Two Selves Within Me
At our church, there are two to three spiritual retreats annually. In the first session on the first day, participants introduce themselves. During this time, I request, “Please let us share how you were named.” Then there are always some people who tell us stories about how they changed their name. Some changed their name because they didn’t like the name given at birth by their parents. Men tend not to change their name even when they don’t like the name. For women, however, this seems to be more of a challenge. If you see the other person trying to suppress a laugh every time you introduce yourself, it certainly won’t be easy to tolerate. It is hard to imagine how that would feel like.
On the other hand, there are some people who had changed their names for a completely different reason. They believe that a person’s name determines his/her fate, so they sought a visit with a soothsayer to get a new name. I’ve seen a man changing his name for the third time when his situation didn’t improve even after paying a fortune to get these new names. He believed that a person’s name was that much important. In my hometown of Choongchong-Do, in the 1970’s, the most popular boy’s name was “Jong-pil.” Many elders believed that with that name you could secure a successful life. But people make a name – names don’t make them.
There are people who change their names as a sign of resolution for a new life, after believing in Jesus Christ. One of the elderly folks in my hometown fell into a vegetative state following a cerebral hemorrhage. After he was discharged from the hospital against his will, he went to a prayer house, where he recovered through prayers and other treatments. He had not had faith before that happened. Having awakened on the brink of death by the grace of God, he returned home with a new name “Jin-sung.” It was an expression of his determination to live a life as a person of God.
In the Bible, we have several stories of changed names. The most representative of such was Abram and his wife Sarai. The Hebrew name “Abram” meant “exalted father.” Following His covenant with him, God changed Abram’s name to “Abraham,” which meant “father of many.” Abram’s wife had a name “Sarai,” meaning “my princess.” It was a name for women to covet. Imagine your husband calling you with this name all the time. However, God changed her name to “Sarah.” It meant “mother of many.”
As were meant by their names, Abraham and Sarah became the father and mother of many. Abraham is usually referred to as “the father of faith,” isn’t he? In the flesh, he was the father of the Jews and the Arabs. Moreover, he is the spiritual father of all Christians. Our faith in God the Creator has its beginning in Abraham, after all.
Some of you may want to say, “See? Haven’t I told you? The name determines our fate.” That’s not true. It was not their newly given names that controlled their lives and fates. It happened so because they accepted the new callings God bestowed upon them through their new names, and lived their lives in order to realize his will. God gave them new names not to bring them grand fortune with those names, but to help them realize their new identities and callings that they hadn’t been aware of before.
If he had not met God, Abram would have struggled to exalt himself as suggested by his name; he would have invested his life to become successful, to become rich, to stand on top of as many people as possible, to become more famous, thus to be called “the exalted father.” If she had not met God, Sarai would have been satisfied with being treated as a princess. To Abram and Sarai, who had been living only for themselves, God appeared and changed their names. He called them to a new life previously unimaginable to them.
In today’s verses from the Gospel of John, there was a story of a name change. Andrew, who had been a disciple of John the Baptist, followed Jesus based on the testimony of his teacher John the Baptist. He was certain that Jesus was indeed the Messiah sent by God, as was testified by John.
After staying overnight where Jesus stayed, Andrew went to see his brother on the following morning. In verse 41, it says “he first found his own brother Simon and said to him.” Upon confirming that Jesus was the Messiah, Andrew went to find his brother as soon as the day broke, putting everything aside. He could not keep to himself the fact that he had finally met the Messiah he had been longing for. He wanted to deliver the news to someone. First he thought of his own brother Simon, who had also been earnestly waiting for the Messiah. Andrew said to his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”
Simon must have been confused at what Andrew told him. After waiting for something so anxiously, when someone tells you that the time has come, it wouldn’t sound credible. However, he must have nevertheless followed his brother, whom he trusted even if the truth was hard to believe. Jesus accepted Simon gladly when he was brought by Andrew. He looked into Simon’s eyes for a long time. Simon was probably afraid since it felt as if Jesus was seeing through him. Finally, Jesus said to Simon.
You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas
The name Simon means ‘to hear’ or ‘to be heard’ in Hebrew. People would name their children Simon to mean “God heard my prayer and gave this child,’ or “the one who listens to God’s voice.” Others would choose the name wishing to be “the famous among people.” We don’t know what Simon’s father’s intention was, but it certainly was a good name.
