I don’t remember much of anything from the two or three sermons I heard a week, every week, from my childhood. Despite not recalling specifics, they undoubtedly impressed upon me scores, maybe sores, of beliefs and ideas about God. I grew up in a quasi-fundamentalist, very legalistic congregation and some of these ideas were impressed for ten years, and it feels like just as long for them to be peeled off of me.
One thing I do remember being said from the pulpit was that we were saved by Christ Jesus, and not by any good behavior or deeds we did. Despite the fact I can distinctly remember this being preached even now, I still thought the whole goal of a Christian was to keep a clean, blameless slate. I though my ultimate purpose was to lay low, not get into any trouble, and try to “save” a person or two. I blame junior high church for this, as they are so concerned about their teenagers going down the wrong path they can end up only emphasizing morality.
Sometime after high school, while reconnecting with my faith and getting into reading about the Christian life, I came to a truly stunning revelation – that the goal of a Christian was not avoiding sins, leading a pure life, or evangelizing the lost – but to love. You know, with your heart. And not just love God, but people (maybe even non-Christians!).
It was seriously a huge deal. It felt like I found the missing key to Christianity, or that I had happened upon the ever elusive meaning of life. To conceive that the goal of my religion was serving, and not all these other boring moral pursuits – well I cannot emphasize enough the immensity of this newfound realization. It was a huge shift in my understanding.
Somehow the message of servitude, of taking the lesser seat, of dying to self – were all lost. These key themes were, in all probability, taught in my church. Though I can of course find many problems, it was a Bible-preaching church with good intentions and I really doubt that they neglected to teach those ideas.
But here’s the thing – even though my church probably taught all the proper doctrine – salvation by grace, love your neighbors, etc – some other messages still became the dominate one. There was what I heard, and then there was what I experienced – and the latter was stronger.
But I’m not going to blame the church I grew up in or condemn them for failing to do this or that. But we need to be careful when doing anything that involves God or Jesus (which is to say, pretty much everything) – for we hear more than just words. It is good to debate, but when you’re discussing or questioning someone’s ____fill in the blank (stance on homosexuality, life decision, whatever it is), you must work extra diligently to ensure the message is encased in love.
We have a tendency to fall back upon man-made religion, the very system Jesus came to turn upside down. We want to believe God uses a scale system, that he only blesses good righteousness, and tons of other ideas Jesus tirelessly tried to turn around. And so ultimately the very thing that Christianity was founded upon – love, love, love – can be a stunning moment of enlightenment to a 21 year old career Christian. We must adjust accordingly.
Did you have a similar experience as me? Was it a big adjustment for you?