Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, tells the story of a skinny, new pitcher he had in the Dodgers’ minor league system. He had an accurate and powerful arm, but he lacked a strong, competitive personality. Lasorda knew the pitcher would never make it in the Bigs without some toughening up.
Because he could see the potential in the new prospect, he decided to work on the pitcher’s self-image. He gave him the nickname, “Bulldog,” to represent the fierce competitiveness the pitcher needed to have to succeed in Major Leagues. It was the exact opposite of the kid’s personality, but over the years, it began to impact what the young pitcher thought of himself. Before too long, he began to see himself as a bulldog – tenacious and fierce when he was on the mound. That was the missing ingredient that made Orel Hershiser (World Series MVP, Cy Young & Babe Ruth Awards winner and three-time All-Star) one of the most talented and successful pitchers to ever throw a sinker over the plate.
A name is a powerful thing. If it has meaning attached to it, it’s a constant reinforcement of our self-image, and a self-image may be one of the most powerful things on earth. It acts like a thermostat for our behaviors.
Like the thermostats in our homes, our self-image wants to keep us comfortable. If we start behaving in ways that seem out of character for us, we get uncomfortable and self-correct by behaving in ways that match the way we see ourselves. As long as Hershiser saw himself as a timid person, it was difficult for him to be commanding on the mound, but through the constant reinforcement of his nickname, he slowly began to feel comfortable with bulldog behaviors.
In several different places in the Bible, we see God giving one of his servants a new name. Interestingly enough, the name is always given in advance of the person’s change in behavior or character. That’s because God sees us as we ought to be more than how we are acting. He knows our true potential, so he loans us a name that describes who we one day will be.
- Before Abram had even one child, God called him Abraham, meaning “Father of a Multitude.”
- Before Jacob had stopped trying to deceive others and supplant his brother, God called him Israel, meaning “Prince of God.”
- Before Simon showed any steadfastness to his convictions, God called him Peter, meaning “Rock.
In each of these cases, the change of name signified a work God was going in the individual. The new name forecasted a new self-image, a God-given image.
Many Christians struggle to accept the title of “Saint.” They feel much more comfortable with “Sinner,” and if you observed their behavior for a few days, you might agree that the name fits. God knows that we still struggle with sin, but He refers to us as saints throughout the New Testament. That’s because He’s more concerned with our “who” than with our “do,” i.e., He’s more concerned with who we are than He is with what we do.
We will probably never earn the title of Saint here on earth, but it’s ours nonetheless. We have the title of Saint, because we are children of God. We did nothing to deserve the title; it was purchased for us by Jesus’ death on the cross. But by giving us this new name, God is trying to remind us of our great potential. If we will just believe we are saints, each of us might find it easier to act like one.
So, please….stop referring to yourself as a “sinner.” That’s who you were – not who you are. As Paul said:
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)
Forget the evidence of your sinful behaviors – those are just leftovers from your old self-image. You are a Saint! Jesus went to a lot of trouble to find a new nickname for us. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we’ll start living up to it. Think of yourself as, “a bulldog for righteousness,” and you’ll see how much easier it is to drop some bad habits.