When Jesus met Simon He gave him a new name, Cephas. Cephas means ‘stone or ‘rock in Hebrew. It is also “Peter” in Greek. It would be synonymous to ‘Dol-seh’ (a common name in the old days, usually for a servant) in Korean. Thus the name Cephas was even dowdier than Simon in some way. The reason Jesus gave Simon such a dowdy name was to make him aware of his new identity and responsibilities.
In the book of Matthew, the reason Jesus named him Cephas was written as following. Towards the end of completing his ministry in Galilee, Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi. It would be like a retreat in our time. While staying there, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is? (Matthew 16:13)” They gave various answers that they heard from people. After listening to them for a while, Jesus asked another question. "Who do you say I am? (ver. 15)" Peter answered "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (ver.16)" Jesus said the following in response to his confession;
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Ver. 17-18)
Jesus revealed here why He gave Simon the new name, Cephas, i.e., Peter. He called Simon to live a new life as his disciple. He expected Cephas, or Peter, to grow spiritually to be like a rock, a man with an unwavering faith. With him as the foundation, He expected that a church would be built. As Abraham became the father of faith for Jews, Jesus expected Peter to be a new father of faith. Jesus called him out to the mission for that responsibility.
At the moment Peter met Jesus, a new identity surfaced within his existing identity. Indeed Simon and Cephas began to co-exist together. Now he was called to live as Cephas as he lived with Jesus.
This calling was not only for Simon. This is the calling for anyone who truly encounters Jesus Christ. It’s not important whether you change your name or not. Jesus did not give a new name to every disciple. It is crucial to discover a new identity within Jesus Christ and start living a different life from the one of the past, whether with a new name of not.
Apostle Paul differentiated them as a ‘new self’ and an ‘old self’ or an ‘outward’ being and an ‘inward’ being. Simon was the ‘old’ being, or an ‘outward’ being and Cephas was the new being, meaning an ‘inward’ being. This is what Paul said.
Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?.... For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:3, 6)
Therefore please do not be discouraged. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
When you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to take off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:21-24)
The Apostle Paul who made this faith confession had lived with a great pride before he met Jesus Christ. He had many privileges to be enormously proud. His pedigree, family background, educational background, career, capability – all of these conditions would make him stand tall. However, once he met Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus, he discarded his old self. He was created new in Jesus Christ and lived according to this new self.
He spoke clearly through his own experience. Once one believes in Jesus Christ, a new self would be created besides the existing identity. In other words, within us, who believe in Jesus Christ, there are two identities, just like Simon and Cephas. We used to live as Simon before we accepted Jesus. However, once we meet Jesus, we realize that we haven't lived as our true selves. We realize that our true self is Cephas, not Simon; we confirm that our mission as a Christian is to live as Cephas in Jesus Christ.
Simon was born again as Cephas after he met Jesus Christ. He went through the process of rebirth while he lived with Jesus for three years. The old self, Simon’s characters, however, didn't diminish easily. Sometimes he hurt Jesus' feeling as he acted driven by his old self’s views, beliefs, passion and opinions.
Gospel tell us of several scenes where Jesus called Peter as "Simon!” By the time Jesus was ending his mission, he told his disciples about his imminent death as he had foreseen it. However, his disciples didn't want to accept the fact. Instead, they had a quarrel over who would be higher in ranks. At that moment Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32) Jesus already knew that Peter would behave as Simon during the impending crisis. Peter replied to Jesus in confidence. “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” (verse 33) He wanted to live as Cephas; however, he hadn't progressed that much yet.
On the night when Jesus was captured, Jesus was getting ready by praying at Gethsemane with his disciples. On that night Jesus took Peter, James and John along with him. After asking them to stay awake with him, he went a little further and prayed alone. After a while he returned to his disciples and found them deep in their slumber. When he saw them sleeping, he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:37-38) It was Simon who was sleeping without following his Lord, not Peter.
After Jesus was crucified on a cross, Peter went back to his hometown and returned to his previous living. He thought his dream was over as the one who called him and made him Cephas had died. He had no choice but to become a fisherman, as Simon, just as he was. Then the resurrected Jesus showed up in front of him. After the Lord encouraged his disheartened disciples, Jesus called upon Peter separately. Jesus asked him “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15) Jesus saw that Peter was living as Simon, his old self.
