I always felt weird about sharing my “faith” because I always felt that it was a dishonest trick. I actually felt guilty about it… because if I had my choice, I wouldn’t be “a Christian”. Little did I know that this was evidence that I actually wasn’t a Christian.
So you’re saying,
“Wait a minute, didn’t you have a choice? You could have stopped being a Christian, rejected the Bible and the church, and gone your own way!”
Well there are actually 2 reasons why I felt I didn’t have a choice:
- This is hard to admit, but if I stopped pretending to be a Christian, then I would have to start from scratch. I grew up a PK (pastor’s kid) in a Christian school, with all my friends also Christians, or at least “Christians”. So I would have had to find new friends, start over at a new school, as well as convince a whole new set of people that I was worth valuing. (More on this later) So for practical reasons, it was actually the most selfish, easy thing I could do to keep pretending.
- The other reason was that I was, and still am, utterly convinced of the existence of God, that the Bible is the true word of God, that Christ lived and died and rose again, that we have extremely accurate records of his sayings and teachings, and that He is coming back again. I had complete faith in the Bible and it’s teachings.
“Now wait a minute here Richard, you said in point 1, that you were pretending to be a Christian, but in point 2, you are saying you had complete Faith that Christ was the truth. So doesn’t that make you a Christian?”
Actually it doesn’t…
Because I didn’t believe the Gospel. I didn’t actually have faith in the Good news, because I didn’t know what the Good news was! I believed that the Bible was true, but 25+ years in the church (and don’t get me wrong, a phenomenal church no less! #kccsunday) and I still didn’t know what the Bible said. Faith in the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian, it’s faith in the Gospel’s saving work of Jesus Christ!
“That’s messed up…”
Yeah… tell me about it.
So even though I believed in God, and had faith in the Bible, here is what I thought the gospel was:
- The Bible teaches the truth about right and wrong.
- Bad things we do in life have bad consequences.
- Good things we do in life will have good results.
- So, accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour, so we can have the inner power to good things.
- Now that we live according the Bible and are doing good things, we will be happy because good will result in our lives.
That is all a little abstract, so let me show you 3 scenarios of how my understanding of what I thought the Gospel was, had been practically lived out in my life:
- The Bible says “do not commit adultery”.
- If I fornicate before marriage, I will give away a piece of me heart that I can never get back. It will ruin my future marriage.
- If I stay pure, then I will be able to give my future wife all of my heart, and I will have a great marriage.
- Jesus will somehow help me stay pure, so I will believe in him.
- Now I will have a great marriage!
- The Bible teaches us to have a “Spirit of excellence” in everything we do.
- If we ignore this, we won’t live up to our potential, and will have poor self esteem, and won’t accomplish all that God has for us.
- If you have a “Spirit of excellence” you will achieve your goals, and you and God and others will think highly of you.
- Believing in Jesus will fill us with his Spirit and make us excellent.
- Once we achieve excellence, I will be able to accomplish so much for God, and be happy that I have done my best, and God will bless me.
- The Bible says, “love thy neighbour as thyself”.
- If I don’t love my neighbour, I am disobeying God and will be a mean person and no one will love me.
- If I love my neighbour, and give of myself sacrificially, then the people I help will appreciate what I do.
- Jesus loved me, and gave himself up for me, and so this gives me the power to love others!
- Now that I have the power of Jesus’ love and can help others, I can feel good about myself, and I will gain friends who will be there when I am in need.
“But Richard, all of those things listed above are basically true, and I have heard of all of these thoughts in Church before, so what is wrong with believing that?”
Nothing actually, for the most part these 5 steps are true… if you follow them, usually you will get the result you were looking for.
“Ok so then what’s the problem?”
