good news

Names for the Nameless

“I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)

While I was working on this chapter, I got a call from a man who wouldn’t give his name. My assistant buzzed me, laughing. “I have a man on the line who says he needs to talk with you and that it’s urgent,” she said. “He says that he’s a big fan of yours. By the way, he’s lying about that. He called you ‘Dr. Greene.’”

When I picked up the phone and said hello, I asked the man his name. “Let’s go with Bobby,” he said, “if that’s okay with you. I don’t want to give you my real name because I’m ashamed about what I’m going to tell you and, after I tell you, you won’t want to have anything to do with me. I would rather you not know who I am.”

It was an interesting conversation because neither of us knew the other’s name.

We don’t, you know. Know each other’s names, that is.

[K]nowing that your heavenly Father is for you not against you is the only reason to give up your masks and develop the type of authentic relationships you never thought you could have.

In the Bible, names aren’t just names. The name reveals the essence of the person. In fact, sometimes the names of biblical figures were changed to reflect a change in who they were. Revelation 2:17 says that we’ll have a new name in heaven and that name will reflect who we really, ultimately, are. My pointing that out probably makes both of us uncomfortable. If our name reflects the essence of who we are, then everybody will know, and (we assume) that “name” won’t be very appealing.

Isaiah, the prophet, had some good news for God’s people: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.’ And they shall be called The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken” (Isaiah 62:11–12).

I have some good news for you too! It’s about your name, and it’s not what you think

It is said that Augustine, after he had committed his life to Christ, was approached by his former mistress. When he saw her, he started running in the other direction. She ran after him shouting, “Augustine, it’s me! It’s me!” “Yes,” he called back over his shoulder, “but it’s not me!”

When Augustine said, “But it’s not me!” it really wasn’t him! And therein lies the best news you’ll ever hear.

Let’s start with a statement made by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:19–20: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

According to Paul, the good news is that you’re already dead (we’ll talk a lot more about that in the next chapter).

Normally, I know that isn’t good news, but it is in this case, and I’m going to show you why. Please note that in the verses I gave you, Paul isn’t giving us a command. He’s giving us a fact. It isn’t one more thing you have to do (crucify yourself) to “get right with God,” “to change the world” or “to make your life count.” The truth is that it’s already done. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” it really was finished . . . done . . . over. In Romans 6:11, Paul wrote that we should “consider [i.e., reckon, number, think of yourself] yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” In other words, we should think in a new way about who we really are.

When you die, you not only experience resurrection, you get a new name. The name is Forgiven, Redeemed, Acceptable, and Loved. That changes everything about our hidden agendas and our masks. When you’re crucified with Christ . . .

Your Name Is Forgiven 

I once asked a Jewish friend to forgive the church and me for what we did to Jews in the name of Christ. I waited for him to tell me to get lost or, maybe, to forgive me. Instead, he started weeping. I had no idea why and asked him. “Steve,” he said, “I didn’t hear a ‘kicker’ in your remarks. Often people will say something like what you said to me but there is always a kicker. You guys want me to receive Jesus, get saved, or to ask for forgiveness for what ‘we’ did to Jesus. I waited for the kicker and there wasn’t one. Thank you.”

That conversation is one I’ve thought about a lot. One of the most tragic things about the church is that we have become, as it were, a “church of kickers.” It’s the “Of course God loves you . . . but don’t let it go to your head,” “God will forgive you . . . but don’t do it again,” “God’s your loving Father. . . but don’t forget about the discipline,” or “God loves you . . . but that should make a better person.” I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve brought up Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, his love and forgiveness given to her (John 8:1–11), and people will bring in the kicker: “Yeah, but don’t forget that Jesus told her to ‘sin no more.’” It’s not that there isn’t some truth in those statements. But they sometimes make God’s love and forgiveness so conditional that, frankly, I can’t deal with it. What was meant as good news very quickly becomes bad news because of the kicker.

I have an acquaintance in the billboard business. During the “troubles” in Northern Ireland he wanted to do some- thing about the hatred between Catholics and Protestants. Do you know what he did? He bought billboards across Northern Ireland with one message: “I love you! Is that okay?—Jesus.” That was a powerful message and it wasn’t powerful because Jesus said that he loved them. Everybody knows that. It was powerful because there wasn’t a kicker.

You’re forgiven.

