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September 1, 2013
What’s In A Name?
You can tell a lot from a name. In the days of the patriarchs of Genesis, names were so important that God often changed them—Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, etc. People were often named to reflect a trait or an event—Rachel called Benjamin, “Ben-oni” (son of my sorrow). Prophets and kings had meaningful names: Hezekiah (God has strengthened), Asa (healer), Joel (the Lord is God). Certainly, the name Jesus has an important meaning—”the Lord is salvation.”
Today, names have meanings, too. Our names may not have the same practical application as names in years gone by. However, our names do express who we are. Our “first” names are usually given by parents to show honor to a relative or friend or maybe perhaps just to show their own tastes. Our “last” names are also referred to as “family” names for a reason. They show a relationship to our past.
Scripture uses several nouns to refer to those who belong to God by answering with a “good conscience” and “being clothed with Christ (1Peter 3:21; Galatians 3:27). Just as with our physical names, these spiritual names show who we are. They show our relationships.
Christian—A Relation to Christ
This name signifies “of Christ.” It was first used at Antioch, “… and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26). This name was divinely given in fulfillment of prophecy. Isaiah said, “And you will be called by a new name Which the mouth of the LORD will designate.” (Isaiah 62:2). The apostle Peter regarded the name “Christian” as a divine designation for God’s people: “but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” (1Peter 4:16). There is no name greater than the name of Christ. (Acts 4:11,12).
Children—A Relation to God
This name denotes one who is born—a descendant. It is used to signify the new birth. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12,13). It is also used to indicate character. “Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.’” (John 8:39). Jesus was speaking to the physical descendants of Abraham, but they were not of the character of Abraham. On the other hand, they were of the character of the devil, and Jesus called them children of the devil (John 8:44). New Testament Christians are God’s children because they have been born again and because they seek to develop a godly character by doing the Father’s will. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14).
Disciple—A Relation to the Truth
A disciple is a learner. This name indicates one who follows a teaching. It shows relation to a teacher as a result of his teaching: “A disciple is not above his teacher” (Matthew 10:24). The word disciple is used in three ways in regard to Jesus. (1) It denotes His personal followers during His ministry on earth (Matthew 10:1; John 4:1). (2) It denotes believers before baptism. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This does not mean that believers were children of God before baptism (Galatians 3:26,27), but it simply means that in becoming children of God, the first step is to learn the truth. It is only in this sense that believers are disciples prior to baptism. (3) It denotes those who are children of God and members of the Lord’s church. (Acts 8:3; 9:1).
Discipleship in the latter use of the word requires four things. (1) To be a disciple of Christ, one must follow Christ (Matthew 16:24). (2) To be a disciple one must continue in the word, the teaching, of Christ. “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31,32). (3) To be a disciple one must love the Lord’s disciples (John 13:34,35). One simply cannot be a disciple of Christ if he hates or mistreats other disciples. (4) To be a disciple one must bear fruit. “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:8). All of these things require the right relation to the truth—knowing the truth, believing the truth, obeying the truth, abiding in the truth. Without the truth one cannot be a disciple of Christ.
Brother—A Relation to God’s Family
This name is used to identify the children of the same fleshly father, but it is used figuratively with reference to Christians. The Colossian letter is addressed “To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ” (Colossians 1:2). This brotherly relationship pictures God as our Father, Christ as our brother over God’s house, and all the brethren as God’s spiritual family, the church (Ephesians 4:6; 3:14,15; Hebrews 3:6). This relation, like all of those the Christian sustains, makes certain demands of us. It requires brotherly love (Romans 12:10). It requires brotherly helpfulness (1John 3:17). It requires brotherly admonition (2Thessalonians 3:6,15). It requires the exercise of care so as not to cause a brother to stumble (1Corinthians 8:13).
Saint—A Relation to Righteousness
A saint is one who is set apart or separated. Spiritually, it names one who is separated from sin and consecrated to God. A saint is holy—holy because he belongs to God, and holy because he lives a life consecrated to God. The word is applied to the members of the Lord’s family (Colossians 1:2; Acts 9:13; 8:3). It is clear that the church is made up of sanctified people who have been set apart for God’s own purpose (1Corinthians 1:2). It is in this sense that Paul refers to the church as “the churches of the saints” (1Corinthians 14:33). These were local congregations composed of saints. Christians have been sanctified through the gospel (Ephesians 5:25-27). Being a saint requires a life befitting one set apart from the world and consecrated to God as His own possession. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2Corinthians 7:1).
Each of these five names describes and identifies the people of God. Each shows a different aspect of the Christian life. Each indicates the Christian’s relationship to divine things. Each identifies his obligations and the blessings that grow out of this divine relationship. What is in your name?
—S. Scott Richardson Sr.