identity

Owning the Label I Once Spurned

Picture of Jessica with text pulled from post

It took me a long time to own up to being a Christian. I believed in God and willingly accepted Jesus as my Savior—all that was fine.

I didn’t want to be lumped in with some of the other Christians I knew, and frankly didn’t like very much. The sanctimonious girl at school who invited me to church not because she wanted me there, but because she felt it was her job to expose me to her denomination. The cutthroat, super-ambitious guy at work who ogled me daily but wore his churchgoer status like it was his get-out-of-jail-free Monopoly card. The nosy neighbor who’d tell me all about her church bake sale and that Sunday’s sermon while simultaneously gossip-slaughtering everyone else on the block. No thanks.

So when my friend called and offhandedly teased me about having “turned into one of those Christians,” I was taken aback. While I knew what I believed, I certainly didn’t want to be relegated to the judgy, holier-than-thou classification she wanted to pin on me.

I’m not sure whether I laughed her off and changed the subject, or flat-out denied her tag to save face. But I do remember hanging up the phone and feeling just like the Apostle Peter after Jesus’s arrest.

Peter was extremely close with Jesus and part of his inner-circle, so fervent and loyal a Christ-follower that Jesus called him “the rock” upon which He would build His church (Matthew 16:18-19). When Jesus told him he’d fall away and, in fact, reject Christ three times before the rooster crowed that very night, you can almost see Peter’s “no way, never!” scoff (Matthew 26:34).

Yet, sadly, that’s exactly what happened. Trying to avoid capture himself, Peter insisted once, twice, and finally a third time that he “didn’t know the Man.” Just then, the rooster crowed, “And Peter remembered Jesus’ statement, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75 ESV).

That day on the phone with my friend, I denied my Lord. In my reluctance to get categorized as the “wrong kind of Christian,” in effect I’d taken myself out of the category altogether. What I’d done felt like a punch to the throat.

See, denying Jesus isn’t just rejecting our faith. It’s also being embarrassed about the label we carry. It’s being more concerned about the way others see us than the way God sees us. Click To TweetLooking back, I recognize I denied Him in other ways throughout my youth, like when I didn’t speak up when I witnessed injustice, or when I caved to sin instead of holding fast to what I knew to be right.

Today I’m proud to call myself a Christian. When I meet someone who gives me the side-eye, even better—I know it’s a chance to give someone a new perspective on the term, a chance to represent what it looks like to be a modern-day Jesus-follower. Click To Tweet

Owning my Christian label was a big step in embracing my faith and my identity in Jesus. As with Peter, it took understanding how I’d fallen short—and making a choice to step up from then on out—to experience freedom.

Have you ever felt hesitant to claim a label because you were afraid how you’d be perceived? How have you learned to overcome your discomfort?

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26 thoughts on “Owning the Label I Once Spurned”

  1. This whole blog spoke to my heart. It’s so easy to assume that denying Christ is something huge. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details it’s so much simpler. It’s almost something I have to watch out for a day by day. I’m not ashamed to own him as my Lord. I’m not ashamed to display that I am a Christian. But it’s the little things. It’s the little foxes that spoil the vine. It’s the stopping singing when my agnostic atheist husband comes home.. It’s the heavy breathing and cutting off a prayer or making it very shallow just in case somebody hears me. Thank you for this blog post it makes me think harder about my relationship with God and where I stand and it brought to mind Daniel who would not stop praying no matter what. And the three Hebrew boys who purposed in their heart they’d not defile themselves with the kings meat and bow down to the image. God surely honors those who stand firm with him!

    1. Daniel is such a wonderful example of this, yes! You are right—sometimes we see the big sins and slips, but we don’t tune into the little sins and slips. God bless you.

  2. Labels can cause lots of problems. We are called to worship God, not each other and not things. I pray that each day I recognize opportunities to show His love and glory to others and not be a “make believe” Christian. Great message.

    1. Thank you! And I love what you said—it’s not about being a make-believe Christian at all! It’s about authenticity and love and modeling Jesus.

  3. Great inspiring post! I shouldn’t let what others think about me bother me since it’s really only God I am living for!

  4. Thanks for your insight. I wrestle more these days than ever with being identified as a Christian because of the political connotations. Your blog convicted me that I need not worry about others perception of me, but only his. In fact, it challenged me even more to share my faith and act like him to shape other’s perspectives not of me but of Jesus himself.

