Letting Go of Past Labels

           Have you ever created a label for yourself in your faith? I grew up in the Roman Church, but my family didn’t always attend regularly, so we stopped when our church started struggling. I didn’t reexamine my relationship with God until I was diagnosed with a rare disease as a young adult. Over 9 years later, I find that I can still label myself as being less knowledgeable or qualified to speak about God to other Christians because of my past. However, this is not the attitude in our faith that the Bible encourages us to have.

            Before the apostle Paul was converted, He was a zealous Pharisee. Philippians 3:4-6 reads, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” As a Pharisee, Paul was involved with Stephen being stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60) and committed a lot of heinous acts against the early church (Acts 22:3-5). Paul had such a powerful reputation against the early church, that many people had a hard time believing he’d changed (Acts 9:13-14, 21, 26).

The apostle Paul isn’t the only person in the Bible who had the challenge of overcoming labels. Many people labeled Jesus Christ as everything but the Messiah because of His simple upbringing and birthplace. After Jesus began preaching in his hometown in Luke 4:24, He said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” Jesus said this because the townspeople questioned, “Is not this Joseph's son?” and demanded that he produce miracles as He did in Capernaum for proof. The members of Jesus’ hometown weren’t the only ones to cast their doubts and labels upon Jesus. John 7:5 reads, “For not even his brothers believed in him.” Even the teachers of the Old Law who could have read the Old Testament verses about Jesus’ simple life (Isaiah 53:2) were stubborn to their biases. John 7:52 records the Pharisees having said, “Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”

Jesus said that the world will hate His disciples because He chose us and the world hated Him first (John 15:18-25). As God’s children, we already have one adversary trying to doubt and label us, we don’t need ourselves to become our enemy too. In John 16:33 Jesus also says to His disciples, ”In me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Paul could have chosen to let his past define his new Christian identity and cling to self-doubt. Instead, he challenges God’s children to trust in Him. Thus, strengthening us to put our past and its labels behind us so we can prioritize bringing glory to Him. In Philippians 3:13-16 Paul wrote, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…let us hold true to what we have attained.”