Names are hard.
Names hold weight and power.
They shape our identity, No, they are the foundation of our identities. What names do you carry?
Mother. Daughter. Sister.
Brother. Father. Son.
Husband. Wife. Friend.
Tool. Victim. Slave.
Many of those are names gained based on your relationship to someone else. You have a father, thus you are a son or daughter. You have a son or daughter, thus you are a mother. You have a brother or sister, and thus you are a brother or sister.
Some of those names are chosen; picked up. You choose a wife, and thus you are a husband. You choose a husband, and thus are a wife. You choose to be a friend of a person, and they choose to be a friend of you. You choose an employer and they choose you as their employee. You choose an employee and they choose you as their employer.
Other names aren’t chosen. Other names are given or forced upon you. You don’t choose to be a victim, someone else made you that. You don’t choose to be a slave, someone makes a slave of you. Names given to you may take many forms, and your own may be coming to mind as you read this.
When you gain a name based on your relationship to another being, it just is. You can’t change that. It will always be who you are.
When you choose a name it becomes a part of who you are, and it changes you a bit. You can choose to relinquish that name, but you can never un-choose it. It began to change the chemical make up of you. If you relinquish one of those names, you get a new name: “Ex-husband/wife” “Used-to-be friend” “Former employee/employer”. And those new names are permanent, no matter how much you would like to lose them.
When names are forced upon you, you also can’t loosen their hold on you. You are bound to them; tied to them, and they like to keep a short leash.
Wow, I started this post with a totally different intent.
I was going to talk about why I named this blog “Remnants of a Homeland.” I was going to discuss the difference between a “homeland” and a “kingdom” (which was my first idea for a name for this blog, Remnants of a Kingdom) and why it might still be relevant. We were going to talk about “kingdom ideology” and what I’ve found in the Bible while I look up what Jesus meant by “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” We were gonna talk about the split between what Jesus did and asked us to do, and what we try to do for Him instead.
I guess that’s not what we’re gonna talk about today.
Are you a victim? I am. I’m a victim of legalism.
Have you been used? Used up? I have.
Have you been abused? Taken advantage of? I have been.
Have you been called something you didn’t choose?
I have. A great number of things. A great number of bad names, and even the “good” names are oppressive if you didn’t choose them.
The funny thing about being given a name is that you begin to call yourself by it. You actually begin to believe that is who you are. Even if you didn’t want it, even if you don’t want it, you keep it. Instead of the shackles holding you, you begin to hold them because you don’t deserve anything better. You aren’t anything better. If you’ve ever rebelled against their names you know just how quickly the leash-holders pull you back down and remind you to remember who you are.
Then this verse washed over me like cool, clean water:
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15
Jesus referred to people as servants about 5 times in the gospels, including examples in parables. Jesus referred to people as friends over 10 times easily, and I began to lose track.
If you’ve read Paul’s letters, specifically Philippians 2, you’re probably going crazy when I refer to the name “slave” being one forced upon you, because you know there is such a thing called bondservant. Quick cultural lesson: At the time, if you borrowed money or had some kind of debt to a person that you couldn’t pay off, you became a servant to them until you could work off your debt. If they were a good master to you and took care of you, after you had served your time you could come back to them and choose to stay their slave because life was better under their rule than outside of it. This is how Paul referred to Himself over and over again in his letters to the churches. It was his name and identity.
The thing is, pre-Christ, there was a huge debt of sin stacked up against us. Those under the law worked and worked and worked to downsize some of that debt, only to realize it was completely and totally insurmountable. Overwhelmed, many quit trying, while others continued to work themselves bloody to prove themselves faithful, and others created more laws to bind others and make slaves for themselves in hopes of being seen as more holy and less in-debt. What a hopeless situation.
Then Jesus came. And oh my word. He was called a “friend of sinners” and He repeatedly rebuked those who tried to cover their own “debts” by making “slaves” of others. He was approachable, even in the dead of night, to the faithful ones who hoped that maybe He could bring the end to their striving.
He took with Him all our debts, nailing them to His same cross, and paid the debt. All of it. Gone. Done. Paid in full.
Those who had striven need strive no more. Those who had given up had hope for restoration. Those who had forced others into carrying more loads could, if they chose, also come and be released of their own chains, and then release others.
That was Paul’s story. Pharisee among pharisees, Jew among Jews, he was really good at striving. He was really good at perfecting himself. But he wasn’t enough. When He sees the debt stacked against himself he said “What a wretched man I am, who can save me from this body of death?” And then he saw Jesus, and he saw that it was paid;
it was finished.
Overjoyed and free of his contract of servanthood he ran back to his Master and said, “I want to keep serving You, for You are good, and I’m better off with You than anywhere else.” (Even if that meant shipwrecks and snakebites and almost dying multiple times.) That’s Paul’s story.
But here’s something I’ve been wondering.
I think being a bondservant is a really important phase. I think its the natural overflow of overwhelming gratitude from those who had been bound under the law. It’s the complete and total surrender to a good Master because you know He’s good, and life is better with Him than anyone else. It’s the logical conclusion. And it’s good.
But what about when He calls you friend?
It’s like we ran back to Him and threw ourselves at His feet, kissing them while we thanked Him. Whatever You want, Lord, whatever You want of me!
Abundant, abounding grace.
He lowers Himself to one knee and lifts our chin; His sparkling eyes piercing ours, and says, “Friends?”
That’s a chosen name. We were chosen, and we can choose back, to be a friend of God.
Or we can choose something else, and this is where it’s sad.
We can still choose to pick back up that yoke of slavery, and that is a very dangerous decision, folks. We are no longer under the law, Jesus paid a hefty price for that. But never, ever, did He say that He paid that price and now we have to pay Him back. Never did He hint that He did a “pay-advance” but now we owe Him back with interest.
DONE. It is FINISHED.
There is only one way to fall from this grace:
“For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” Galatians 5:4
God has removed the name “slave” from our identity. We could hold onto it if we feel like we have to, but He does not call us that, and He pleads for us to give it up if it ever leads us to lean on ourselves again. In fact, the only way to regain the identity of “sinner” is to put ourselves back under the law again! (Galatians talks more about this below. You really should just read the whole book, because it’s all about this.)
I’ve been a bondservant. In more ways than one. It seeped in and put cracks into my identity as a beloved child and as a friend. Those cracks led me to believe that I needed to prove my worth to God by my ministry to Him; that I needed to prove to Him that it was a good thing that He saved me because I could earn my keep.
Oh, beloved child. He would so much rather have His sons and daughters as friends than as slaves who don’t know that He had already done it all. If you think you need to pick up the law again, You make Christ’s sacrifice out to be nothing. He came for so much more than slaves.
He came for friends.
19 For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God.
20 My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
21 I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.
3:1 Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.
2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.
3 How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?
4 Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?