A Biblical Theology of Name (Part 6)

naming-prozess“I am not who I was.” That’s the common refrain of so many changed by the gospel. When I speak with them at our Recovery program or in our corporate worship on Sunday morning the same words are used. “I am a different person. I am new.” The gospel changes us. The Scriptures even go so far as to say that those who are in Christ have a new name, a new identity. God renames all who are His in Christ Jesus.

The gospel gives to all fallen men and women a new identity. We don’t just feel different, the Scriptures actually teach that we are different. The most commonly cited passage articulating this point is found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. There we read:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17)

These two sentences pack a great deal of hope, encouragement, and truth. For those who are “in Christ,” Paul’s beloved phrase for union with Jesus in spiritual death and life, they are recreated. Just as God created the world the first time, so here there is the idea of starting over. Recreating a people for Himself. Paul continues by stressing the change: the old is gone, the new has come. Who you were is not who you are, he says. The foundation for this transformation is Christ’s death for sinners, so Paul adds a few verses later:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

We can be made new because Christ took our sin. He became sin that we might become righteous, it’s a glorious exchange that makes our transformation possible. We have a new identity in Christ.

Think about the followers of Christ: Matthew was a political traitor, a tax-collector. Simon was a Zealot, a religious extremist. Peter denies Jesus, Thomas doubts his resurrection, and the others desert Christ at his time of need. Christ restores them all after his resurrection, and transforms them into bold witnesses for the church. Think of Jesus’ relationship with Peter. In John 1:42 Jesus renames Simon. “You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter)” (John 1:42). Though Peter would sometimes still act like Simon, and Jesus would often call him on it, Jesus was preparing the man to embrace a new identity after His resurrection.

The most famous example of transformation after encountering the risen Christ is clearly the apostle Paul. After encountering Jesus along the road, he goes from Saul the persecutor of Christians to Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. He is a changed man, dramatically changed. His new identity is expressed in a new name. It will be true of each of us too. The Christ who redeemed us and sanctifies us, has a new name for us.

In Revelation 2:17 we read about this new name. When Christ returns He will come bearing a white stone with a new name on it for those who have remained faithful to the end. So we read in Revelation 2:17:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.

This picture is a mystery to scholars. We do not know exactly what John means by the language of a “white stone,” nor do we know what exactly he means by “a new name.” There are loads of interpretations and theories; the best theory seems to point to the practice of awarding victors in the athletic games a white stone with their name engraved on it. The new name suggests a new identity, much akin to the ways God changed the names of Peter and Paul. However we understand the meaning behind the passage, however, the idea is the same: God gives a new identity to His people.

Praise God, friends, if you are in Christ you are not the same. What is true for my friends who have come to Christ out of addiction, prison, rebellion, and homosexuality is true of all of us (indeed it must be true of all of us for we are all sinners). I am not who I was, and neither are you if you are in Christ. A Biblical theology of name points to the transformation of our own identity in Christ, the hope that one day the new name we’ve been given will finally be realized in our personhood. We are all new creations.

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