I’m a husband, dad, friend, pastor, football fanatic, recovering middle school class clown, and aspiring runner. These are some of my labels. I’m (mostly) proud of them, too. But these aren’t the kind of labels we need to overcome. You know that kind of label? Think about the way you’d describe yourself if you knew no one would judge you for it. Would some of your labels be a little more embarrassing? Do some of them harm the way you view yourself or your future? This kind of label is defined in the dictionary as, “a classifying phrase or name applied to a person or thing, especially one that is inaccurate or restrictive.” Unfortunately, we all have experience with inaccurate and negative labels. So, why is it so hard to overcome those negative labels?
One of my first memories of being labeled was in the second grade. My family moved to a new town. The entire first week at my new school, I was called “the new kid.” (Maybe “Tim” was too hard to remember?) I also learned an important lesson about how labels determine our future. When we went to recess, no one wanted to pick “the new kid,” so I had to stand there embarrassed while the two football team captains argued over who was going to get stuck with me on their team.
I got over my “new kid” label just fine because I didn’t have to wear it very long. Unfortunately, many of the labels slapped on us in our early years are far more harmful like failure, inadequate, fat, annoying, ugly, unloved, or a host of other destructive lies. Some of us have walked around wearing these negative labels for decades. As we get older, their effects somehow become more real.
The problem with labels is the longer we wear them, the less they describe our past and the more they determine our future. A failure won’t try anything new. Being unwanted leads to a life of isolation based on a fear of further rejection. The fat kid becomes overly focussed on food. Feeling unloved makes us look for love in the wrong places. The longer we wear labels, the less we see them as describing an event and the more we see them as determining who we are.
But don’t lose hope! If you’re ashamed of events or personality traits from your past, you’re in good company. The Apostle Paul who wrote most of the books in The New Testament carried labels none of us would want. Before he was Paul, he was Saul who persecuted Christians. He even labeled himself a murderer. But a crazy thing happened when Saul met Jesus. Jesus changed Saul’s identity so much that He also changed his name to Paul. Though Paul remembered what he did before Christ, he now knew who he was in Christ. Murdering Christians was what he did. But with Christ, he was forgiven, chosen, and called to show people life in Christ.
Our labels may describe our past, but our identity in Christ defines our future.
We’re like Paul. You may feel unloved by everyone around you, but you are loved by your heavenly Father. You may have failed in the past, but now your future will succeed in Christ! Our labels may describe our past, but our identity in Christ defines our future. I may have been rejected (even on the playground), but now I am chosen by God. Now, the only label that matters to me is Christ’s. I wear His label because it describes the most important feature of who I am and shapes who I’ll become! In Christ we are labeled like this: sons and daughters of the living God.
“And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:18 NLT
Labels lead to bondage, but Jesus leads to freedom. Labels restrict, but Jesus releases. Labels imprison, but Jesus sets free.
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free …” Luke 4:18 NIV
What old label do you need to rip off? How has Christ rewritten your future?