Genesis 32: 27-28: “And he said unto him, what is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
We are living in a world in an identity crisis. People simply do not know who they are, or who they are supposed to be. The society in which we operate is in trouble. Morality is disappearing; there is no “normal” any more. As Apostolics, we must find our true identity, knowing it is when we find God’s destiny for our lives, then and only then will we know – and become – who we are meant to be.
Jacob had to come to his identity before he was truly blessed. He had to know who he was – and he had to know it in light of knowing his God – before the blessing could come. When Jacob wrestled with the angel, he realized he was literally wrestling with God. It was in the course of this wrestling match, the Lord asked Jacob a simple question: “What is your name?” Jacob answered, “I am Jacob.” His name meant “a cheat; a coveter.” It defined him as someone who was always after what someone else had. His life so far had reflected that. Yet God replied, “You will be called Israel.” This new name meant “prevailing strength.” For the God wrestler, that was a pretty good indicator things in his life were being forever changed by this encounter. In the wrestling, Jacob came to grips with his identity and found out he was destined by God himself not to be a cheating low life but, rather, to be a man of prevailing strength in the Kingdom of God.
You get your identity from your altars. In Genesis 33, Jacob built an altar and called it El Elohe Israel – “the mighty God of Israel.” Yet in Genesis 34, when his sons murdered all the men of the city, he went back to referring to himself as Jacob. He needed to be reminded of who he was. So in Genesis 35:10, God reminded Jacob, “Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.” Jacob almost gave up on himself because of a family crisis; God did not give up on him. God called him by name; “…he called his name Israel.”
There is a lesson here for all of us. We cannot be defined by names given to us by anyone other than God. The enemy cannot be allowed to haunt and taunt us about whom and what we used to be. God is ever present to remind us of who we are in Him. We must remember that God recognizes who we truly are.
Several years ago, a preacher called me and was quite frankly despondent over some tragedies he had experienced in his family. He said, “I just called to tell you I’m not fit to be a pastor due to issues in my family.” I told him, “God only had two kids in the garden and they both backslid, but he did not quit being God!” You have to be what God called you to be – regardless of the circumstances around you. You are still you, and He is still God!
God designed a special purpose for you. You must first discern what that is, be willing to do it, and set about seeing the fullness of what He has dreamed for you become a reality. While others may define themselves by their education, their family name or their nationality, our true identity comes from who we are in Him. Remember, when you find God’s destiny for your life, you know who you are, and the circumstances of life cannot change that.
On Jacob’s journey back home he sent his entire family and all their belongings across the brook first. “God, the last time I crossed this brook I did not have anything but You. This time, I am separating myself from these things, even though they may be your gifts in my life, to remind myself that who I am is found not in things but in You.”
Jacob had an incredible lineage. However, you don’t get your identity from your lineage. You have to settle that issue between you and God. Jacob had lied to his own blind father, cheated his brother, and had to learn how to out-cheat Laban. Ultimately, he wrestled with an angel and demanded a blessing. He said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me. I refuse to leave here like I came. I’m not leaving here until I know who I am.”
Why do you think God asked Jacob his name? God, who is omnipotent, did not need to be reminded of Jacob’s name. Jacob did. Twenty years before this, when Jacob’s father, Isaac, asked him his name, he lied and said, “My name is Esau.” I believe the angel asked the question to remind Jacob of the lie and what it had gotten him – and to focus his attention on the fact that it was time to tell the truth and receive the blessing of God. To get this blessing he was seeking, Jacob was going to have to be honest. “Tell me who you are…”
Jacob was afraid of Esau his brother – especially when he heard he was coming after him with 400 men. When Esau came, Jacob went out to him. Before Esau could do anything, Jacob was bowing down to him. Jacob’s humility gave him authority over his brother that he never received by his manipulation. His brother dismounted, ran and hugged him. All was forgiven because Jacob came to his real identity and it affected his brother. His brother recognized a new man. When others see the change in us, it will help us see ourselves that we, too, have been changed by our own divine encounter.