The problem is that I thought that those 5 steps were the Gospel. But their not. They were just my religion. Consider the following 2 verses:
“Looking to Jesus the author AND finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2 (Emphasis added)
“It is done. I am the Alpha AND the Omega, the beginning AND the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.” – Revelations 21:6 (Emphasis added)
You see, I have come to believe that in order to have a full, personal, life-changing, heart-transforming, sin-destroying, joy-releasing, peace-bringing realization of the Gospel, I am convinced 2 things need to be completely understood, at the same time:
For one, we need to realize that the inner longing we have for a passionate love, the inner dissatisfaction with everything we are achieving, the feeling that there must be more, the crushing emotions of not feeling valuable… all of these come from ignoring the fact that the gaping hole in our hearts is evidence that we truly desire something, that nothing in this earth can satisfy. We need to realize that it is a relationship with God, through Christ that is the only thing that can satisfy this incredible thirst that is common to every human being.
Essentially, we need to realize that Christ must be our end.
Concurrently, we need to realize that we are so broken, so incompetent, and so sinful, that there is nothing we can do to erase the stain of our selfishness, let alone start to build up credentials that make us worthy of the kind of love that our hearts desire. We don’t even deserve the love our parents often give us, let alone the love of a perfect and holy and glorious God! The only way our debt can be paid, and we can be reconciled to our Creator is through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
Essentially, we need to realize that Christ must be our beginning.
And that my friends, is the Gospel.
So back to my story, and why I always felt guilty about sharing my religion with others: It didn’t work! It was a sham! For some reason, despite all my best efforts, and attempts to have faith, and trying to live out a spirit of excellence, and in serving others, my heart was never satisfied. All of my faith in Jesus to help me get the good things in life was fruitless. Oh sure, things looked fine on the outside:
A: I wasn’t officially fornicating…
…but I couldn’t overcome my inner battles with lust, and bondage to sexual sin.
B: I was getting good grades, leading worship, and pursuing excellence in all things…
…but all I wanted to do was be lazy and play video games, and I could never stop procrastinating and truly invest myself fully in something of value.
C: I was always saying yes, and giving and sacrificing, and helping others…
…but never felt that I was receiving the thankfulness and gratitude that I deserved.
And yet, I was praying and speaking in tongues and believing that Jesus was going to help me in all of this! How slippery this slope is! How subtle my selfishness could be! What was the problem? Jesus was not my end, but rather was a means to my end. You see, I had no problem with Jesus as my beginning, as the only means to achieve what I wanted in life, but can you hear the problem with this kind of faith? It’s all about me! I came to him with selfish motives. Albeit so deep was my own self-deception, that I really thought my motives were pure, but yet, as my favourite song pointed out,
“Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see”
Only by taking my desires, the things that were my end, giving them up, and instead realizing that the only thing that can really satisfy the longing in my heart is to hear my maker say, after He formed my heart anew, “It is Good, it is Very Good.”
And the amazing thing is that once we make our relationship with God the goal, we suddenly have that elusive inner power to transcend the desires that were either crushing us with the weight of trying to justify ourselves (Scenarios B and C) or were still leaving us unsatisfied, because our hearts want something so much bigger than any human love and recognition can provide! (Scenarios A and C). We were created so that God can delight in us! Now that is something worth blogging about!
Look at how the Good news is so practical for every area of our lives:
Even if marriage falls short of our expectations, or if God forbid we should never marry, Christ’s spousal love for His church is more satisfying than even the most glorious marriage. And even though my wife, is fun, is loving, is caring, is nurturing, is my best friend and closest companion, and is my perfect helpmate… if I put the expectation on her to fill the gaping hole for meaning and acceptance and love that only God can fill, she will be crushed under that kind of pressure. But knowing I’m more loved by God than I ever dared hope… can empower me to give without expecting return, to my wife, my friends, and even my enemies, because I have a fountain of living water, from which I will never thirst again!
So in conclusion, I finally have something to share, because I have received such an amazing gift. I no longer have to pretend, or feel like I have to trick people into coming to church with me, so they can learn how to be good. Because after 25 years of being in Church… I am finally a Christian. I finally know what the Gospel is.
Let me end with this thought: (which of course is not my own, but I owe to a great sermon by you can probably guess who)
If Christ is our end (the logos, the goal of all of our life’s journey)
And Christ is our beginning (the Grace by which we all entered this journey),
Then where do you think our middle (the things we do every day)
Is going to be?