It’s time to rip off the labels.
No, I’m not talking about the itchy tag in the back of your new school shirts. I’m talking about something deeper, the labels that are stitched onto your heart.
When People Look at Me, All They See Is . . .
I’ve worn a lot of labels. Some of them have been with me since childhood. Others are new additions.
- Boy Crazy
- Funny Girl
- Perfect (Not that others thought I was perfect, but that didn’t keep me from trying to convince them.)
- Child of Divorce
Jesus is in the business of replacing our labels.
Our label is whatever it is that makes us think, When people look at me, all they see is ____________. Sometimes people slap labels on us by the things that they say and the way that they treat us. Sometimes we create the labels ourselves.
Labels don’t have to be nasty. Maybe your label is:
But even if people think about good stuff when they look at you, no one wants their identity reduced to a single thing. I bet you’re more than the star of the basketball team. What if your 4.0 GPA takes a dip because you don’t understand trigonometry? Then who are you? I bet you want people to see past your long list of accomplishments to your heart.
Sometimes labels are dark and painful.
They remind us of:
- A mistake
- A pattern of chronic sin
- A fracture in our family
And no matter how hard we try, we can’t get past the junk.
The trouble with labels is we tend to believe them. In fact, we obsess over them. Eventually they cover over who we really are. We end up confused about why we have value and become desperate for people to see the real us. But Jesus is in the business of replacing our labels.
The Woman with the “A” on Her Chest
John 8 tells the story of a woman who knew plenty about labels. You can read the whole story here, but I will give you the highlight reel.
- Jesus was teaching at the temple.
- The religious leaders hauled in a woman who had been caught sinning.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. So what do you say?” (John 8:3–5).
- She was guilty. She had been caught in the act of sleeping with a man who was not her husband.
- Then she was dragged in front of a crowd for an impromptu trial.
- The crowd wanted to give her the death penalty.
Here are the questions the text doesn’t answer.
- What was her name?
- Was she married?
- Did she have kids?
- What were her talents, gifts, and dreams for her future?
All we know about her is her sin. When people looked at her, it was all they saw. Perhaps you’ve heard of the classic story The Scarlet Letter. The plot was ripped from this story, except the adulterous woman was forced to wear a giant A on her shirt as punishment for her sin. I bet many of you know what that’s like.
- You made a mistake.
- You don’t look like everyone else.
- Your personality is quirky.
- You hate your body.
- Someone called you a name, and it stuck.
Whatever it is, you might as well wear a sign about it stapled to your chest because you’re sure it’s all people see when they look at you. But God’s Word reminds us who we really are. Jesus can rip off the labels you wear if you let Him.
Who You Are Instead
Jesus diffused the angry mob that surrounded the adulterous woman by pointing out their own sin. And then He did something strange.
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground (v. 6).
And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground (v. 8).
The Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus wrote in the sand that day, but I like to think He was giving her new labels. Things like:
He does the same thing throughout the Bible.
- In Genesis 17, He changes Abram’s (noble father) name to Abraham (father of many) and Sarai (princess) to Sarah (mother of nations).
- In Genesis 21, He changes Hagar’s label from invisible to seen.
- In the Gospels, He took a ragamuffin bunch of nobodies and turned them into somebodies with an earth-shaking mission.
- In Acts, He rips the label “enemy of God” right off of Saul and replaces it with “ambassador for Christ.” Saul became Paul to reflect this change.
God’s replaced my labels, too.
- I’m no longer boy crazy, but God crazy.
- I’m not chubby, but fearfully and wonderfully made.
- God’s used that funny girl label to give me opportunities to teach His truth.
- I’m not perfect, but by God’s grace I’m growing in Christlikeness.
- God has redeemed my parents’ divorce and all painful things for my good (Rom. 8:28).
- I’m not a troublemaker but a peacemaker.
- Yep, I’m loud. I want to proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness from the rooftops!
He wants to replace your labels, too. He wants to give you an identity so deeply rooted in Him that when people look at you, all they see is His work in your life. Will you let Him?
- What labels do you wear? (To find out, finish this sentence, “When people look at me, all they see is ___________________.”)
- What is a verse from God’s Word that replaces that label?