I know, I know. Your “Pavlovian” response (and mine) is to wait for the kicker. You can keep on waiting because there isn’t one. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been, who you’re sleeping with, what you’re drinking or smoking, what you think, who you’ve hurt, the games you’re play- ing, the masks you’re wearing, the agendas you’re hiding, or whether or not you get better. When you bring it all to Jesus, you’re forgiven.

Deal with it.

As an aside, the fact that our new name is Forgiven has amazing implications for relationships between Christians and for the masks we wear. The reason Jesus embedded “Forgive us our debts as we forgive those who have sinned against us” in the prayer he taught us is that he knew that without forgiveness at the heart of our relationships, we would continue to play at religion, and never love or be loved.

You can’t forgive until you have been unconditionally forgiven (no kicker) and then you can only love to the degree to which you have been unconditionally forgiven. I will never remove my mask and set aside my agendas as long as I think Christianity is about fixing me and others, building empires, changing the world, making my life count, correct- ing doctrinal truth, promoting programs, raising money, and being nice. It’s not. It’s about the forgiveness of sins. Paul wrote, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul, your name is “Forgiven.”

If you know Jesus, yours is too.

Are there implications to that? Of course there are . . . sometimes. Does it make you a better person? Of course it does . . . sometimes. Does it make a difference in your relationships? Of course it does . . . sometimes. Does it bring you into the stream of compassion and practical ministry to the world? Of course it does . . . sometimes. Does it give you a “burden for souls”? Of course it does . . . sometimes. And sometimes it doesn’t. That’s not the issue. Your name is “Forgiven.” Rejoice and be glad.

But you have other names too. When you’re crucified with Christ . . .

Your Name Is Redeemed

The word “redeemed” is a very strong word. It means to gain or regain something at a price. The Scripture says that in Christ we have been redeemed “through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (Ephesians 1:7–8). Again, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23–24).

There is an old sermon illustration about a boy who worked hours making a small boat. He took it down to the seashore and put it in the water. To his horror, the boat was picked up by a wave and carried out into the ocean, eventually disappearing. It was sad because he had worked so hard and long making the boat. Later he was walking by a pawn- shop and saw his lost boat in the shop window. He told the pawnbroker that it was his boat but the pawnbroker said, “It may have been yours, but it’s mine now. If you want it back, you’ll have to pay for it like anybody else.”

The boy worked all summer. He mowed lawns, babysat, and walked dogs to get enough money to buy back his boat. When he had enough, the boy went back to the pawnshop and purchased it. As he walked out of the shop he was heard to say, looking at his boat, “Little boat, I made you, I lost you, I found you, I bought you back, and now you’re mine, all mine.”

That’s what happened to us. God said, “I made you, I lost you, I found you, I bought you back, and now you’re mine.” But being his isn’t just about ownership; it’s about being adopted by a father who is rich, generous, and kind. The Bible says that he “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption . . .” (Colossians 1:13– 14). Again, the Scripture says that God has sent the Spirit of Jesus into our hearts, causing us to cry out, “Abba Father.” “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:6–7).

I’m often asked what I do. I never know exactly what to say. Sometimes I say that I’m a preacher, or clergyman, or pastor, or professor, or writer, or broadcaster. There are times when I say that I’m a “religious professional” who “works for God.” A friend of mine told me to stop saying that: “When you work for someone, you have a job as long as there is work to do and you do it well enough to please the boss. But when the day’s work is over, you leave and go back to the house you paid for with the money you earned. Steve, you don’t work for God. You’re his son. When the day is over, you go up to the big house where you live. Try to remember that.”

I do. My name is “Redeemed.” That’s your name too.

But you have other names as well, because when you’re crucified with Christ . . .

Your Name Is Acceptable 

Most Christians have a handle on the forgiveness thing. You’re forgiven and then you work hard to be good. It’s all about pleasing God, being faithful, and trying your best to be obedient. It’s hard but we love to quote that “in Christ we can do all things.” In other words, a Christian is for- given and then he or she becomes better and better every day in every way.

What if I told you that God was already pleased, that he already thinks of you as faithful, and in his eyes you are already obedient? It’s true. The theological word is “imputation” and it is so radical, so amazing, and so unbelievable that I have trouble believing it. But God said it and, unless he’s started lying, it’s true.

The Bible says, “. . . and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ . . .” (Philippians 3:9).

“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteous- ness” (Romans 4:5). “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness . . .” (Isaiah 61:10).

