Meditations on Luke: Our Given Identities

Luke 1:57-66

“. . . but his mother spoke up and said, ‘No! He is to be called John.’”

When my wife was pregnant with each of our daughters, we felt a degree of stress in coming up with names for them. For one thing, we didn’t want to offend anyone in our families of origin. Use names from only one side of the family and you may alienate folks on the other. But just as important, we knew our girls would be stuck with whatever name we gave them. Names are important identifying markers for people, so by giving them names we were in no small way contributing to their identities. And all before we even met them!

Think about how odd this is. Someone else gave your name to you. In most cases that name came from your parents. They gave it to you without asking your opinion on the matter. Or, if you happen to be known by a nickname that was assigned to you later in life, then that too came from the assessment and judgment of others. We like to think it is up to us to determine our identities, but when it comes to the most basic mark of who we are, we have to work with what others say about us. We are named into a story that is bigger than us. Our lives, like our names, were given to us without our input.

When John the Baptist was born, everybody was anxious to know what he would be named. Would he be called Zeke Jr., after his father? “No,” said his mother, Elizabeth. His name would be John. And for one simple reason: that is the name God said to give him. This is an indication that John’s identity, like the name that represented it, would grow out of God’s claim on his life. Before John ever did or said the first thing to prove his usefulness or skill, God had a purpose for John’s life. John’s identity was tied directly to who God said he was.

That is true for every one of us. The most important statement about who we are comes from who God says we are. Our identity is tied most fully not to our usefulness, to our productivity, to our skills and abilities, or to any of the other things the world says are important about a person. Our identity is tied to what God says about us. The name that appears on our birth certificates may come from our parents (who, by the way, act as God’s agents in the process whether they realize it or not), but it is God who names us. And the name he longs to give each of us is “my child.”

Holy God, help me today to hear what you say about me. Teach me to trust your claim on my life over anyone else’s. Thank you that because of Christ I can be your child. In his name, Amen.

This post originally appeared in Meditations on Luke: Daily Devotions from the Gentile Physician by Chris Cadenhead.

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