TITLE: God Wants to Change Your Name
By William Baldwin
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Words have power and possess the ability to create things that did not exist previously. This principle is present in every realm of God’s creation. It was the standard used in creation itself.
Only a few verses into the Bible, scripture states that each act of creation was preceded by, “Then God said” (Genesis 1:3,4,9,11,14,20,24,26).
Following His declaration, “Let there be light,” the outcome was “there was light” (Genesis 1:3) and creation followed a similar pattern all the way through. Thus words preceded everything created.
THE AUTHORITY TO NAME
Names are words used to distinguish, identify, classify, or categorize people, places or things. It follows that there must be someone with the authority to “name”. In the beginning, the Lord shared this authority with Adam. Genesis 2:19 states, “Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.”
It’s remarkable to think about Adam naming every beast of the field and bird of the air. I often wonder what he called them. Is it possible the names we call these animals by today have their roots with Adam? I think it is absolutely possible!
Furthermore, it shows that whoever is given authority over someone (or a thing) they have the authority to name them. My parents gave me the name William Ray Baldwin. Actually, my sister came up with the name “Ray”. She wanted to call me “Billy Ray”—and I am glad that name did not stick! Even so, only my parents had the authority to make my name official. Whoever has authority over you has the right to name you!
When I played high school football I was given the nickname “Bubba” because I loved Bubba Smith who, at the time, played defensive end for the Baltimore Colts. I also played defensive end so he was my role model.
When the guys on the team started calling me “Bubba” I liked it. So I let them continue calling me by that name. I actually played better and with more intensity when I heard them call me “Bubba.” Something about being identified with the same name as my role model brought my game to another level because I wanted to live up to his name.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I was listed as “Bubba Baldwin” in the Friday night game program. So where did they get the authority to re-name me? I gave it to them by allowing them to call me by that name. Not only did I not reject it, I encouraged it!
By the way, the name stuck for much longer than I would imagine. One year ago, thirty years after I graduated from high school, while driving through my hometown, I stopped at a convenience store for gasoline. When I went inside to pay the clerk I heard someone a few aisles over yell out, “Hey Bubba!” It didn’t get my attention at first. “Bubba!” After the second shout, my memory banks were jarred and I turned around to see an old high school teammate that I had not seen in thirty years. To him, I was still “Bubba”. Names stick.
A divine principle was initiated when the Lord gave Adam the authority to name the animals. The principle is this: Whoever has been given authority to name someone, if that person does not reject the name, he/she will be conformed to its image, and take on the character of the name.
Likewise, the Lord has authority to name and re-name you. If you will not reject the name He gives you, eventually, you will become whatever the name is and fulfill its purpose.
In the New Testament it is interesting to note the word “name” literally means character. Therefore, if the name you allow uplifts and encourages you to surpass your former potential and reach higher goals, then you are better off for it. However, if a name demeans and exhibits a negative disposition in character, then you will live to regret it. “Whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.” Likewise, whatever you allow yourself to be called, your character will eventually follow suit.
WHAT IS YOUR NAME?
If words have creative power, it follows that names (which are words) have the same power to create. Our character, dreams, and visions are molded by the names we are given.
In the ancient eastern world, a parent named their child, not for identification purposes only, but for the quality of character and destiny they desired for the child. In other words, the vision the parents had for the child would be depicted in the name they chose for him.
There are a few examples in the Bible where a baby was named because of a difficult situation that occurred at birth. In every instance, as the child grew into adulthood, their name threatened to become their destiny.
One example was Jacob, the second born of twins. His brother, Esau, was born ahead of him. After the birth of Esau “his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau's heel; so his name was called Jacob” (Genesis 25:26). While the name “Jacob” means heel-catcher, it also means supplanter, one who attempts to move ahead of another by force. Jacob lived out his name perfectly, deceiving his brother and his father to forcefully gain position as the sole family heir.
Another example of childhood naming was Jabez. His name means pain. Scripture says “his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain’” (1 Chronicles 4:9). Obviously, his mother had a lot of pain giving birth to the child. Out of anger toward her son, she called him by the name of her pain—Jabez. Can you imagine being identified as a “pain” all your life?
Though we do not have record of Jabez rejecting his actual given name, we do have record of him praying to reject the curse the name intended. Scripture states, “And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested” (1 Chronicles 4:10). Unlike Jacob, we do not have the details of his life, but chances are good that Jabez lived out his life in peace and blessing because he rejected the curse of the name.
