The Danger of Labels

By Sammie Gallo, Creator of Abundant Life: You Were Made for More

Popular. Loser. Athlete. Nerd. Loner. Gay. Slut. Good girl. Know-it-all. Weird. Delinquent. Unmotivated. Bossy. Different. Average. Too much. Not enough.

We all know words have power… so why we haven’t figured out that labels have power, too, is beyond me. Words have power. Think about it. Think about the experiences that have shaped who you are… if you’re anything like me, those things are probably words spoken to you by other people – whether they were good or bad.

Labels have power, too – especially for teenagers. Psychologists have released various studies in the last few years that prove what we already know to be true. Labeling middle school and high school students is dangerous, because just like words, labels, too, have power.

Why do labels have power? Psychologists have a few perspectives, and I have some, too. I think that labels have power because when we hear them, we quickly and sometimes unknowingly attach them to our identity. I think that’s why so many of us have a hard time believing God when He says that we are loved despite our past and despite what we have done. I think that’s why so many of us gravitate toward people who are just like us, people who have been labeled similarly – because we really believe that we will be more understood by them than we would be anywhere else.

As I’ve learned more about Jesus, I think this theory is backed by what He says about identity. If you’ve been following You Were Made for More for a while, you probably have picked up on the fact that we are big on identity. We believe that once you find out Whose you are, you’ll discover who you are. Once you meet the God who created you, you’ll learn more about what you were created for and who you are.

You see, I think labels have power because we’re all trying to fill the God-sized holes in our hearts. The holes that were created by the fall and by sin. We’re all trying to figure out who we were created to be. We’re all trying to figure out what makes us who we are. Labels have power, because God created us to know our identity through being in perfect relationship with Him, but because of the fall, we don’t have that anymore. So, we’re left searching – and unfortunately, most of us spend at least some amount of time, if not our whole lives, searching in the wrong places.

Here’s what I’ve learned about my identity as I’ve leaned into my relationship with Jesus. Because God created us to be recreated and renewed in His image, the labels that other people have put on me, or I’ve put on myself to be accepted and loved, really don’t matter. The only labels that I should focus on are the ones that God gives me. Here’s what God says:

  • I was created perfectly, in His image.
  • I broke my relationship with Him, through sin, and now, the relationship that was supposed to be at the center of my identity has been willingly shattered and broken.
  • The good news is, my relationship with God has been restored – my identity is wiped clean, and has been restored and refreshed by His Son, Jesus. We were created in His image, and because of God’s kindness to us, our relationship with Him has been restored through Jesus. I still get to claim the identity as a child of God. As beloved. As fearfully and wonderfully made. As someone that God would sacrifice anything for to win back. That is my identity – that is who I am. 

I firmly believe that labels are a tool from Satan – to convince us that our identity lies in our past, our decisions, our mistakes, and how other people view us. It’s just another way that he convinces us that we aren’t worthy, that we don’t get to claim the promises of God, that our identity hasn’t been made new. It’s just another one of his same old tactics he’s been using since the beginning of time. 

There are a few things you should know about Satan before we go forward. Satan is predictable. Satan has no power – except the power we give him. Satan is in our culture’s words, in our culture’s labels, and because of that, I see teenagers everyday struggling to wrap their heads around who they are. Sometimes, I still see it in myself.

Categorical labeling is a tool that humans use to resolve the impossible complexity of the environments we grapple to perceive. Like so many human faculties, it’s adaptive and miraculous, but it also contributes to some of the deepest problems that we face. And that’s why I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit – the very Spirit of my Father living inside of me, who reminds me of who I am when all the labels and cultural opinions want to take over.

If we believe in the Holy Spirit, we should believe that He first and foremost has the power to transform us and recreate us in the image of God despite all the brokenness in our lives… that’s the type of power that we have because of the Holy Spirit. The even better news is that Satan will never even be able to grasp an ounce of that power.

In the words of Kevin DeYoung, “once the labels stick, they become sticky indeed.” Our words matter. Labels matter. And we must remember who we truly are, so as to remember the truest thing about us is that we are God’s children because that’s who we were created to be. Other labels that we assign, or others assign, may be true, but in no way are they the truest.

In my own life, I’ve become more aware of the labels I use to define people, or even something as slight as how my mind instinctively wants to categorize them. In the name of Jesus, I pray that He would revive my heart and mind to quit labeling because I have seen personally how damaging it can be. I want to speak life over every person I meet – especially students. I want them to know that first and foremost they are a child of the most high God, who loves them enough to recreate them.

“You will not find your identity in what you have, but in who has you. You will not find your identity in what you do, but in what has been done for you. And you will not find your identity in what you desire, but in who has desired—at infinite cost to Himself—a relationship with you. Christ is your life. He gives you a new identity and will work that new identity out in your life until the day when He appears. On that day you will finally see clearly, as Christ sees you now. You will know as you are known. And you will understand that the truest thing about you—that in Christ God called you His beloved in whom He is well pleased—has been true all along. And is now true forever. Believe. Trust. Base your entire identity and worth on that fact.”

― David Lomas, The Truest Thing about You: Identity, Desire, and Why It All Matters

Sammie graduated from Robert Morris University in 2017 with a background in biology and psychology and started working with Anglicans for Life (AFL) shortly after. In addition to her work with AFL, she spends time going into public schools with the Women’s Choice Network, speaking to high schoolers about healthy relationships and sex education.

Sammie married her best friend, Juan Gallo, in May 2019. During her free time, you can find her leading youth ministry with her husband at their church, where he serves as the youth pastor.

Sammie spends her day-to-day making sure that every person hears and believes the words: “you were made for more.” You can follow Sammie on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter! She’d love to get to know you!