For decades the Nissan auto company exported cars under the Datsun name. One of the hot cars of the 1970’s was the Datsun 240Z, a sleek and graceful coupe. But Americans were buying Datsuns not realizing they were actually Nissans, so the Nissan people decided to strengthen their global image by rebranding their company. Beginning with a major ad campaign called “The Name Is Nissan,” the company made their name as familiar as their rivals Honda and Toyota. The rebranding worked, and Nissan found new life for their company.
But Nissan didn’t originate the idea of rebranding. God did. Abram became Abraham; Sarai, Sarah; Jacob, Israel; and Saul, Paul. The disciple Peter got rebranded by Jesus himself. Jewish followers of Jesus began to call themselves “followers of the Way,” and later “Christians.” And for thousands of years, God has been working to rebrand God’s children from those who were fallen sinners, to those who have been forgiven and reconciled. And one of the major rebrand efforts came through the laws of the Bible.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul admits, “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” Paul saw the law of God as holy and just and good. But then Paul discovered there was a limitation to the law. It identified sin, but offered no suggestions as to how to overcome it. Which is why God did yet another rebrand effort through Jesus— the law of sin and of death is gone, and in its place is “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” Which is to say, God did a rebrand of us—from the old “self-life” to the new “spirit-life.”
Now if “rebranding” seems too trivial a term when talking about life in the Spirit, we would do well to remember that many a company—not just Nissan— has changed their names and logos in smart and meaningful ways that gave their company new life.
For instance…Would you like to stay at an AirBed and Breakfast? The name refers to air mattresses, which is what two roommates were thinking when they launched the company in 2009.
As the company grew, they shortened the name to AirBnB because they realized people don’t want to sleep on air mattresses. And though the name Airbnb is still a little mysterious, it comes across as contemporary instead of uncomfortable. Airbnb will soon be booking more rooms than the world’s largest hotel chains.
Or how about this?
Would you like to eat at the International House of Pancakes? If you’re of the Boomer Generation you might think “Absolutely!” You have good memories there. If you’re a Millennial though, eating at the International House of Pancakes doesn’t sound so appealing. But you will go to IHOP!
The company heard its customers had shortened the name to IHOP, so they decided to make it official. The magazine Fast Company says the name change “instantly made the chain seem more of-the-moment and self-aware.”
And finally, have you Googled anything recently? Most of us do several times a day, using the search engine created by Google to look up all kinds of things on the Internet. But when the company called Google began plunging into life sciences, investment capital and research, they did not want to be known only as a search engine. So in 2015 the name of the company was changed to Alphabet. And low and behold, their stock rose 27 percent.
Rebranding can make a difference. It can lead to new life.
So what did God accomplish when God rebranded us from the “self-life” to the “Spirit-life”? This was one of the biggest tweaks in religious history, and it began with a “liberation movement” in which God set us free “from the law of sin and of death.” This was the first step.
Now it may be that some people today think this liberation is not really needed, since a little more social progress and Western-style democracy will make the world a better place. But sin and death are still a problem. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out, saying, “We have a lot of experience with social progress and democracy, but the result is that Western powers themselves have been shown up as riddled with corruption, selfishness masked as public service, and sexual and financial scandals.”
Which is to confirm sin is still a problem for us, and we need freed from it—we need liberation. Fortunately, God frees us by giving us “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” God sent Jesus to us in human form to “deal with sin.”
What a great phrase that is— to “deal with sin.” Meaning Jesus came to be concerned with sin, to take action on it, and to overcome it. And Jesus deals with sin by giving his life on the cross. He allows all of the sin of the world to be heaped on him, so that sin will be condemned and die at the same time he is condemned and dies. And in doing so the power of sin is overcome. We can now “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are rebranded as those liberated from the grip of sin.
The next step in God’s rebranding is to give us a new way of thinking—replacing selfish-thinking with Spirit-thinking.
The Message version of the bible translates Paul’s letter saying, “Those who live only for themselves are going to be driven only by the things they want. So they are going to be selfish and greedy— with flimsy sexual standards. But those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit— things such as service to others, love, life and peace.”
Of course, we’re always going to face temptation, and we’ll mess up—sometimes in spectacular ways! But sin no longer has the ability to overcome us because when we are rebranded we’ve embraced a new way of thinking that immediately understands the problem or issues when we mess up. The Bible calls it “walking according to the Spirit,” or setting “our minds on the things of the Spirit.” Those “things” are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) And when we set our minds on these “things” we can’t help but replace selfish-thinking with Spirit-thinking and living. Through Spirit-thinking, we are rebranded as those who love our neighbor as ourselves.
Finally, God fills us with a power that is described as both the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ.” This fresh source of energy gives us new life, because it is the same Spirit that brought Jesus back to life.
Paul who writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also.” So many things in this world can drain the life out of us: the news, social media, our jobs, chronic illnesses, debt. But God works to fill us with life and peace through the gift of the Spirit.
The Spirit will give us the inspiration we need to be faithful and loving people in the world.
The Spirit will give us the resolve and perseverance to keep moving forward toward new life for us and others when it seems all this world aims to do is take life.
Through the Holy Spirit, we are rebranded as those who are able.
But there’s a catch. Right? There’s always a catch. In order for this rebranding to be successful, we have to do our part. Just slapping a new label on our lives won’t be enough. Corporate America shows this truth as well—just look at Comcast, the cable and internet giant.
In 2010 Comcast rebranded itself “Xfinity.” But as one tech blogger stated, “Xfinity? What the heck does that even mean? Comcast has made no true changes or advances, and simply hopes the new moniker will help customers forget the high prices and poor customer service for which they are known. What they need to do is offer their customers a more positive experience otherwise, this rebrand goes for nothing.” Xfinity didn’t. And their rebranding didn’t work because rebranding demands more than just a name change.
We need to be open to this rebranding, and do the work it demands—which, again, requires us to step away from our “self-life”, i.e., “It’s all about me and what I want and don’t want” and instead live a “spirit-life” that asks us to live as Christ taught—with grace and forgiveness; loving our neighbors as ourselves while knowing everyone is our neighbor. Because if we don’t truly step away from our old “self-life”, then the new “spirit-life” will not come.
God’s work in us always goes deeper than a rebranded name change. But it only goes deeper when we allow it.
There are times when both individuals and companies need a fresh start.
Arthur Andersen was an accounting company involved in the Enron scandal, accused of destroying evidence. Andersen’s consulting company split off to make a fresh start, and it held an internal naming contest. An employee suggested the name “Accenture,” which sends the message “accent on the future.”
God wants us to let go of the past and put the accent on the future. To help us do this, God liberates us from sin, introduces us to new ways of thinking, and fills us with the Spirit— which is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ.
Christian writer Philip Yancey emphasizes this Spirit led rebranding concept saying, “The Holy Spirit accepts us with all our secrets and gradually transforms us into someone like Christ. The Spirit’s work is seen in prisoners and drug addicts transformed … wealthy people humbled to care for the forsaken … doctors who forgo comfort to serve the needy. All of this fulfills the promise, made through Jesus, that no matter what we do, we can be forgiven and no matter who we are, we can be transformed.”
We are accepted, forgiven and transformed. Liberated from sin and given a new way of thinking. That’s God’s rebrand: new life in the Spirit. May we accept it. May we embrace it. May we live as those who are rebranded by God. Amen.