The natural question to ask you is, what is your name?
I am not referring to your legal name given to you at birth. What name have you allowed to become attached to your life since you suffered a failure? What names have you had since you were a child? It is even possible the failure you experienced has it roots in names you allowed to be placed upon you when you were young. We add to those names, or reinforce old ones, through the struggles we walk through as adults. Like Jacob, we may be living out the name we were given as a child.
Have you thought about it yet? What is your name?
Remember Jimmy? The teenager I wrote about in Chapter Ten? If you recall, his third grade teacher shamed him in front of his peers and called him a “dummy”. Sadly, over the years, most of Jimmy’s teachers told him the same thing. So, to prove it, they placed him in a special class for the “not-so-bright” kids. Since kindergarten, Jimmy lived up to his name.
I began to see that Jimmy was not dumb, but a wounded young man. He had had a hard life. He never met his dad, as a baby he almost died of crib death, he nearly went blind when he was a boy, he was diagnosed with dyslexia as a teenager, and he tried to commit suicide a year ago. Last year he quit school because he did not fit in and his peers picked on him. He was just living up to his name.
After meeting him for lunch several times, I saw his strengths and began to speak these strengths into his life. By continuously telling him his strong points and saying “This is who you really are,” I prophesied blessing and success over him.
Over time, he agreed to take a reading class and improve his reading skills. Then we enrolled him in a community college to complete his GED. I told him, “Jimmy, you’re definitely not dumb. If anything, you’re right on grade level with everyone else your age.”
One day he phoned me and said, “Bill, would you be upset if I didn’t go to the GED class?” “Why Jimmy? What’s wrong?” I asked. “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking how I’ve overcome so many things in my life, and I think I want to go back to school and give it another try.” I took him to his high school the next day and re-enrolled him.
Now he is back in high school—a junior. Yesterday, I got an email from his grandmother that said, “…I’ve seen a big change in Jimmy…he has confidence and is more sure of himself and…of his future. He…reaches out and makes friends. Two weeks ago Jimmy talked one of his friends out of committing suicide.”
Why the change? We just changed his name, began calling him by his real names, and Jimmy believed us.
People labor under names they were given years ago. Stupid, failure, ugly, lazy, incompetent, slack, shallow – the names go on and on. We toil under them because we have allowed ourselves to be called by those names, and as the principle states, “whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.”
Essentially a name does more than identify us; the name we allow defines us. As I said, we take on the character of the name. If the name is not producing good fruit in our lives, it not only defines us, it goes a step further and confines us and holds us back from walking toward restoration into our destiny.
Your name is among the virtues of your character being restored. You need to know that you do not have to be known as “failure” all your life. Some people may want to call you that, but once restored, that is NOT your name. This book is written to those who failed, but it is not written to failures. If you are genuinely seeking restoration according to a pattern that is appropriate to the integrity to God’s word, you are not a failure and you have the right to reject names that suggest you are. Reject the suggestions that insist that you wear a Scarlet Letter imprinted in your flesh for the rest of your life.
After sin, living out Christ-like character before those around you is the convincing mark of your repentance and restoration. If people around you genuinely want to see you restored to the Lord and to your purpose in His Kingdom, over time, your character will prove true. For those who want to keep you under the category of “failure”, there’s precious little you could ever do to please them anyway. As I said earlier, possibly some Christians were so disappointed by your failure that they may never accept your repentance and restoration. For some you would have to go back and “undo” what you did, which is impossible. If you have true repentance, faithfulness in your desires to be restored and you are submitting to spiritual accountability, all that is left for you to do is live a Christ-like life. Reject the names, otherwise they will define you, and then, confine you.
By now, you should be getting a clearer picture of your name.
CHOOSING A NAME
Life is made up of right and wrong decisions. That includes decisions that create and determine our character. Who we are today is determined by the choices we made yesterday. The choices we make today determine who we will become tomorrow.
With this in mind, Proverbs 22:1 makes an interesting statement about a name: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold” (emphasis mine). Do not miss the words: “A good name is to be chosen.”
The natural line of thought is that names are given, not chosen. To some degree, this is true. However, how you and I choose to live today determines the names others bestow upon us tomorrow. Therefore, where did our name come from? Did we choose it or was it given? It follows that we choose it by the nature of our actions and character.
