Last week the students in my Writing Close to the Earth online class read George Orwell's classic essay, "Politics and the English Language." In it ... Read More
A name is more than a convenient handle; it’s an identity. My family names, the lineage of my father and mother, contain both good and evil – remnants of the Fall. For most of my life I’ve identified with those names, and have felt the push and pull of the good and evil of my forebears. In this struggle of life, our name determines and dictates much of our experience. I have relatives who struggle with various forms of addiction and the revolving door of prison; their circumstances are the natural outcome of the identities they are believing in and relying on.
But for Christ, we would be doomed to more or less struggle in our various earthly names forever. In Jesus Christ a way has opened for humans to receive a new name; we have been offered a place – and a name – in the Royal Family. Ephesians 3 says that the whole family in heaven and earth is named by the name of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our new lineage, our pedigree, our genealogy. We have been put in Christ, have died to the old name and the old false identities built on our human ancestors and our mothers and fathers, and now, even now, we are named with this new name, the name of this Father of the Lord. The old names, the names of our earthly lineage, no longer apply. What names are in our lineage? Alcoholic. Loser. Adulterer. Murderer. Abuser. Blasphemer. Suicide. Worrier. Rich Man. Poor Man. Good Man. Bad Man. We can check all these off the list, and in fact throw the list in the trash, because we have a new name:
Christ-Man. Christ-Woman. Indwelt son and daughter of God. One Spirit with the Lord. King. Priest. Holy. Beloved. Overcomer.
The name Block, with all its attendant history, lineage, pedigree, no longer applies for me. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Dad, my Mom, brothers, sisters. But something fundamental has happened to me in Christ. That old name has been cut off, circumcised in him; the old-man Adamic lineage, with its attendant tag “Sinner,” was cut off.
Circumcision is a symbolic act that foreshadowed the future, the Redeemer cutting away from God’s people their old-man identity. Colossians 3 says we “have put off the old man with his deeds,” and “have put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” Colossians 2 says, “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ” Romans 6:4 says we are “buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” Baptism is the New Testament equivalent of circumcision, a cutting off of the old life and entering into the new.
Let’s get a little graphic here to see what God is getting at. When a person in the Old Testament was circumcised, what did he do with his cut-off foreskin? Did he carry it around in a baggie as a treasured memento of the old life, or keep it in a jar on his shelf? Did the thing try to sew itself back on later? None of the above; it was thrown out on the dunghill. Why?
It was dunghill trash because it was dead and no longer part of him. It was nothing but a dead, rotting piece of flesh, no longer part of his identity, in fact no longer related to him in any way. The rite of circumcision meant a complete break with the old life and a wholehearted entrance into the new.
Now, if we are circumcised in Christ with the circumcision made without hands, buried with him through baptism into death, what has been cut off?
The old identity. The old name. The old lineage, with every bad and good name in the book that was part of our earthly family line, Adam’s race, infected with “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in (get that, in) the children of disobedience.” (disobedience in the Greek is apeithia, literally “the unconvinced”). That false indwelling lord is now cut off in Christ. That old union with him is the very essence of the old man. It is circumcised, cut away from us, and thrown on the dunghill. Good riddance.