    1. Yes, exactly, Candice! I agree completely. God bless you as you shine the light of Christ in the world!

  5. This was on point. I remember experiencing that at the hands of other Christians when I was young, and then becoming the same way as I got older. But I think that’s the key to finding balance – admitting our flaws and submitting them daily to God so we don’t unleash those things onto others. I also think that helps make you more relatable when you’re sharing the Gospel – which is for people with flaws!

    1. The Gospel truly is for people with flaws (LIKE ME), thankfully!! Thanks for reading, Afi, and God bless you!

  6. Wow, wonderful post! I have also battled with not wanting to be labeled the wrong type of Christian. As I have gotten older and more mature in my walk with Christ I care much less about what people think. My prayer is that people will see God in me at Wal-Mart, the grocery store or anywhere I go. Thank you for the boldness to share!

  7. Yes! I totally relate to this. And you’re right – the more of us who don’t fit a bad stereotype – that do speak up – the more we can help create a fuller picture of what it means to be a Christian.

    Thank you for sharing and for speaking up!

  8. I’ve totally done these same things, Jessica. I might not overtly deny knowing Jesus but my lack of explicitly following him feels like a sin of omission. I think as we age we’re hopefully maturing and focusing less on how others perceive us. I’m so glad the Lord is gracious and kind to me. I want to be a Rock not a Reed.

    1. YES! The best part of maturing is the growing I do in the Lord and the closer I draw to him. I pray we can point to God in all we do! Thanks, Chip.

  9. I love Psalm 139:23-24 that David penned, “Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive[a] way in me;
    lead me in the everlasting way.” This passage indicates we must always be asking God to reveal to us any offensive way in us. Sometimes they are not so obvious. And certainly pride can cause us to not see what we need to see. Great post! 🙂 Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  10. So often, when I was younger, I too worried about how others thought of me so I tried to hide my relationship with Christ. Labels are hurtful so I learned not to listen to them and only define myself through God’s eyes. Thanks

  11. Ouch. I felt every word of this. How many of us have literally gone through what you wrote, word for word. It is time for us to start telling the world about ALL types of Christians.

  12. Great post, Jessica! Yes! We’ve got to own the label, not only when it’s popular, but also when it’s downright ugly. I’ve seen Christian women I admire wade into Twitter combat zones regarding the pro-life position, maintain their gentleness, speak kindly and thoughtfully, and then gracefully exit if the conversation seems futile because the other side has only been hostile and profane, even with name calling. They do well in handling such attack by the grace of God! That sort of opposition may happen when we stand up for hot-button issues in particular.

    On the other hand, someone may simply need to talk about a life problem, and that is when the field is ripe for the harvest. Maintaining the grace we have in Christ, leaning hard on him to know how to respond with kind and thoughtful words, praying for God’s leading even as we talk, and presenting our own lives humbly while freely admitting our own shortcomings seems to be the recipe for when we “get the side eye” because it’s clear we’re the only Christian in the room.

    God bless you, sister, as you talk about Jesus with others!

  13. Dear Jessica!

    Thank you, Jessica. The initial part of your blog post got me thinking about our motives for attending church? There are a variety of valid reasons but as your post also points in the direction of, it seems as there are also a few less OK reasons.

    Your part related to Matthew 26:34 contains one of the most essential lessons of Christianity.

    Peter was, as you pointed out, “the rock”.

    Jesus said to him, even you will fail.

    I think the point is not that Peter was about to fail but rather that when Peter, the rock, the foundation for the church would fail, everyone else will, too.

    There is enormous power in this picture, and it takes away all the stress and replaces it with peace because:

    It’s not a matter of how we feel, what we do, or what we think.

    God’s love is unconditional. Period.

    There are so many Christians speaking about I did this, I did that, then on November X year X I turned to Jesus, I became a born again.

    There are many beautiful aspects related to this way of thinking, but I think there are just as many dangerous and separating elements related to it.

    You asked us how we have learned to overcome discomfort?

    For me, I have to go through discomfort to overcome discomfort.

    Once again, thank you for sharing.

    Edna Davidsen

  14. Labels can be hurtful and many people have had labels attached to them whether they knew them or not. Some labels can also be affirming. I think it really comes down to what the intent of the person who labels you is and how they came to that conclusion and if they communicate their intent to you. It comes down to the individuals heart motive and if it is not communicated you start to create your own narrative about the label. Thanks for the post.

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