What do you say to yourself about yourself? Do you feel about yourself as our God of grace does? As a psychologist everyday I get inside the heads of people who are struggling. Here’s what I hear: I blew it. I’m a failure…. I’ve been abused. I’m a victim… I gave in again. I’m an addict…. I’m alone. I’m just a loner… I can’t lose weight. I’m unattractive.
Be Free of Shame!
Shame is the most painful and destructive of all emotional states. To feel ashamed is to believe yourself to be bad and rejected for your badness. You think you are worthless and un-loveable. You reject yourself and expect others, including God, to reject you. You look at what is wrong with you (or what seems wrong) and say, “That’s me and I’m bad!” In other words, when you’re ashamed you’re identifying yourself with a bad part of you or a bad thing that was done to you.
Of course, we all commit sin (by action, inaction, and attitude), and sin is offensive and causes God, others, and ourselves pain. Indeed, our sin is a terrible problem, but it is eradicated by God’s mercy and grace when we put our faith in Jesus Christ who sacrificed his pure life to pay the price for our sins and to reconcile us to God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) This means that those who trust in Jesus and receive their righteousness as God’s gift (rather than something they have to work for or measure up to) need never continue in a state of shame! (Ephesians 2:8-9)
So how should we feel when we sin? If God doesn’t want us living in shame even when we’ve sinned then what does he want us to feel? Momentary guilt. What the Bible calls “godly sorrow.”
Godly sorrow is different than a depressing, dead-end guilt referred to in the Bible as “worldly sorrow.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) To feel godly sorrow or conviction about your sin is to feel sad that you’ve offended God or another person. The Holy Spirit pricks your conscience to show you that you’ve “missed the mark” of God’s good and holy purpose and brought on pain to yourself, others, and God. Then, trusting in God’s love, mercy, and grace you confess your sin and ask God for forgiveness.
The Believer’s Heart is Good!
If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ then the implications of what I’m saying are startling and glorious! Do you see it?
No matter what you’ve done, no matter what’s been done to you, “Your heart is not bad; it is good!” That’s the revolutionary change that God wants for you.
Wait! Stop right there! You may be thinking. Doesn’t Jeremiah say that the heart is “deceitful and wicked”? (Jeremiah 17:9) Bill, how can you say the heart is good?
Yes, since Adam and Eve’s sin the hearts of all people have been corrupted by sin and are incapable of goodness apart from God. What I’m saying is that the heart that trusts in Jesus Christ and is being re-created and transformed by God is good. (2 Corinthians 3:18) Not all good, mind you, but good at the core. Yes, sin still lurks in all of our hearts and we must battle with God’s strength to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21), but Christ-followers are not to form their identities around their sins nor the sins of others against them, but around Christ.
Unfortunately, most people have not been taught this way of thinking at home or in church. But this is exactly Paul’s message in Romans 7. (It’s sad how commonly we misinterpret this chapter!) He describes his personal battle with sin saying, “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want do – this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:19) This is the battle over his heart between God and Satan, angels and demons, and his Christ-redeemed-self and his “flesh.”
The crucial thing to notice here is what Paul bases his self-identity on. By himself he admits he is a “wretched man.” (Romans 7:24) But this is not where he places his identity! Instead he thanks Jesus for rescuing him and he concludes that in his mind (his true self) he is committed to Jesus and will continue to battle and overcome his sinful nature. (Romans 7:24-25) It isn’t “I” who sin; it is “sin” living in me — this is Paul’s firm belief. (Romans 7:20)
Have you Received your New Name from the Lord?
So this is my question for you. What are you basing your identity on? Your pain? Your badness? Your goodness? No! No! No! You want to base your identity on God’s love, forgiveness, and grace to you by embracing the miracle that he can make you a “new creation” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
So as a believer in Jesus Christ your identity is that of a “new self.” (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10) This transformation of God’s people fulfills Ezekiel’s beautiful prophecies from long ago that God will give his people a “new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31, 36:26). Isaiah also prophesied about this. If you believe in Jesus and yet you’re struggling with feelings of shame then I encourage you to pray over these beautiful words from Isaiah 62:2-3:
You will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.
How Jacob Received His New Name
Consider how Jacob gained his new name from the Lord (Genesis 29-32). Here’s how I described it in my book A Walk with Your Shepherd:
Jacob’s name meant “deceiver and cheat,” and he lived up to his name, cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright and deceiving his aged father… After many years of struggle, working for his father-in-law, in which Jacob experienced many family conflicts, hard times, and disappointments, he began a journey to make peace with Esau. On the way, he wrestled with God in the night, seeking his blessing, and he overcame. As a result, God renamed Jacob. Jacob became Israel, meaning “The Overcomer.”
When Jacob discovered that he wasn’t “The Cheater,” he was Israel, “The Overcomer” he lived with a new purpose and a new intimacy with God. He became the father of a nation and to this day, his descendants, the Jews, continue to live with Israel’s courage in the face of persecution and terrorism, knowing that they too are overcomers.
In fact, the Bible is full of stories like this. Abraham, Paul, and Peter were literally given new and beautiful names by God. Joseph, David, Rahab, Ruth, Jonah and so many others in the Bible tell the stories of real people learning from their failings and going through painful struggles as the forged a new, God-blessed identity and purpose.
How I Received my New Name
I am convinced that to discover the blessing of our new names we need to wrestle with God through difficulties as Jacob and the others did. We need to struggle through pain and disappointment and failure, continually crying out to God, “Who am I? What have you made me to be and to do?” until we get our answer.
