"But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered, You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah! And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." (Matt 16: 15-17)
God is in the name changing business. It's a pattern in the bible. God has a significant encounter with someone and then gives them a new name. Or perhaps to put it differently, someone will confess (in one way or another) God's name. And God changes that person's name as a result. But why? Juliet's question is a reasonable one. What's in a name?
In the biblical worldview, the answer, quite simply, is everything. A name is everything – a name is never "merely a name." Nor is a name simply a way of addressing someone. In the bible, names speak of ontology – of one's true identity. One's name points to who one is on the inside – to who one is before God. And our ontology, our "inside," our true identity, is precisely what God is so interested in changing.
And so from the very beginning, God has been in the "name changing" business. Abram becomes Abraham. Sarai becomes Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel. Saul becomes Paul. James and John become Boanerges – "Sons of Thunder." Simon son of Jonah becomes Petros or Cephas or, to use the best modern translation, "Rocky." God gave each of these people whom he called a new name. That's what God is all about – changing our name.
I have two thoughts on the matter. First, names matter. Jesus' "name" is an important concept to grasp. After all, Jesus says he'll "do whatever you ask in my name" (Jn 14:13). And Jesus' name is supremely unique. God "gave him the name that is above every name" (Phil 2:9). And because of this Paul says we must "do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col 3:17). And so first and foremost, learning to honor Jesus' name is a key component to being his disciple. And if we're to honor Jesus' name, we have to understand that names speak of identity and ontology and about who we are on the inside. And so honoring Jesus' name is about having our "insides" come to mirror the insides of Jesus. Jesus' name is not some wizardly incantation or magic formula. To do "everything" in Jesus' name doesn't mean announcing "in the name of Jesus" just before I swing my 9-iron. Nor is it possible to ask for God to destroy my enemies in Jesus' name, for Jesus' name entails loving those same enemies – people for whom Jesus died. Jesus' name, of course, requires intentionality. That is, Jesus' name is something we first confess. But after that, Jesus' name is something we live – something that transforms us.
This brings me to my second thought. In honoring Jesus' name, we too are given a new name – that is, a new identity. And in a very real sense, our "new name" is part of our salvation. "To everyone who conquers I will give … a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it" (Rev 2:17). And as Jesus says, "I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels" (Rev 3:5). And for Jesus to give us a new identity, a new ontology, a new "name," and then to confess that name before his Father is central to our Christian hope.
FOR TODAY: Seek out creative ways to honor Jesus' name – to do everything in Jesus' name (Col 3:17). Everything means everything. Eat your mashed potatoes in Jesus' name. And drive your car in Jesus' name. And go about your life in Jesus' name. This is what it means to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). And as you do this, remember that you've been given a new name – a name that will be revealed on the Last Day, but that for now is safely "hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:3).