Resting in Your Label from God
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Our culture is addicted to labeling. In a country where all our cereal is on one aisle and all our soup cans are on one shelf, we are prone to treat the people around us the same way. We’re prone to categorize people. This prompted a good friend of mine to make an interesting statement—“I’m not a soup can!” We love to put a label on everyone—to put people in a specific box in our brains.
For instance, a white cop walking down the street sees a young, African-American male with a hoodie. Immediately, he labels him as “thug.” Similarly, the young man sees the cop and labels him as “racist.”
Meanwhile, a man walks into a gas station and sees the attendant wearing some type of turban with darker skin. He not only labels him as a “Muslim” but also as a “terrorist suspect.” At the same time, the attendant hears the man talk with a slight “feministic” tint and labels him as “gay.”
Like many of you, I’ve been labeled many things in my life, and it’s been a challenge for me to deal with them. Being extremely coordinatedly-challenged, I was labeled in junior high as “bad at sports”—or worse yet, a “nerd.” I was plagued with being labeled as “uncool” or “unpopular.” I grew up with three older sisters—so I must not be a “real man.” But perhaps those ideas were simply me being insecure about myself. In fact, it’s not just that people may have labeled me—more often than not, it was probably my own perception of my labels that bothered me most. I “felt” uncool, and thus must’ve been labeled such by other people.
I like to think those days of insecurity are behind me. But too often, I still struggle with self-image. I struggle with thinking that people may have labeled me as something I don’t like. Maybe they think I’m weird. Maybe they think I’m cocky. Maybe they think I’m a horrible person. In the process of trying to shed bad labels, I end up just furthering the cycle by trying to earn a different label for myself. Many freshmen do this in college—it’s the perfect time to shed pre-existing labels and make a new name for yourself. Be whatever label you want to be—jock, gamer, preppy, sketchy, nerdy, hipster. The label game that started in junior high now continues on the college campus as people vie to get better labels from others while labeling everyone else. We hate people labeling us—but we do the same to others. Oh, what a tangled web…
Stop. Tear the labels off. Turn all your little boxes in your brain upside down. Stop seeing people as a label. Stop caring what people think of you and start caring what God thinks of you.
Two thousand years ago, they had a similar problem with labeling. Different labels, but the same game. Back then, it was “barren,” “unclean,” “tax collector,” “leper,” “adulterer,” or “prostitute.” In fact, the passage we so often read on Christmas day contains many labels.
Think of Elizabeth. She was an old, barren woman. Barren—that must mean God was displeased with her. There was something wrong with her. She and her husband were social outcasts. No kids. No one to carry on their line.
But God is fond of ripping off labels.
So He did for Elizabeth. I LOVE what the angel told Mary about her in Luke 1:36-37: “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
“The one who was called barren.” You could put it like this: “You know Elizabeth? The woman who was labeled ‘barren’ is now six months pregnant!!”
And who was Gabriel telling this to? A woman who would quickly be labeled many horrible things herself. The things whispered among the women in the alleys of Nazareth when they saw the pregnant “virgin” walk by could probably not be repeated here. Nazareth was quick to label Mary as “immoral,” and the world was quick to label her Son as “illegitimate.” Friend of sinners. Demon-possessed. Blasphemous. Crazy.
You think you have a problem with being labeled? Look to your Savior! And yet, He didn’t go to His room and pout when the Pharisees said he cast out demons by the prince of demons. He didn’t become self-conscious when his own family—including Mary—came to get Him because He was “crazy.” And no, He didn’t even let His accusers’ piercing words calling Him a “blasphemer” sway Him from accepting the sins of the world. Instead He just continued going.
Why? Because He knew Who He was. He had a firm self-identity. As He Himself said in John 5:41, “I do not receive glory from people.” In that same passage, He makes the point that the Father has born witness to Him—and that’s all He needs.
And that’s all I need too. I don’t need the labels of men. The only person’s opinion of me who truly matters is God. I wish I truly grasped this!
And what is God’s opinion of me? Well, that was the topic from a sermon that my pastor preached last week. It’s just one word from the heart of the Gospel in Romans 3: “justified.” That’s the only label I have in God’s sight! Though I am an insecure person who seeks the praise of men and gets caught up in all sorts of selfishness and sin…God doesn’t see that when He looks at me. He only sees one label. A big, fat sticker plastered all over my heart:
Do you have that label? Don’t waste your life trying to earn the labels of “cool” or “talented” from other people. Trust me—I’ve already wasted too much of my life trying that. It doesn’t work. People love to stereotype. People’s opinions change.
But God’s doesn’t. If you’re His, His label for you will always be “justified.”
And when you view other people, keep that in mind. There are only two labels we should use for the people around us—“justified” or “condemned.” The Bible keeps it simple. When God looks at humanity, He doesn’t see “cool” or “nerdy” or “weird.” He sees people who have His Son’s righteousness on them—the “justified.” And He sees people still under His wrath—the “condemned.” And our job is try to be the human instrument God uses to change the label of the “condemned” to the “justified.” And one God labels them “justified,” then let’s leave it at that and not try to impose other labels on them—or ourselves.
Well, that makes our lives easier! The label game is done. We’re not soup cans. Let’s let God do the labeling and rest in His opinion of our lives.