I have always liked my name; I think it suits me. It is simple, but not too popular. It’s Biblical, but not archaic. Of course, when I was growing up, my family had a lot of nicknames for me that had nothing to do with my given name. My mother had sweet names of endearment for me, whereas my older sisters had monikers to express their annoyance with me. As I was reading in Acts, I thought about how we know Peter by his nickname, which was given to him by Jesus. I wondered what it must have been like to have a nickname given to you by God, Himself. There is a special intimacy when God doesn’t just know your name, He gives you a new name. I had never given much thought to the fact that Jesus had nicknames for some of the disciples, but becoming aware of it changes my perception of what it was like to be part of that group.
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
It didn’t take much thinking on this point to realize that God likes to change people’s names. In Genesis 17, God made a covenant with Abram and then told him that his name would be Abraham, and his wife Sarai’s name would be Sarah. Jacob’s new name was bestowed on him after he demanded a blessing from the angel of the Lord. He had been wrestling all night with God, and this striving earned him the name Israel, by which his descendants would be called. Each of these names was prophetic, and had to do with God establishing His covenant with the persons involved. Peter’s name was no different: it came with a prophecy. It is not revealed in Scripture what Peter thought of being called Rock, from his very first meeting with Jesus. These days, a nickname like Rock could go either way; you could be calling someone stupid or strong. We are left to wonder what Simon, the fisherman, thought when the Messiah first said, “You shall be called Rock.” (John 1:42) Further, I wonder what the other disciples thought when Jesus told Peter, “. . .on this rock I will build my church. . .” My best guess is that they had no idea what Jesus was talking about. It was the kind of prophecy that you look back on later, after events have occurred, and realize what was meant.
Name and reputation go hand-in-hand. We use the phrase “make a name for yourself” to describe becoming notable for something you do. Some of us need a new name more than others. Some reputations, like that of Jacob as a swindler or cheater, are just too much to carry with us into a new life. When I look at my past I cringe, remembering times that I have left people with a bad impression of me. Bad decisions cause collateral damage. Sometimes, I wish that I could right the wrongs, but most things cannot be changed. I can only move forward, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” (Phil. 3:13) I am afraid I have too good a memory to do this well.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:16-17
I know I spend too much time contemplating the mistakes of my past. I don’t like the sting of the regrets, but I return to them over and over in my mind. From the big mistakes that altered the course of my life to the little choices, when I could have been kinder in my words and actions. There are friendships that I abandoned and people that I didn’t thank for all they did for me. Part of the problem was that I was running away from the reputation I had made for myself and didn’t like. We all have a tendency to forget we are redeemed and to cling to our chains and scars. We tend to define who we are by our pasts instead of by who we are in Christ.
I am not entirely sure how other people think of me, but I know my reputation with God is different. Before God, my given name doesn’t matter; my past is wiped away and I am a new creation. He has cleared the record of my sins and He sees the purity of Christ when He looks at me. I don’t know if God has a special name for me, but I know I am His beloved child, chosen before time. Seeing myself as having a new name – a cleansed reputation before God – might help me to free my mind of the past. I need to stop regarding myself ‘according to the flesh,’ and begin seeing myself as ‘a new creation.’ I keep coming back to a fisherman named Simon, turned blundering and denying disciple. He became Peter, who spread the gospel, healed the lame, and raised the dead in the name of Jesus. God’s purpose for me is not likely to be so grand. But I need to remember that I am just as much His child because He has called me by name, just as He did Simon Peter.