Like most Christians in the western world, I find that I am quite fascinated when we sing about the name of Jesus. I do not doubt that the name of Jesus holds a sense of comfort and power, as I have personally experienced the saving power of calling out that name in dire situations. However, this article is about something different, it is about how the name of Jesus holds a sense of belonging for the Christian. It is the character of the name of Jesus that reminds us that we are people bound in fellowship by a name and that name makes all the difference in the world.
The position this article takes might seem a little bit derivative but this use of a name is more common in our daily lives than we acknowledge. Every human that exists currently can be linked to a nation and/or people group who are identified by a name. This form of identification is usually contested by popular culture but when all is said and done, one’s genetic information aligns one with a name that is not their individual identification but tells of where they belong. In essence, we all belong somewhere and that belonging is identified and associated with through the function of a name. For instance, I am a Nigerian man. No matter where I travel to or naturalize to, if all documents were lost and my genetic information harvested, all links will point back to that name – Nigeria. This is the same approach I assume as I refer to the belonging that the name of Jesus affords everyone that believes in Him. When we believe in Jesus we undergo such a spiritual transformation that when our spirits are tested, the information will always point back to Jesus.
The sense of identity and belonging we have in Jesus implies that we are a people, a nation. Therefore, it is not uncommon that we have a name that refers to the connection we have to our heritage. People of Nigeria are referred to as Nigerians, people of Rome are called Romans, so it follows that people of Jesus are called Christians. If you are confused about the disparity in names, Jesus was also referred to as Jesus Christ or Jesus the Christ. ‘Christ’ is used as a title which means “the anointed one” and is an equivalent to “Messiah”. It is this essential character of Jesus as Christ that was used to identify his followers, hence the title – Christians. This is particularly interesting because we are identified not just by a name but also by the character of the one who bears the name. To be called Christians essentially implies that we belong to a people group that has its identity rooted in our anointed role of saving the world by pointing it to God.
The question of belonging is one that is too complex to tackle in this short piece but I would like to emphasize the point earlier made as regards to how our biological identifiers define where we belong. This implies that we are born into whatever group we belong to. Hence I am Nigerian not by choice or selection but by birth. I was born that way and there is not much I can do to change it. Definitely, I can get citizenship in some other place but my biology does not change. For my essential biological identity to change, I must literally be born again. This goes to explain why the bible uses such drastic imagery when referring to our transformation into Christians. It is not a contract or agreement we undertake, it is rebirth. Our spirits are literally and unironically born again. This is why we can lay claim to the name of Jesus. Without this process, we cannot bear the name of Christians in truth. Jesus said to Nicodemus:
I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ (John 3:5-7 NLT)
To be called by name, by God’s name is therefore a question of what birth we have gone through. This can sound very confusing and even Jesus acknowledges it in his conversation with Nicodemus but Paul comes through with a beautiful explanation:
If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13 NLT)
The sum of Paul’s and Jesus Christ’s statements clearly makes the argument that by believing that God through Jesus has taken the payment for our sin and declaring that faith in the name of Jesus, you are reborn by the Holy Spirit and you are now a part of a people group called Christians. Ain’t that exciting?!
Being a Christian for as long as I have been has been all kinds of beautiful. It truly is a salvation. Imagine having a natural immunity to a disease that affects everyone else and then having the capacity to transfer it to anyone that wants it! That is what living as a Christian is like! Yes, there is sin, sickness, shame and pain in this world but it has no power in my life. This means that although I get into those experiences, I always have the option of engaging them from my identity as a Christian and when I do so, they lose effectiveness and I thrive over them even up to the extent of miraculously putting them to an end physically as well. These are rights that are accessible to us only because we belong to the body of Christ. It is similar to how I have certain rights as a Nigerian that I never got to earn. I only got access to them because I was born Nigerian. In the same vein, by believing and confessing the beautiful work of salvation in Jesus, we are born of the Holy Spirit and we have access to certain rights because of that birth.
It is important to note, that regardless of my birth, I can be unaware of my belonging or the benefits of it. Where adequate communication with the source is stifled, a citizen can be alienated from things that are rightfully his primarily because he is ignorant that those rights exist. There are too many Christians that live like this. They have believed and accepted the Lordship of Christ and are born citizens of the Kingdom of God but they live as though they never experienced anything and the primary reason for this anomaly is the lack of communication with the source. The name of this article is culled from God responding to the prayers of Solomon at the dedication of the temple and God makes two things clear;
- I have chosen you as my people
- To enjoy the benefit of being my people, you need to act accordingly
Belonging to any group of people gives you rights that can be sidelined by your actions. In the same vein, belonging to God’s people gives you rights that can be made ineffective by your actions. God said to Solomon:
Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT)
It is important to note that much like citizenry, action does not negate belonging. It rather affects the experience of belonging. This means that there are things that every Christian should enjoy but they miss out on these things because their actions do not align with the principles for those things. These principles are communicated through the Holy Spirit both directly and through the written word which He inspired. When we maintain this communication line, it is akin to reading your country’s constitution and in the same manner that it makes you bolder in your identity, communication with the Holy Spirit makes you bolder in your Christianity. It is one thing to have access to every blessing God has given to His people but it is another thing to know how to use it.
In conclusion, to be called a Christian is an affirmation of citizenship. It is to say that we belong to a LORD – Jesus the Christ. It is to say we bear his name and we have access to all that He has given us. We are not a religion, we are a Kingdom and our King is awesooooooooooome! We got into this Kingdom not by anything we could do but we accepted an invitation to believe that God through Jesus paid our debts and when we believed this and confessed it, the Holy Spirit rebirthed our spirits granting us citizen status among God’s people. Our citizenship is not questionable but our experience can be challenged when we are not familiar with who we are and who we are meant to become. Therefore, communication with the Holy Spirit is paramount for us so that we can learn the ways to maximize all that God has made available for us through Jesus Christ. One thing stays true throughout this process and that is – WE ARE A PEOPLE CALLED BY THE NAME OF GOD.