Not all cultures are like ours and the differences can be very interesting. Choosing a newborn’s name is one example. Did you know that in some African countries it is common place to name a child for the day they were born until the parents can agree on a name at a later date? Some children never get a name replacement. That’s why Bonnie and I met a man named Monday at a church in Oxford. In America, we frequently name kids based on the sound of the name or its popularity. My parents named me ‘Jared’ because they thought it would be unique. For the record, I went to school with many Jareds. Other parents name their kids after relatives.
Japan is different. The common naming practice there gave rise to the term namaemake. That means, “failing to live up to one’s name.” You see, in Japan, parents permanently lay down the future they desire for their children. For example, a set of parents that wants their child to be focused on social relationships might call their child ‘Bonding’ (or the Japanese equivalent) while another set of parents may want their child to discover a new innovation or maybe be successful in business, so they would name their child accordingly. Most Japanese children grow up knowing the meaning of their name and feeling the pressure to live up to the destiny their parents have established for them. They don’t want the shame of namaemake.
In the Bible, we know that the Israelites frequently named their children to honor their family heritage (see the objection to calling the child ‘John’ – Lk. 1:59-63). We also know that children were given names with meaning. For example, all of Jacob’s children were named based on what the parents were thinking at the time of birth (Gen. 30:1-24; 35:16-18). But when God gives someone a name, it is similar to the Japanese practice. God changed Abram’s name to ‘Abraham.’ Abraham means “father of a multitude” and the change reflected Abraham’s destiny. God said that Jesus should be called ‘Immanuel’ because that means “God with us” (Mt. 1:23).
The point is, when God gives a name, it has meaning.
What if God gave you a name? Not just a name, but a name with meaning? Would you feel the pressure to live up to that meaning?
Isaiah prophesied that God’s people would “be called by a new name” (Is. 62:2). The fulfillment of that seems to come in Acts 11:26 where the disciples were first called Christians. What isn’t so obvious in Acts 11:26 is that the word for “called” seems to imply a divine calling. In almost every other place that word is used in the New Testament, the context reveals or the translators recognize that it is a heavenly calling. In other words, the name that God gave us, was “Christian.”
That name means a lot.
It means that we have a destination. Jesus Christ is our goal. We strive to be where He is (John 14:3). To live up to the name of Christian we must set aside this world and put our minds and our aspirations on a home with Jesus in heaven.
It means that we have faith in the Christ. Believing that Jesus was sent by God is a crucial first step in becoming Christians (Acts 8:36-37; Gal. 3:26-27). Bearing the name Christian means that we put our faith in Jesus more than in anything or anyone else.
It means that we hold to Christ’s doctrines. After all, if we call Jesus Lord, then we must do what He says (Lk. 6:46). And to maintain a relationship with God through Jesus, we must abide in the doctrines of Jesus (II John 1:9). Bearing the name Christian implies that we have devoted ourselves to following the doctrines of Jesus as opposed to the ways of the world.
It means that we imitate Jesus. Paul imitated Jesus (I Cor. 11:1) and we are supposed to imitate him. Jesus assumed that His followers would understand this—if we call Him Lord, then we should do as He did (John 13:13-14). Few things could put more pressure on us than to have the aspiration of being Christ-like. But if we bear His name, then that is our goal.
We have been given an incredible name. It was God’s choice to call us after the Lord. Let us work diligently to live up to that name and not be namaemake.