Names have meanings, so sometimes people change theirs. Why did Paul change from “Saul”? Was it humility? (Paul means “small”). Or was it that the Greek transliteration of his name, “saulos”, meant “the sultry walk of a prostitute”? Probably embarrassing for a preacher!
But WHEN did Paul change his name? After his conversion, he preached with great boldness and effectiveness (Acts 9-12). However, Jesus had a greater destiny for him than being, “Saul the converted Jew”. Up to Acts 13, he is always named “Saul” and always named second, after Barnabas. Then the Holy Spirit spoke and they set off on the First Missionary Journey.
In Cyprus, they found great opportunity (with the ruler of the island, v7) and great spiritual opposition (from “Bar-Jesus”, literally “son of the savior”, v8). Of course, he was no son of the Savior, but rather a “child of the devil”. “Saul, who was also called Paul”, filled with the Spirit, denounced the sorcerer and declared God’s judgment on him (the same judgment that he himself had suffered when, opposing and persecuting the Church, he met Jesus). There is no dialogue with evil here, simply a command that the man of God gives in the name of God. Authority has been taken up and used.
The results are significant. The sorcerer is confounded, the proconsul believes, and henceforth, “Saul” will always be Paul, and he will always be named first, before even Barnabas (v13).
“Saul the converted Jew” was a great identity, but “Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles” was his true destiny (Acts 26:16-18).
Knowing our identity leads to authority. Picking up that identity and using it releases us into our destiny. By destiny though we don’t mean a specific or mystical plan for your life, but rather the point of your existence. The purpose of our lives is to advance the kingdom of God and to confront the kingdom of Satan in whatever sphere God gives us, whether it is family, community, culture, or work.
God may not have to change your name, but He does have a greater plan for your life than you have perhaps realized. Perhaps you won’t need to change where you are, or what you do vocationally if you have a job – often God most wants to use us precisely where we are – but He may well want to change the way that you see your life and the significance that you attach to it.