The Problem With Labels

The summer after I graduated high school, I lost my mind for about four months.

I had always been well-behaved, responsible, and dependable. This was well-known in our neighborhood and at our church, so I was given a lot of responsibilities. I babysat for a lot of families. I worked in the nursery and children’s church at my church. And I had been accepted to travel with a mission team to do construction in Galeana, Mexico, the next summer.

But that summer after I graduated high school, I lost sight of who I was and what my life was about. I started surrounding myself with a different, wilder crowd of people than I had hung out with before. And I began experimenting with lots of things I’d never done before. This responsible, well-behaved, dependable, mature pastor’s daughter was suddenly popping random pills just so that I could see what they felt like, drinking large amounts of any kind of alcohol I could get access to, and one night, I learned how to roll (and smoke) a joint in the back seat of a friend’s car while riding down a dark, country road in Newport, NC.

I didn’t hide my rebellion very well. I thought I was doing a pretty good job, but what I was doing was fairly obvious to the people around me. My parents’ rule was that regardless of what my plans were on any given weekend, I had to be sitting in church on Sunday morning. I didn’t come to church hungover and strung out many times before people started catching on.

After about four months, I was done with my rebellion. I put away the pills, stopped drinking the alcohol, and tried to step back into the mature, responsible, dependable role I had held before. The problem was that all of the people who had trusted me before weren’t buying it. I had lost their trust, and understandably, I was going to have to earn it back. A year later, there were people that I still hadn’t earned it back from. And a year later, when I got ready to move to The City, there were still people who looked at me with distrust and wouldn’t let their children within ten feet of me.

I know what it’s like to be labeled, and that’s just one example. I’ve been labeled lots of things in my life. Some good, some bad. Some deserved, some undeserved. I’ve been judged, mistreated, mistrusted, overlooked and discounted. I guess that’s something I have in common with a whole lot of the rest of the world. I think there are probably very few of us that can’t identify with that.

The problem is that sometimes, the labels are wrong. And when we judge, mistreat, distrust, overlook, or discount people because of their labels, we are just as bad as those who judge, mistreat, distrust, overlook, or discount us because of our labels.

Rahab had a bright scarlet label – PROSTITUTE. That one is pretty hard for a lot of people to get past. But when the Israelite spies came to Jericho, she took them into the safety of her home, hid them, and helped them escape. And that makes me pause for a minute, because these Israelites that she took in, their law would have condemned her to being stoned to death, as a harlot. But instead of condemning her, because she reverenced their God and helped them, they protected her and her whole family – regardless of her label, regardless of the fact that she wasn’t an Israelite, and regardless of her previous behavior.

Let me reiterate that – God’s chosen people didn’t judge Rahab by her label, her nationality, or her previous behavior.

So, why do we?

Have you ever seen girls wearing short/tight/transparent clothing and assumed they were promiscuous or unintelligent?

How often do we see homeless people on the streets, judge them as lazy, shiftless, crazy, or dangerous, and go out of our way to avoid them?

Have you ever known someone who distrusted or belittled someone else because of their skin color or because English wasn’t their first language?

This past week, my heart broke a little when I saw Facebook statuses that read something along the lines of: “My little boy wanted to be in the Boy Scouts, but sadly, now I won’t let him because they are letting gays in.” My heart wants to cry out to those friends who posted that and say, “How does that show the love of Christ?” In essence, those precious little boys have already been labeled and judged as being unworthy, and the love of Christ is nowhere in that.

Andy Stanley says, “When it comes to your labels, current or past, God is slow to judge and more than willing to deliver.” (Stanley, Andy. The Grace of God. Thomas Nelson.)

This post is part of a weekly discussion on Andy Stanley’s book, “The Grace of God.” You don’t have to read the book to share your thoughts on the subject! Feel free to post a comment below. Also, if you’ve written a response to this chapter, please link up at the widget below. Then, drop by my co-facilitator, Jason Stasyszen’s place to see what he has to say on the topic.


About Sarah Salter


  1. Nancy P says:

    I am guilty of wanting to slap a label on parents who would say/think that. But mostly I am so very sad for them and especially their son. 🙁

  2. Sarah Salter says:

    Nancy, I love the people who said/thought that! In the past, they’ve been some of my closest friends! Somehow, they’ve forgotten that God loves us all, and that He looks at our HEARTS. And yes, I feel sad for their sons — who are going to miss out on meeting and getting to know some of the most precious people in the world.

  3. We are definitely covering similar ground today, but I think it’s so important. Those labels that divide, separate, and distract us are not even considered by God. Yep, some of those labels have to do with sin, but He’s not worried about it because the blood of Jesus conquered sin. He wants to love through us so we’ll show them Jesus, “Jesus with skin on.” Good thoughts. Thanks Sarah.

  4. Labels hurt…yet we continue to put then on ourselves and others. If only we could see ourselves and others through the loving eyes of Christ!
    Thanks for sharing about your past, it helps people see that God can overcome modern day sin!

  5. Sarah Salter says:

    Jason, I’m so thankful that when I sin, God doesn’t slap labels on me. Instead, he slaps the blood of Jesus on me. 🙂

  6. Sarah Salter says:

    TC, that’s a good point! We label ourselves, too! And some of the labels I’ve put on myself hurt even more than the labels people have put on me. (But that’s another post.) 🙂

  7. Between you and Jason, I feel pretty warm and fuzzy right now 🙂

    I know the labels, as I just said over at Jason’s site, from the inside out. Some of them were accurate, even, but that wasn’t the point – I was loved in spite of who I was and what I had been doing. When Christ said “Forgive them, Father…” He was talking about me as well as the folks directly responsible for the crucifixion. It just took a while to sink in 🙂

    I’ll be back – count on it!

  8. Sarah Salter says:

    Thanks for coming by and sharing, Rick! I look forward to seeing you again!

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