As you see, Peter lived as half Cephas and half as Simon. Moreover Peter still acted as old Simon occasionally even after he was baptized by the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. Galatians 2:12 reads that the Apostle Paul criticized Peter for his hypocritical behavior. Peter, while eating with Gentiles, was afraid of the circumcision group and discreetly walked away. The Apostle Paul criticized Peter’s behavior for not following his beliefs and instead following what others would do.
This verse witnesses that Peter who was full of the Holy Spirit and showed miracles and bravely spread the gospel as the new name Cephas meant. Nonetheless, Simon resurfaced occasionally. However, Cephas probably became bigger inside Peter and finally Peter lived and died as Cephas. He was martyred heroically for the gospel when Emperor Nero persecuted Christians. His martyrdom would never have been possible as Simon.
Dear beloved sisters and brothers in Christ, if you met Jesus Christ in truth and are living in him, you must realize that Simon and Cephas are coexisting inside of you and I. When we are baptized, Simon who was crucified on a cross and Cephas who was reborn with the Holy Spirit also live inside us. Our old Simon could deny its death and revive any time. It is so delightful to live as a new person, Cephas, but our corrupt instincts wish to talk and act like Simon.
Sometime the pulling forces from Simon and Cephas are too strong, it feels so painful as if being torn apart as we are stuck in the middle. On these occasions, it would definitely be better if we choose to become Cephas everytime, but we choose Simon sometimes. Then we are frustrated with ourselves as we discover we discover our spiritual weaknesses. We feel sorry for ourselves every time we realize that we still hang on to the old ways of thinking, habit and behavior.
Nevertheless, let us remember Peter. He met Jesus in person and interacted with him. He was recognized as the best among Jesus’ apostles. Jesus gave him a new name. He strongly experienced the Holy Spirit during Pentecost. He exercised numerous miracles, and many people had been deeply moved by his sermons. After all this, he should have been 100 % Cephas. However, that was not true. He lived with Simon until the day he died. Sometimes, he talked and behaved like Simon, but most of his life he lived as Cephas under the fullness of the Holy Spirit. As his faith grew, Cephas grew bigger in him and he acted as Cephas more and more.
That is the bottom line. You should not set your goal to demolish the old self completely. That is an unrealistic goal. Instead, let your goal be to familiarize the old self to the new self. Consequently the time of living as the new-self will grow incrementally. Do not be discouraged when you find yourself going back to the old self time and again. Our lord did not blame Peter when he talked or acted as Simon. Rather, Jesus felt deeply sorry for Peter and prayed for him to get out from the state. Imagine the voice of Jesus calling “Simon” to Peter who was trembling with fear after failing and despairing. How comforting would that sound? Jesus will call to us, too, with the same voice he used to call Simon if we took a step back like Simon did.
Nevertheless, we should not give up, saying, “It is what it is.” Whenever Simon pokes his head out, we should strive to grow Cephas instead. Our inward-self grows with the Word and Holy Spirit. Thus we must drink the water of Holy Spirit by reading the Word, meditating, praying and worshiping. As our inner-self grows strong, we will feel more delight living as Cephas than living as Simon.
Sometime we hear people say, “Ah, it’s been years since I’ve had faith in Jesus, but still cannot get rid of my old habits, hurting my loved ones. I am so disappointed in myself.”
If you felt this way it is a big progress. There are numerous individuals who are thoroughly egoistic that they do not know what problems they have. Our Lord will calls your name with the same adoring tone of voice as he did to Peter. When you are discouraged, remember his voice calling “Simon”, and be comforted. The lord will guides you to grow your iner-self.
When your inner-self grows, then the old habits that we despise would go away as dried scabs come off. And, if the inner-self, Cephas, grows, our perspective on values, life, the purpose of life and the way of life also will change. How great the taste of life would that be! Then we shall be truly able to say “there is heaven within me.” Then we may dare to say “The eternal life is within me.” This is the mystery of life that one cannot experience living only as Simon. I sincerely desire that this mystery and blessing would be with us.
Who called Simon and made him Cephas,
Thank you for granting us with the same calling
Hold and lead us.
Whenever the old-self Simon awakes within us
Guide us to tame and master him.
Let us always eat and drink the Word and Holy Spirit
and grow the new-self Cephas within us.
Allow us to taste the joy by living as new-self within Jesus, and
Let the will of our Father be accomplished through our lives.