Identity is a complicated thing, isn’t it?

We begin life with a name, both given and family. With this name, for good and for ill, we’re gifted a heritage. We’re given the past hurts and failures of family. We’re given predispositions to addictions, or predispositions to skills and certain career trajectories. We’re given wounds from abuse, we’re given tendencies, we’re given mannerisms, we’re given personality. We’re given a family legacy, whether positive or negative.

As we grow, more definition is given to our identities. Yes, we have our given names, but we have other names too: We’re smart. We’re hyper. We’re lazy. We’re talented. We’re needy. We’re thin. We’re stupid. We’re selfish. We’re athletic. We’re nerdy. We’re daft. We’re dumb. We’re fat. We’re attractive. We’re ugly. We’re welcome. We’re annoying. We’re lovable. We’re incompetent.

We carry the names we’re given on our backs, heavy as boulders, step by step, carrying them as we grow from childhood, into adolescence, through young adulthood, and into our lives as adults.

Without realizing it, in an effort to rename ourselves, we find ourselves doing incredible amounts of work attempting to overcome the names we’ve been given—and, in pursuit of this effort, it doesn’t matter whether the intent was to insult or compliment. We find ourselves studying harder, working later, drinking longer, being sexually promiscuous, or building walls in an effort to protect ourselves from being known. With every hour spent studying, every salary bump, every sexual partner, every pound lost, every drug consumed, every rehab attended, we’re attempting to redefine ourselves. We’re attempting to wrest control away from the darkness we experience, and we’re attempting to redefine ourselves at the core. The ways we attempt to numb the naming voices, to overcome the emotional wounds, the haunting voices, feel good in a moment—but destroy us in the end.

We carry the names we’re given on our backs, heavy as boulders, step by step, carrying them as we grow from childhood, into adolescence, through young adulthood, and into our lives as adults.

The names we give ourselves are as destructive as the ones we are given by others.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Scripture describes us as “sons and daughters” of “the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18). Scripture also depicts God as a loving, welcoming, and gracious Father who abounds in love for all who call on him. We see God’s fatherly interaction with Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. As Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, the heavens part, and a dove descends. A voice speaks into the silence, and God declares that Jesus is “my Son, whom I love; with him/you I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).

It’s easy to read into this story of fatherly pride all the miracles, beatings, and acts of healing Jesus will eventually perform. The Jesus we read about at the beginning of Mark is also the Jesus we envision as the King who will conquer death. Jesus, however, has not yet conquered death at the time of his baptism. He has not turned water into wine, he has not cast out demons, he has not overturned tables in the temple, and he has not risen from the dead. In the Jordan River that day, Jesus was still just the “illegitimate” son of a young woman from Galilee.

Want to talk about damning names? In a culture built on shame and family systems, Jesus’s family system should have weighed on him like a millstone around his neck. As this thirty-year-old Jesus stepped into the water that day, his names walked in with him. When he emerged, God bestowed upon him, before men and animals, the identity of God’s Son.

“You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).

Before the healing. Before the popularity surge. Before the church leaders’ anger. Before the temptations in the desert. Before the beauty of watching a child be brought back to life. And before his followers bury him in a grave, God declares a deep pride in Jesus.

This is good news, friends.

As we know, we’re the children of God. We’re not illegitimate children (Hebrews 12:7–11). Rather, we’re the rightful heirs of the kingdom of God. The ramifications of this truth are world-shaking. In the midst of a world that attempts to label us; in a world where we’re constantly discarded; in a world where we are continually degraded; in a world that repeatedly wounds us; in a world filled to the brim with our failures and faults: we’ve been adopted into the family of a Father who declares before heaven and earth his deep pride in us.

We are sons and daughters of God, and in us, God is deeply pleased.

We are not the names we’ve been given. We are not the past we’ve lived. We are not even the future yet to arrive.

We are sons and daughters of God, and in us, God is deeply pleased.

So live in freedom, friends. No parent, grandparent, pastor, teacher, disgruntled boss, jaded ex-spouse or prodigal child can declare the core of who you are—for no other name exists outside of that which has been spoken by the one who made it all; the one who set the foundations at the beginning of time.

This, my friends—in a world bent on power, grasping for accolades and attempts to prove ourselves worthy—this is the good news of the gospel. Thanks be to the one who names us. Thanks be to the Father. Thanks be to God. Amen.