A month ago, I visited with a friend who was struggling. I know emotionally and physically, my friend had been taxed by the recent months, but I didn’t know how spiritually it had impacted him. And then, my friend dropped “the bomb”:
“I don’t know if I’m saved.”
Through his tears, I asked him what he meant, while my mind was spinning. How could he feel this way? He was an anchor in his church, the kind of person everyone else could count on for a dose of steadfastness and reality mixed into a never-miss-a-Sunday kind of service.
But he didn’t have “the moment.” That situation where his “heart was strangely warmed” (John Wesley) or his road-to-Damascas moment (Apostle Paul) had never happened, and now, in the midst of his struggles, he worried that maybe he hadn’t ever gotten “it.”
The truth is though, that one of the disservices that the church has done is to present the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that emphasizes the moments, rather than the journey. We promote altar calls and conversion experiences, and fail to see that sometimes, the way of following Jesus is gradual… or that we could be born for it.
This fixation on “the moment” drove me to wonder what was wrong with me in college, while my peers were experiencing conversions and turning from one life to follow Jesus. Was being raised in a Christian home and actually liking church a disservice? Was I somehow missing something because I went from zero to ten to twenty and so on, rather than zero to sixty?
When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.-Galatians 5:4-6 (The Message)
Paul wrote that as part of his attempt to explain that the Gentile (non-Jewish) churches didn’t have to become Jewish before they could become disciples of Jesus. But it seems like maybe this applies to our Protestant sensibilities where we put conversion higher on the pyramid of faith than it should be. Paul says that our plans, projects, our focusing on religion, and our ignoring religion, do not matter at all; only living out a life of faith in love does.
Does my life reflect faith? Do I love the unlovable, either by society or by my own standards based on their treatment of me? Do I put the emphasis on what it means to be loved by God and to love God back, or do I think I can be saved through some effort of my own? Do I recognize my need for God in my life or do I think I can do it on my own?
Ultimately, the distance we run to God doesn’t matter. It only matters that we run to God at all.
You and I have had this conversation. Growing up in the church I never had “that moment” and often wondered why others did and I didn’t. Church was just always a part of my life (well, minus the college years). I’ve realized that’s ok and I like your suggestion that following Jesus can be a gradual journey. That would be the path I am taking.
hey Elizabeth! Always good to hear from you. Thanks for responding. It’s entirely too divisive a conversation, whether you’ve “experienced” salvation or not, when God just wants us to recognize Jesus’ sacrifice and embrace grace WHENEVER we do.