I’ve heard people say “Well, the old man comes down off the Cross sometimes.” “We’ve got to crucify the old man.” But get this: He’s dead, and we are cut off from all that, here, now, forever. He can’t come down from the Cross, because his life is over. That’s what circumcision in Christ is. The devil schemes constantly to deceive us out of living from our new name and rightful lineage. He works tirelessly to prevent God’s people from accessing our limitless riches in Christ; George MacDonald wrote in Phantastes, “‘Shadow of me…which art not me, but which representest thyself to me as me; here I may find a shadow of light which will devour thee, the shadow of darkness!'” That’s Satan’s game; to masquerade and parade his lying thoughts as our own, getting us to live from that old, dead, cut-off, old man foreskin which doesn’t even exist anymore except as rot in a pile of dung. The old man, that false union of Ephesians 2:2, died with Christ; if Christ died, the old man died. Back when we were the old man, we were put in Christ on the Cross. He “became sin for us” not only by taking the penalty due our sins, but by taking into himself all those thousands and millions of old man identities throughout history. This wasn’t just “paying our sin debt.” In his love he had to separate us from that old name, that old identity of “vessel of wrath, child of the devil, prince-of-the-power-of-the-air-indwelt humanity.” And so we as the old man were put into him; that false union of Ephesians 2:2 that we all had entered into the center of Jesus Christ. It literally burst that pure, beautiful heart to have such muck and filth put inside him after an entire lifetime and a pre-existent eternity as a unity with the pure, beautiful Father. His love-act killed him; when the centurion went back to the Cross, he found Jesus hanging there dead, way ahead of the normal crucifixion death-schedule.
When Jesus Christ died, the old “I” in Adam which had been placed in him died. The old man identity of a believer is as dead as a road-kill; we’ve got to fully get that before we can move on and be who we really are. The Mack truck of Justice and Mercy ran the old man clean over. That’s why we’re to put off the deeds of the old man – not because he’s alive and we’re to fight him, but because he’s dead and he is no longer “I”. “When I sin it is no longer I that sins, but sin which dwelleth in me,” says Paul in Romans 7. This is how Paul can say, “For you were once darkness; now you are light in the Lord. Live, then, as children of light.” You were darkness. Old man. Sinner. Enemy of God. Child of the devil. Now you are light in the Lord. New man. Righteous. Friend of God. Child of God. And Paul says, in effect, “Now be that. Live in it. Manifest your real identity.” That’s also his argument in 1Cor 6 and many other places: “Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Lord? He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Are you going to take your body and join it with a prostitute? Flee fornication.” The Pauline pattern is always identity, then behavior, because reliance upon our real identity, trusting in Christ himself at the root of our being, produces the righteous life that God desires. “You were once darkness (old man identity); now you are light in the Lord (new man identity). Live, then, as children of light (be who you really are).” Read Paul’s letters and you’ll see that he rarely talks about behavior before extensive reiteration of our new identity. He does this especially in Ephesians and Colossians; if you read them with this in mind you’ll see the distinction: Eph 1-3: Identity – Eph 4-6: Behavior. Col 1-2: Identity – Col 3-4 Behavior.
We have a new name, the name of our indwelling God. A totally new identity and lineage, with absolute power to overcome all the unbelief the devil has built up in our psyches, all the ruts of false self-coping mechanisms built in a lifetime of human interaction. And now, the only thing left for us is to be transformed in our actions on a daily basis. How? It all happens by renewing our minds to the real truth, in a Christ-directed life which uses the devil as resistance training. We’ve got to internally recognize and rely upon the eternal truth of our circumcision, the cutting-off of the old man which Jesus did once for all time. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Period. And now the prince of the power of the air is no longer part of our identity; he is merely part of our training; his opposition makes our faith-choice possible.
What’s in a name? Well, in the new name, our true name, power. Completeness. Holiness. Life-change. Purpose. Meaning. Everything we’ve been looking for. In the old name? Sin. The hamster wheel of self-effort: try-sin-repent-try-sin-repent, ad nauseum (believe me, it’ll go on forever until we jump off in faith). Striving, lacking, incompleteness, unholiness. Frustration. “I keep doing what I don’t want to do! I’m not doing the good things I want to do!” Life under the Law and so under the Curse. That’s what Paul describes in Romans 7. But we’re not meant to stay in Romans 7; we’re meant to move on and live in 8 and even 9, where we willingly give our lives – and if it were possible even our salvation – for others.
As believers, we choose daily. The Christian life is not a pie-in-the-sky concept; it is a here-and-now commitment to taking God at his written Word, and through faith watching the Living Word flow through us in our experience. It’s our choice: Am I defined by my heavenly Father? Or does my earthly Adam-lineage determine my identity? Our actions will flow spontaneously as a result of the inner choice.
Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.