How to Become a New Person
In John 1:42, Jesus looks at a man named Simon and says to him, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).” This man is none other than the man we know today as the Apostle Peter. By changing Simon’s name, Jesus was declaring what Simon would become.
You see, back in those days, names were very meaningful. They were intended to say something about the person. So when Jesus tells Simon that his name will now be Peter, he’s declaring something about him—something good.
The name Peter literally means “rock.” It’s a name appropriate for someone who’s steadfast, immovable, loyal, and consistent. Simon may not have those qualities now, but Jesus is basically saying, “That’s the kind of person you’ll be soon enough. Right now, you may be Simon. You may have all the dirty laundry Simon has and struggle with the hindrances and sins Simon struggles with. But when I’m done with you, people are going to call you Peter, because I’m going to make you a totally new person. So it won’t be you fixing yourself; it’ll be me fixing you. I will make you Peter.”
I think a lot of people view Christianity as basically a series of steps we can take in order to improve ourselves. We just have to think positive thoughts and start listening to the right people and try really hard. And if we do that, there’s nothing about ourselves that we can’t change. It’s basically the same message you find in the self-help section of the bookstore, just with a little bit of Christian lingo thrown in there that supposedly makes it “Christian.”
But that’s not what the Bible teaches.
The Bible teaches that God not only calls us to be a certain way but also makes us what he calls us to be. That’s why the early church leader Augustine prayed, “Lord, command what you will and grant what you command.” In other words, “Command whatever it is you desire, but then grant me the power to do what you desire—because I can’t do it on my own.”
And that’s what Jesus is promising to do for Simon. He tells Simon he’s going to make him into a whole new person. And history tells us that he did.
Of course, it took a little while. Later on in the Gospel of John, chapter 18 records Peter denying that he even knows Jesus three times right before Jesus is crucified. He fails Jesus at a critical time. He acts the opposite of the way someone named Peter should act.
But after that, he shows a level of dedication to Jesus the few people in all of church history have shown. He preaches the famous sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2, which marks the beginning of the church. He then continues to boldly proclaim the gospel even when the Jewish religious leaders imprison him and beat him and threaten to do worse.
And then, he continues to serve the Lord for decades after that until, as history records, he’s eventually crucified and dies as a martyr because he simply won’t step telling people about Jesus. Tradition says that he requests to be crucified upside down because he’s not worthy to die the same way Jesus died. That’s someone who deserves the name Peter.
And that’s how radically Jesus is able to change someone. He takes people who are hopelessly entangled in sin and in various destructive tendencies that dominate their lives, and he changes them in a fundamental way. And he can do that for you too. You don’t have to be a slave to your past. Regardless of what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, you can become a new person just like Peter.