Likewise, as we repent and seek restoration we must also choose a good name rather than accept old names that no longer apply. If I am living a Christ-like life, I no longer have to accept names that point to past unrighteousness. But herein lays the catch—it is a choice because “a good name is to be chosen.”
In America one of the major mistakes that occurs in our families is what parents choose to speak over their children. Several weeks ago while shopping, I came across a dad cursing his young son, calling him terrible names just because the little boy made a mistake. It was a sad picture. Unless some kind of miracle occurs in that little guy’s life, he will most likely grow up to fulfill every one of his father’s prophecies. In reality, his father was prophesying curses to his son, and because he is the father, he has the authority to confer those names upon his child.
Likewise this same thing happens to us when we accept the negative names people speak over our lives. If we accept the name we are not just being labeled for an action we committed in the past, we embrace it as our nature. Do not allow yourself to be named for a mistake in your past. Repent and come into the Light quickly.
If you accept the name “failure,” it does not just point to a past mistake, you open yourself up to become the embodiment of failure, and you may wonder why you struggle so hard to succeed in many areas of life. In reality you have accepted the name and character of failure, which in turn affects many other areas of your life and livelihood. Never forget the valuable truth that “a good name is to be chosen.”
A NEW NAME
What would you think if I told you that God wants to give you a new name? I get excited when I think about it, so allow me to write this with an exclamation. God wants to give you a new name! I want you to believe it.
Before you run to the internet and do a search under “names,” let me explain. It is not our proper name He necessarily wants to change. The Lord re-names us according to our purpose, calling us by what He sees us becoming, while at the present, we may not look a thing like the given name implies. Sometimes, the way He plans to use you in the future looks nothing like what you have done in the past. Your new name may seem to have no connection with the good or bad you did yesterday.
Even so, the Lord is a Master at using all the elements of our past, good and bad, for His purposes in the future. Our purpose and future success is wrapped up with the sum total of all our life experiences, good and bad, successes and failures.
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Israel was at a low place when Isaiah prophesied about their future. Their past was littered with failure and disobedience to God. Isaiah states in Chapter 59, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (verse 2). However, their past did not stop the Lord from giving prophetic words of encouragement about their future. Isaiah continues:
"You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married" (Isaiah 62:4).
The Lord prophesied the hope of Israel’s restoration and that their old names, “Forsaken” and “Desolate” were going to be forgotten. Now the Lord was going to call them his “Delight” (Hephzibah) and his “Married ones” (Beulah). At that moment, Israel did not look like a delight or a pure bride. He gave them a new name long before they ever displayed a resemblance to either one.
The Lord sees you the same way. Furthermore, He wants to give you a new name. Your old names will be forgotten because He delights in you even before you look very delightful!
Consider the people in scripture who were given new names long before their character reflected it. Abram (“exalted father”) became Abraham (“father of a multitude”), at an age when most men and women are not able to bear children. In faith, Abraham accepted the name. Because of this, when Abraham was one hundred years old and his wife ninety years old, they bore the promised son, Isaac.
Overcome with fear to face his brother Esau, Jacob wrestles with God, and God changes his name from Jacob, “deceiver & supplanter”, to Israel, “Prince of God”. Jacob’s name was changed before he proved himself worthy to bear it. His intense desire for his father’s blessing, though filled with deceit, became the very thing that won the Lord’s heart. Jacob—the deceiver, became Israel—God’s Prince.
Simon Bar-Jonah became Peter (Petros), “the rock”, long before he portrayed such character. And even after he was given his new name, he still failed, denying the Lord. Indeed, like all of us, it took time for Peter’s character to grow into his name.
Finally, Saul of Tarsus, whose name means “asked for” was given the name Paul, “Little one”. Whether the name reflected his physical stature or was a play upon words because of his spiritual authority, Paul lived up to both names and became “asked for” by those within and without the church. His name may have been necessary for the purpose of humility because he was anything but little, though he lived in the humble state of prisons most of his Christian life. The one who seems little in the eyes of men is often a giant in the eyes of God.