Some people wrestle with their identity, letting circumstances define them. They are constantly affected by who likes them or who doesn’t like them in the moment. There are always going to be people who don’t like you and people who do. There will always be people that accept you and people that don’t. Live with it. Quit being frustrated over it. The important question is not whether they like you or not. God loves you enough He gave His life for you and that’s really all that matters.
I’ve known wonderful people who have made one bad mistake and some people could never get over it. I’m glad God’s not like people. He is a loving and forgiving God. After the disciples dealt with Judas and replaced him in the first chapter of the book of Acts, he is never mentioned again. If that would have been me, I would have mentioned him in every sermon. However, they never mentioned him; it was over. The Judas factor is to be able to get over some people. Just close the chapter, because you can’t change it. Only a dog returns to its vomit. If you keep going back to things you have regurgitated over and over you are no better than a dog. Let it be. You have to get your identity from Him, not from circumstances or people or things that have happened in your past.
Many years ago, I was camping in a rather remote area of the Smokies with some friends and family. One night we heard something scratching along the tent. I stuck my head outside to see what it was – and there was a big bear. I quickly settled back into my tent and tried to be as still as possible until the bears moved on to their next spot – hoping it wasn’t going to be one of our tents.
The park rangers had already warned us that bears had been foraging in the garbage at campsites that season. Basically, the bears rule – even over humans. They explained there was only one animal that bears would let eat with them – a skunk. A skunk is a little thing next to a bear, and the bear doesn’t appreciate the skunk stealing his food, and if the bear wanted to, he could get even with the skunk, but there would be a high price of getting even with the skunk. Getting even just isn’t worth it. To get even with a person, because they are below you, you have to come down, and now you have stooped to their level.
At Calvary, Jesus wasn’t to blame; He had done no wrong. The sinless One became sin for us. He who knew no sin became sin, taking the blame for things He was not guilty of to act redemptively. Are we big enough to take the blame for something we did not do in order to act redemptively? My identity and my righteousness are in Him.
On the night of February 26,1996, east of Tampa, Florida, three teenagers were out cruising late one night, bored, looking for something different to occupy their minds and their time. By all accounts, they were what you would call “good guys.” They weren’t drug addicts or muggers. They were just up to a little mischief and thought it would be fun to pull up some traffic signs and move them around.
A little later that evening a couple of their friends were driving around listening to music after a night of bowling. They breezed through an intersection without stopping because the stop sign had been moved. They were hit broadside by a truck. The two friends and the truck driver were all killed. Why? Because someone moved the stop sign. On January 20, 1997 the three teenaged sign-movers were each sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Pentecostals, if we move our signs we are going to lose our identity. There is a generation following us that’s going to run through the intersection and get hit. There are some things that identify us that we cannot abandon. We are a “Jesus name” people. We are a holiness people. We live a different lifestyle. We don’t worship like everybody else worships. One of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is to settle who you are in Him. Jesus died, and He arose again. He is alive forever more. He is the author and the finisher of our faith – He is the source of our true Apostolic identity.
T.F. Tenney was born and raised in DeRidder, Louisiana. At the age of 15, in 1949, he began his ministry and at age 19 assumed his first pastorate in Monroe, Louisiana. He attended Apostolic Bible Institute. Later, he received an Honorary Doctorate from ABI.
From 1976-78, he returned to DeRidder to serve as pastor of his home congregation. In 1978, he was elected District Superintendent for the state of Louisiana, charged with the oversight of approximately 300 churches and 800 ministers and pastors. He held this position for 27 years – until his recent retirement and re-launch into full-time mobile ministry.
He has been a radio speaker, both on a nationally broadcast radio program and a local daily program. He is a respected writer and regular contributor to various religious periodicals. He is the author of eleven books, to date.