When Christ died on the cross, there was a trade. God traded my sin for Christ’s righteousness. I would have settled for forgiveness because that is more than I deserve. The problem with forgiveness is that it can become something similar to a professor who cuts slack for a student. “Okay,” the professor says, “I’m going to overlook your poor work and give you a passing grade, but don’t ask me to continue doing this for you. You are going to have to work harder.” Imputation is far more than that. It’s the trade whereby the professor’s academic record becomes yours.

I went to a banquet once where ties were required. Nobody had told me. A friend of mine saw me outside the banquet hall and said, “Steve, you don’t have a tie. I have an extra one in my room. I’ll be right back.” Two minutes later he handed me a tie. I put it on and was acceptable.

The interesting thing about the tie my friend gave me is that it was his best tie. All evening people said to me, “Nice tie!” Not only was I dressed properly with a tie, I was dressed extravagantly with the best tie in the house.

That’s what God has done to make us “Acceptable.” He’s given us the best clothes in the house, the righteousness of Christ.

In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Mercy, one of the characters traveling with Christiana, Christian’s wife, laughs in her sleep. Christiana asks Mercy about it and Mercy explains that she had a dream in which she was very convicted about her “hardness of heart.” Then, in her dream, Mercy says a man came and wiped her tears with his handkerchief and dressed her in silver and gold—clothed, as it were, in the righteousness of Christ. Then he takes her to the throne room of a holy God where Mercy hears, “Welcome, daughter!”

That was my experience.

You see, as my friend Rod Rosenbladt, says, “It’s not what’s in your heart, it’s about what is in God’s heart.”1 They told me that God was holy. He is. They said that he was a consuming re. He is. They told me that if I worked at it, studied “to show myself approved,” and if I were faithful and obedient, the holy God would be pleased. They were right. But I just couldn’t do it. Don’t get me wrong, I tried. I really tried hard. My heart and my “clothes” were simply too dirty to get clean. Finally, I gave up and started to walk away.

That’s when I looked down at my new clothes—the righteousness of Christ—and I heard his voice, “Welcome, child! Welcome!”

I laughed too.

But there’s one more name. When you’re crucified with Christ . . .

Your Name Is Loved 

You should meet my wife Anna. She’s a saint. Very few could live with somebody like me. And just so you know, I’m not being “authentic” or “humble” when I say that. It’s the truth. I can be angry and kind in the same sentence, happy and sad in the same hour, and loving and hateful in the same day. I would be bipolar if either my manic state or my depressive state lasted longer. Anna, on the other hand, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. She is a gift from God and an anchor for this crusty old preacher.

I don’t want to get too detailed here (you’re not that safe) but the other day I called home and my wife wasn’t there. I left a message on our answering machine. I don’t even remember what the message was but I’m almost positive that it included the words, “Love you.” I happened to get home before my wife did and listened to the message I’d left. I was shocked. I sounded ticked, upset, and kind of harsh. When I got home, I told Anna that I had listened to my message (the one intended for her). “I sounded very angry in that message . . . and I was wondering if I always sound like that.” She smiled and I knew. “I’m so sorry,” I told her. “I’m going to be a lot kinder than I have been.” She smiled again and then . . .

. . . she gave me a Baby Ruth.

A Baby Ruth?

Yeah, and she’s been doing that for almost all of our adult life. In fact, sometimes I fake bad stuff when I’m hungry, just to get a Baby Ruth. When I yell, forget a birthday or anniversary, do something a preacher ought not do, I get a Baby Ruth. Of course I don’t deserve the Baby Ruth. That’s the point of love. The principle is this: you can’t experience love until it’s given when you don’t deserve it. Everything else is reward.

That’s what God has done. Listen to what Paul writes: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39). I would suggest that those words pretty much cover it. They cover all of our masks and all of our hidden agendas.

God gives out Baby Ruths! Bet nobody ever told you that before.

Behind the Mask

  • You’re forgiven without a kicker. Sit with that a moment. What does that mean to/for you? What does God’s forgiveness do to your masks and agendas?
  • As a son or daughter, you are “adopted by a father who is rich, generous, and kind.” Do you really believe that? How would you live if you did?
  • “It’s all about pleasing God, being faithful, and trying your best to be obedient.” Why doesn’t this work? What is it about instead?
  • How does God’s unconditional love cover all your masks and hidden agendas?

Steve Brown is a radio broadcaster, author, and the founder of Key Life Network. A former pastor, he also sits on the board of Harvest USA and devotes much of his time to the radio broadcasts Key Life and Steve Brown, Etc.

Excerpted from Steve Brown’s Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart. New Growth Press, ©2016. Used by permission.