I know I’ve wrestled with God over this. As a boy I learned from my mother that William means “Protector” and I thought that maybe my life was about standing up for her if my dad disappointed her, but this left me feeling smothered and depressed and so I withdrew. As a college student I thought I was to be a medical doctor and even though my family and friends were proud of me I was miserable and so I quit and I felt like I was a “disappointment.”
Even today, many years later, the roles I love the most like husband, father, psychologist, and teacher aren’t enough for me and at times may may leave me feeling bored or empty. I’ve learned that I can’t let any of these roles by themselves define me.
I had to hear my Good Shepherd call me by name and lead me into bringing my God-redeemed self into all the roles and activities of my life (John 10:3). And so do you!
For me it happened as I was struggling with God over my sense of purpose. I had lost any sense of my uniqueness. I was missing passion for Christ and serving him. Then I read a familiar passage in the Bible:
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
It was like I’d never read these words before, even though I probably had read them a hundred times! God touched my heart, deep inside. So I was pondering and praying over these words and I sensed God say to me, “Bill, you’re my ambassador. You’re to represent me and to share my goodness and wisdom with those who need my care.”
My heart resonated with this. Yes! I am the Lord’s Ambassador! I love caring for souls in Jesus’ name! God has gifted me to teach and to counsel and when I do this — whether in my counseling office, in a classroom, on a walk with my wife, at the kitchen table with my family, or over a cup of tea with a friend — I feel alive and I know that I’m making my contribution to the cause of Christ.
“It’s Hard to Believe that God Has a New Name for Me”
Maybe you think God doesn’t have a wonderful name for you? Don’t accept that idea! Instead, put yourself in the story from the musical Man of La Mancha? It’s an incredible, moving story. The Man of La Mancha is a knight who meets a prostitute named Aldonza, but instead of using her for sex, as so many before him have he calls out to her, “My lady! I give you a new name – Dulcinea.” And he sings about her, “To Dream the Impossible Dream.”
But Aldonza recoils and cries out, “Don’t call me a lady. I was born in a ditch by a mother who left me there, naked and cold and too hungry to cry. I never blamed her. I’m sure she left hoping that I’d have the good sense to die. Look at me. I’m no lady. I’m only a kitchen slut, reeking with sweat. A strumpet men use and forget. Don’t call me Dulcinea. I am only Aldonza and I am nothing at all!”
“But you are my lady, Dulcinea,” the knight calls out to her again as she runs away and hides in the darkness.
Aldonza is too ashamed and afraid to dare to believe that she could be the Man of La Mancha’s lady. I’m not beautiful, she thinks. He doesn’t really love me. I’ll never be anything but a wretch.
But still the knight sings of his love for her. Still he sees past her ragged appearance to a beauty inside. If only she would believe as he does! If only she could stop defining herself by the unjust wounds of abandonment and rape and repeated rejections. If only she could accept that her seductive appeals to weak men, her anger at the world, and her stubbornness toward the Man of La Mancha (God’s grace to her) could be forgiven. Her wounds could be soothed and her sins forgiven. She could be clean and receive a new and beautiful life from above, if only she’d accept her new name!
But we know how hard it is. You and I too have hidden from the love we need at times. Maybe you’re hiding now. Are you afraid to believe that God can make you a beautiful new creature? Have you let shame hold you back receiving deep in your soul God’s grace to you in Jesus Christ?
Then hold on for here comes the last act in the play! The knight is dying. His heart is broken because Aldonza refused his love; she didn’t accept her new name. He’s been condemned as a crazy person and an outcast. After all, who could believe such ridiculous things like Aldonza the town slut being a beautiful lady named Dulcinea?
Then to the knight’s dying bed comes a lady. She’s dressed in mantilla and lace. A smile adorns her glowing, angelic face. A heavenly choir is singing. Quietly she prays over the Man of La Mancha. He opens his eyes and asks, “Who are you?”
“My name? My name is Dulcinea!”
Ideas to Help You Discover Your New Name
To receive the blessing of a new name as Dulcinea did we need to hear God’s loving voice. Sometimes we hear it through listening prayer or through meditating on His Word as I did. But usually we hear it through grace-giving people in the Body of Christ. As with Dulcinea, we all need someone like the Man of La Mancha to love us in spite of our badness, to see what is beautiful in us in spite of what is ugly, and to persist in calling out to us. This helps us to trust in and internalize what we read God says about us in His Word.
Here are some additional, specific ideas to help you to receive the blessing of a new and beautiful name from the Lord. Maybe God would lead you to take one of these steps with Jesus…
- Talk to someone you trust about any bad or shameful feelings you have about yourself, seeking the healing and grace from God that you need.
- Regularly and specifically confess your sins to God and to someone you trust and receive forgiveness. (James 5:15, 1 John 1:9)
- Search and pray through the Scriptures as I did to find a “life verse” to describe your identity and calling from God.
- Ask a friend, “What makes me unique? How has God made me and what has He called me to do?” And ask God this same question and listen until you get an answer.
- Find at least one Christian (whether a friend or someone you’ve observed via his or her ministry) that you admire and would like to identify with. Then consider that maybe the qualities you appreciate in this person exist inside you and just need encouragement and prayer to blossom.
- Take a personality test and then appreciate how God has designed you by being your self with God and others.
- Take a spiritual gifts inventory (or read Romans 12:6-8 lists seven “service gifts) and then use your gift to help others in your church or another Christian ministry.