A Christian By Any Other Name . . .

What’s in a name?

Apparently, a lot, according to those of us who follow Jesus!

We clearly attribute much to what we’re called. “Christian” isn’t doing it anymore, so we twist ourselves into linguistic pretzels coming up with labels that don’t have negative connotations for anyone and that adequately describe who we are as new creations.

“Christian” used to do it. It distinguished us from followers of Mohammed or from those who practice Judaism or Buddhists. But, for some, that feels like a broad generic label that covers so much, it says too little. Two people who identify as Christians can meet and five minutes in — find they have very little in common – sometimes not even Jesus!

Denominational labels used to help, but there are so many ways to divide and we’re all looking for points of agreement, so they are limited in their usefulness. Some of us come up with blends like “baptigelicostal,” to explain our various leanings and inclusions. We’re trying, right? We’re trying.

Modifiers assist, until they don’t. Progressive, liberal, inclusive, conservative, fundamental, mainline, independent, evangelical. Maybe they helped at one time, but now they’ve become politicized, popularized, demonized, inflated, divisive, more walls than windows. Plus, the moment we utter them, we expand by defining them, and by then, our listener has moved on and barely has energy left to hear about Jesus.

Ugh.

We try to get back to our root – which is why we have “radical” Christians, biblical Christians, people of the Way, or simply Jesus-followers. Strip it down. Go back to go forward. Keep it simple, right? There’s something to this. We’re trying, right? We’re trying.

We’re trying, which is fine, as long as we’re not denying, that a Christian by any other name is still, by new nature, not at home in the world, unwelcome, a trespasser, a sojourner, a citizen of a city yet to come, offensive to those opposed to truth, an enemy – even – of those sold out to the enemy of our Father.

And yes, we love all – those who persecute us, those who hate us, those who call us enemy – and we seek to build bridges, open doors and hearts, get ourselves out of the way of the gospel, represent the One who is Love – but we will, by virtue of our affiliation with Christ – be rejected by many – even if we devise the perfect name.

A name is not nothing. God names His creations. He passed this love of naming on to Adam. Jesus renamed those He loved. And when we are home, He will tell us all our true names and we will sigh and say, “Yes, that’s exactly the word my soul was searching to find.”

Until then, it’s an imperfect science, and endless art, this pursuit of our name. Perhaps it’s like trying to say something in a foreign tongue that has no equivalent in that language. A phrase that is perfect in Swahili, but loses something in the translation to English. Perhaps that’s why we struggle.

When our hearts take the turn from dancing with the piper of this world to following in the footsteps of Jesus, we become citizens of a realm whose tongue we will spend a lifetime (and beyond) learning to speak. When we try to speak into this world exactly who we are and what we’ve become, there are no words equal to the task.

But, we’re trying, right? We follow Jesus. We are a peculiar people. We live by His Word. We are a royal priesthood. Chosen. Holy. Sons and daughters of the Most High God. Sacred servants. Friends of God. Alive who were once dead. Free who were once enslaved.

Names are important, but more important is who we are, who our lives reveal us to be, and what they reveal about Jesus.

If we are alive to Him, walking in His ways, will others not say, “I don’t care what you’re called, I’m drawn to your life and want to know what you know.” And will we not answer, “It’s not a what, it’s a who – His name is Jesus, and that’s the only name you really need to know.”

Who are we? Forget the labels. Let us say only

I am loved by God.

I am freed by truth.

I am Redeemed.

What are you calling yourself, these days? I’d love to know.


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5 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Julie Kaspick says:

    After 50 years, I’m still just an old “Jesus People”!

  2. Kim Wilbanks says:

    Christ-follower, Believer (which I guess is a little ambiguous), Christian. Learning to call myself beloved daughter.

  3. Paul Taylor says:

    When I was a teen someone told that she was not Christian. She was Catholic. I assumed that meant not a Protestant. Later, in my thoughts I said wait a minute. Catholics are Christian. Now, when asked I say I am Christian and that either invites a stare or further discussion which pleases me no end. In this country people know who and what a Christian is. Some don’t like that much. Others don’t care. The don’t care types are the toughest to talk to.

    I really enjoyed this blog (along with most of your blogs) because it reminded me of that Catholic girl who was not a Christian. She started me on my path of enjoying and defending my counter culture Christianity.

  4. Renee Plouff says:

    I am settled for the time being on saying, when asked what denomination I’m in or even if I’m a Christian, I am a follower of Jesus.” Not original I know but it helps me the what I am directly to Jesus and away from a religious organization.

  5. Derry Thompson says:

    I first heard this at a Promise Keeper gathering. Here’s what I found on the web…

    The author is unknown, but is believed to be a young pastor in Zimbabwe who was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. It was found in his study:

    “I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit’s power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made — I’m a disciple of his. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, worldly talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.”

    “I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean in his presence, walk by patience, am uplifted by prayer, and I labor with power.”

    “My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifices, hesitate in the presence of the enemy, pander at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.”

    “I won’t give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till he stops me. And, when he comes for his own, he will have no problem recognizing me … my banner will be clear.”