The Re-Naming Business

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Most would remember the old childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Who were we kidding? Names can hurt far worse. On the other hand, a name—or a name change—can transform a life.  

Throughout scripture, God changed people’s names. That new name set their lives on a new course. This began with Abraham. In Genesis 17:5, we see the first name change: “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.” God took Abram, meaning “lofty father,” and declared him Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude.” Keep in mind, God named him Abraham while he was still childless.

Another example is found in Genesis 32:28, where God said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Jacob’s name meant “supplanter” or “schemer.” Not the best name to walk around town with! At this point in his life, he showed no signs of greatness. He simply wrestled with God for a blessing. What did God give him in response? A new name—its meaning a pronouncement—“He will rule as God.”

Name changes continued into the New Testament. Simon Bar-Jonah’s name was changed to Peter. Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah…I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18).

Simon Bar-Jonah, meaning simply “son of Jonah,” was changed to Peter, meaning “rock.” Peter still denied Jesus three times, in addition to many other blunders and displays of fear. Yet God saw him as a rock, and he eventually became just that.

There are other examples of name changes in scripture. What is important to note is that God doesn’t see as man sees. It is a facet of His character to see people in light of who they will become, not in light of their past or even their present. God changed people’s names long before there was proof of that potential to the natural eye. In essence, the name change was a prophetic declaration by the Lord of who He created them to be—their destiny in Him.

God is called, “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17, NIV).  This is in reference to Abraham’s name change—its contained promise and fulfillment. Another version says God, “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (NRSV). So what does this mean for us? As with all examples set by God, we are to follow in His footsteps.  

Sadly, many of us do just the opposite in this area. We call things that were as though they are. Or things that are as though they shall always be. This is the exact opposite of the heart of God.  

How often do we—who are to be known by our love—keep someone labeled in their sin, their past, or even their present for that matter? Sometimes we go a step further. We actually keep a remembrance by documenting the failures of people. We post it to websites and plaster it all over social media. And yes, even gossip about it.

We keep record of the offenders long past their repentance—when God forgot the matter. God says of Himself, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

If King David were alive today, would we name him “a man after God’s own heart” as God did? Or would we stick the names “Murderer” and “Adulterer” to him like a scarlet letter? God says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12). Who are we to remember what our God has forgotten?

I think of our youth today. So many of them are lost, trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in. We—as youth leaders, teachers, parents and mature believers—ought to be re-naming them in our hearts while they are still a mess. We ought not focus on their failures and their actions. Instead, we should ask God for discernment to see who they could and will become. We ought to name them accordingly—treat them as such—now, when there is absolutely no evidence of it in the natural. If we call them what they are not as though they are, we can change the course of their lives.

God began impressing this truth upon me several years ago. I now aim to take every opportunity to breathe life into someone by giving them a new name in my heart and treating them as such by my actions. It is time for us all to be life-givers. The world is watching. We are to be an example of God’s love and mercy to those around us.

God is not in the name-calling business. He is in the re-naming business. Are you?

(Scripture is taken from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)