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?!”


“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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