Rahab the Harlot. Doubting Thomas. The “thief on the cross.” The “woman caught in adultery.”
You probably recognize the names and maybe even know their stories, at least how they received these monikers. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who hid Jewish spies, protecting them from the king of Jericho. Those spies gained crucial information in the conquest of Jericho and Rahab’s acts secured her future with Israel. In Joshua 2 and 6 she is called Rahab the prostitute 4 times, simply Rahab only twice; even in the New Testament she is Rahad the prostitute (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25) to identify her from the other Rahab’s found in scripture (Job 9:13; 26:12; Psalm 87:4; 89:10; Isaiah 30:7; 51:9; Matthew 1:5). Many remember her as a prostitute, but few may remember her acts of courage and of God’s provision for her.
Thomas was a twin and one of the twelve disciples, a faithful follower of Jesus who for some reason was found to be absent when Jesus first appeared to the disciples as recorded in John 20:19-23. When he heard of the appearance from the other ten he expressed his famous statement of doubt: “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!” (John 20:25) Forever known from that point as Doubting Thomas, he was confronted by the resurrected Jesus eight days later. Jesus offered his hand and his side and Thomas responded with one of the first statements of the deity of Christ: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) It is interesting that many know to call him Doubting Thomas, but few may realize that his was one of the first recorded statements of Jesus’ deity.
The thief was one of three hanging on the cross that day. Joining him that day were one more thief and Jesus. His name is not known, he is recalled simply as the thief. He is remembered for his cry out to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42) Jesus responds with a promise: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) That promise assures those who believe and trust Jesus as Savior and Lord that there is immediate presence with Him after death and that there is nothing required for salvation beyond a faithful call to Him. This thief, in his simple request, leaves all Christendom with lessons about salvation that are spoken simply in his story.
As important and theologically significant as these individuals are in the story of faith, they are all popularly known for their mistakes and not their faith. Rahab is still called a prostitute. Thomas is still a doubter. The thief is, well, a thief. Be assured that today, as she stands in heaven, Rahab is not called a prostitute by her heavenly father and Thomas is not known as the doubter and the thief is called by his name, not by his sin.
I use these to illustrate what often happens in life. People are often called or known by what they have done wrong, not what God has made right. Everyone has committed sin and everyone has fallen short of the glory of God. You may have been able to hide your sin from the masses, or it may be well known. Sometimes there is no way to keep it secret. An out of wedlock birth, a DWI conviction, a public divorce or any other number of public transgressions cannot be hidden from others and can become the most common way others identify you. Even if it doesn’t become part of your name, like Rahab the prostitute, it can last as your reputation long after you have left that lifestyle or repented of the sin.
Even worse than the public humiliation, you might feel a private shame that never leaves. You might be haunted by your own past to the point where you are unable to go forward. You may not feel worthy to serve God or to speak on His behalf to others whose sin is less public. Without the benefit of God’s work and His truth on your life, your failures may define your identity for the rest of your life.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is hope for us all. Rahab, Thomas and the Remembered One each found new life and hope for an eternal future when they came to faith. This new identity is here for you also.
By faith you confess your own sinfulness and accept the truth that only the death of Christ can redeem you from the wrath of God. You commit your life to Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. You are justified by His death, cleansed from all sin, adopted into the family of God and sealed by the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of your sure salvation. Now God’s work of sanctification begins. You bring to Him all of your mess of identity and He begins to remake you.
Do you remember your sins that have been forgiven? Do they follow you wherever you go? Have you allowed the truth of God to set you free from your past? Have you begun to live in the freedom promised in John 8:32?