Muhammad Ali and Your God-given Name

Muhammad Ali was a mental assassin. He was also a pretty good boxer.

“What’s My Name?!”

The story goes that soon after Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay he had a bout with Ernie Terrell scheduled. At the 1967 press conference Terrell refused to call Ali by his new name citing, “You’ll always be Cassius Clay to me.”

This set Ali off.

During the fight ringside witnesses could hear Ali barking at Terrell. After each succesful haymaker and combination Ali asked the same simple question, 10-15 times a round:

“What’s my name?!”

Boom!

“What’s my name?!”

Pop! Pop!

“What’s my name?!”

Muhammad ali

The left eye was closed by the 8th round. The right eye was closed by the 12th. Terrell couldn’t see Ali coming anymore. He was getting beat like a redheaded rented step mule.

The brutal bout went 15 rounds because Ali wanted it to go 15 rounds. Terrell slumped and Ali would hold him up; he wasn’t done until his opponent knew his name. Legend has it during a 15th round clinch, Terrell whispered into the ear of Ali:

“Muhammad Ali…It’s…Muhammad Ali.”

We Don’t Know Our Name

Every day, an oceanic rush of competing voices washes over us the moment we crawl out of bed.

On our worst (most?) days, we let the wave overcome us and define who we are.

We’re fish in a fallen culture, and we don’t even notice the toxic water we’re inhaling. The supermodel says I’m fat. The car commercial says I’m poor. The clothing ad says I’m a dweeb.

We let what we do define who we are.  Our family, social status, job, hobby, church work, exercise routine, and even addiction. So we self identify:

I’m a runner/teacher/overeater/gamer/blogger/calvinist/trekkie/father/doglover/libertarian/pastor/husband/etc.

A lot of good stuff is contained in those positions. But none of those are an identity that will last. These aren’t are our “names.”

Our God-given Name

God has a much higher view of Christians than Christians do. The cursed performance mentality has been on earth since before Cain. But God’s opinion of us is never based on our daily failures in sinning, quiet times and evangelism. Performance is damned in this Kingdom of free grace.

Where we see a dearth of hypocritical hijackers, passionless puritans, and spiritually dead deacons,

God sees a spotless bride, holy saints and an invincible army (Ephesians 5:25-27, 1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 16:18).

If Satan is the accuser of the brethren then he is getting plenty of willing help from the brethren.

I’m not talking about Holy Spirit driven conviction that brings repentance and joy. I’m talking about flesh driven guilt that brings stagnation and exasperation.

This is a revelation that has been spread out in our plain sight all along. When Scripture talks of Christians in the New Testament it really never calls them “sinners” “depraved” “wicked” “hypocrites” or whatever negative pet term you please. Over dozens of times it designates our primary identity as “in Christ.” So whatever Jesus is, by God, we are by grace:

Sons. Daughters. Beloved. Holy. Chosen. Free. Well-pleasing.

In Christ.

It’s a messy battle to ward off the old dead titles of our former self.

Fight for your new name in Christ.

With the word. With blood. With sweat. With tears.

All 15 rounds.

Until you die.

Only when your heart stops is the fighting over. Then the name above every other name will welcome you into true lasting rest. And He will give us a new name that will be intimate and eternal, written in stone that cannot be broken (Revelation 2:17)

Bryan Daniels

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Author: Bryan Daniels

I am a follower of Jesus, a husband to Jessica, and a father of three boys: Josiah, Gideon and Judah. I teach high school math as a job, read reformed theology as a hobby, and write this blog just for kicks. With the rest of my time I coach football and track.

25 thoughts on “Muhammad Ali and Your God-given Name”

  1. I like the “what’s my name” twist.

    “Over dozens of times it designates our primary identity as “in Christ.” So whatever Jesus is, by God, we are by grace:”

    Amen

  2. “God sees a spotless bride, holy saints and an invincible army.”

    Those are beautiful and true words. And it’s where Satan tries to attack me the most – my identity. I appreciate your thoughtful words because they’re one’s I need to be reminded of daily.

  3. Because God gave His all for Me; because Jesus became sin for me and paid the penalty of my sin, I must be VERY precious to the triune God – certainly NOT because of any good in me, or because I deserve anything other than His wrath, but because of His great love and for His own purpose, He redeemed me. He changed me. He gave me a new life as His own adopted child. He took me out of the kingdom of darkness and translated me into His kingdom of Light. He gave me Himself to abide with me and He promised He will never leave me. He provided me with all the resources of heaven to enable me to stand victorious in Christ.

    We serve an incredibly amazing God who calls us His own and who is willing to undertake for us in any circumstance when we call on Him.

  4. Bryan,

    Thank you for the recent “Like” on my blog. Don’t hesitate to check back for updates when you have a chance.

    I have enjoyed looking through your posts. Although I was an English major in college, it doesn’t take an English major to tell that you’re a very talented writer. I like your conversational, thought-provoking style. Keep up the good work!

  5. One of my weaknesses is that I tend to dwell on what people think negatively of me. Then, I start defining my identity from what I project from them and sins from my past.

    For example, I sometimes feel I am only a “creeper” or an angry person. At times or in another point of my life, they may have been accurate, but that doesn’t mean these are the only things that define who I am.

    In reality, the only opinion that matters about a person is the opinion that comes from God. God is righteous and just. He is perfect and wiser than we humans, and he can only see what is in a man’s heart and mind. So, it is important to remember that God sees Christ in us, if we’ve welcomed Christ in our life, and His opinion is final and the most important for our identity.

    Great article.

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