Peter.
What this means is, what God calls us, he makes us. What he says about us in his written word is not mere semantics, it is reality. The words he uses to describe us are not just a title or a description. He makes us become what he says that we are.
What God Says About Us
So for those who are in Christ, what does God call us?
Forgiven. Chosen. Redeemed. Beloved. Child. Heir. New Creation. Cleansed. Useful.
This is a glorious truth to let settle into your heart. Consider what it means that God's words and actions are the same. When you read passages like, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9) and "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isaiah 43:1), doesn't it fill you with wonder and awe at the glory of our God?
The wonder continues. When God's word says, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1), we have peace with God. When his word says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are new creations. When he says that he will finish the work he began in us, he will finish it (Philippians 1:6). As Keller says, "God's words... cannot fail their purposes because, for God, speaking and acting are the same thing." (p. 53).
Open God's word today and read it with the knowledge that his word and his actions are one and the same. Rejoice, giving him honor and praise, that what he says about you, you are. And long for the day when you will hear his voice say your name aloud, "The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels" (Revelation 3:5).