CALL YOURSELF WHAT GOD CALLS YOU
A scripture that is often quoted and prayed when the church is in need of revival, is 2 Chronicles 7:14:
"If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
While reading this text, it occurred to me that God was not asking just anyone to pray. The scripture implies that those who are most effective in praying for the healing of a nation will be His people, who, as the Lords says, “are called by My name.” Indeed, the Lord has the authority to name us, and can change our name whenever He pleases. Those who choose to be called by the name the Lord gives them, rather than the name people give them, are most effective in praying for change on earth, in the nations, and the church. We cannot believe God to change a nation or His church if we do not believe He can change us.
It is not unusual for a confident and well-defined leader to lose sight of who he is after failure. I did. I went from confidently knowing my purpose and successfully pursuing it, to wondering what I could do to just pay the bills and merely survive.
Not long after the failure was publicized in my town, I sat at lunch with a friend who was listening to my sob story. I was desperate for some kind of positive affirmation about me and my future, so I asked him, “Do you think I’m still a minister of the Gospel?”
His answer, as I expected, was direct and proved to be prophetic: “Who does God say you are? It doesn’t matter what others say about you, but what God calls you…that is what matters.” I would repeatedly replay his statement in my mind, especially when I was tempted to allow myself to be called less than what God called me.
Sometimes a new name comes in the form of a directive or statement of purpose. The name is not necessarily a “name.” A year or so after the lunch meeting with my friend, I had such an experience.
While I was still reeling from the aftermath of failure, I was driving in my car. It was just a day, nothing special. I do not even remember where I was going. I was not praying or feeling especially “spiritual”. It was just a moment in time.
Out of nowhere the Lord’s voice cut across my thought processes. It was not audible, but neither was it a quiet, still voice. “TAKE IT TO THE NATIONS!” I knew it was the Lord and I was shaken. First, because I was still covered with the shame of past sin, and second, I did not think God would say these kinds of things to people in my condition (and at the time, a lot of people around me reinforced this belief). I was not only stunned by God’s voice, but my theology was also challenged.
It came again, “TAKE IT TO THE NATIONS!” I knew it was the Lord, and in spite of my condition, I knew He was giving me a mandate for the future. I finally collected the nerve to respond: “Lord, I’m in no shape to take it across the street, much less to the nations. Besides I don’t know anyone in another nation, have never had the desire to go to another nation, and if this really is You, Your timing is poor.”
God knew—that I knew—this was His voice.
I was not only given a new call, I came to recognize that this was my new name. Unaware to me, I was still facing several years of restoration before that name would make sense and even tangibly affect my destiny. Even so, the Lord named me according to His desires for my future, rather than what I did or looked like at present.
Six years after this event, I began traveling internationally and my wife, Karen, and I named our ministry Truth To The Nations. Today I have close relationships with pastors and leaders on several continents. This was set in motion the day God changed my name.
Call yourself what the Lord calls you. Give Him the authority to call you by His name. Find time alone with Him and ask Him what your name is now. Never forget, you take on the character of your name. So rest assured, the Lord’s name will always reflect hope for your future. As Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
GOD IS NOT ASHAMED TO BE IDENTIFIED WITH YOU
Because the Lord sees an awesome destiny for your future, He is not ashamed to be identified with your past. Some people may be ashamed to be identified with you, but He is not. He loves you and sees promise for your future.
Let us go back to Jacob. His past was filled with questionable motives. At birth he was given a name that reflected his actions and that name shaped his destiny. Thus the Lord dealt with him at Jabbok, wrestling him to the ground, giving him a limp for life, but also, changing his name. Jacob, “the deceiver”, was given the name Israel, “Prince with God” (Genesis 32:28).
However, years later when Jacob’s name is mentioned in relationship to the Lord it is his old name, Jacob, most often used. Recounting the story of Israel’s bondage to Egypt, Exodus 2:24 states, “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob (emphasis mine). Notice—not Israel, but Jacob. Through all of Jacob’s shenanigans, God was still not ashamed to be called “The God of…Jacob.”
The Lord is not ashamed of you, either. The new name He gives you may portray new roles, relationships, ministry, attitudes, anointing, location or other areas of character and leadership. You must believe that God is not ashamed to identify with you. Likewise, neither should you fear identifying with the new name He gives. You may not look anything like the name depicts…yet. But He will call you by your new name and He wants you to identify with it, too.
What name has God given you? Do not be afraid to call yourself by the same name the Lord has given you. This is where you begin to fulfill your destiny.
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