I wrote a similar version of this blog a couple of years ago for the site Daily Jesus, which is still there but has become inactive. I’m revising and reposting it here.
When people meet someone new, it’s a common practice to ask what each other does for a living. It also seems commonplace in a church setting for people to discuss their testimonies, specifically how long they’ve been a Christian or what church they attend.
Imagine being in the awkward situation of not being able to answer that first question! Strange, I know. But a couple of years ago, I struggled to be able to tell people just when I became a Christian. This became an issue when I tried to start writing my testimony.
Here’s the deal. I was raised in a strong Christian home and knew stories about Jesus from the time I was incredibly young. I’m not even sure how old I was when I accepted Jesus but I know I knew what I was doing and was making my own decision. It was also my own decision to be baptized in second grade.
So what happened? Lots that I won’t go in to, but basically over the years I got the idea of how many Christians behave mixed up with the idea of who God is. My heart and mind got trapped in the legalism and judgment of it all instead of focusing on God’s love, acceptance and truth.
I never stopped believing in God, I just had an ever-decreasing desire to have a real relationship with him. I used to do devotions out of guilt (or as a homework assignment…I went to Christian schools growing up). But somehow they never meant much to me. I was wracked with guilt over this and wondered if I was really a Christian. Sure, I lived the lifestyle but there was no spiritual relationship there. I lived the life because it was how I was raised and it was expected behavior out of a good church leader’s kid.
My theology says yes, I was a Christian even then, because I had accepted God’s gift of salvation and never stopped doubting his power. But something in my heart wondered how that could be possible that I could still be a Christian when I had no real, faithful relationship with Christ.
Fast forward about 15 years. I was in my late 20s and had quit going to church or even trying to read my Bible. I decided doing anything out of guilt was wrong and I couldn’t do it any more. I was trying to figure out my standards on a lot of issues and I knew I wasn’t settling on Godly solutions. In the back of my mind I knew returning to God was the right thing to do but I was so filled with anger and mistrust I couldn’t do it.
I reached a point of rock bottom emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I knew the life I was living was tearing me down and in my head I knew God was the answer but my heart was still leery. So that’s when I made my “deal” with God.
I told him I would try the relationship “thing” under one condition. That it be all about him. Not about Christians and the rules or expectations they place. Not about life’s disappointments and pain. Just him. Focusing on his power, his glory, just him.
So back to the original point. I wasn’t sure when I became a Christian. Was it when I asked Jesus into my heart, just like my theology (and I believe the Bible) says? Or was it when I decided to start actually having a real relationship with God?
I’ve asked many wise Christian friends and one of my pastors and I think I’ve settled on an answer. I can, in clear conscience, say that I became a Christian as a child but that I started truly living it a few years ago.
I see it as something of stages. The actual salvation happened as a child but as we all grow and develop in our relationships with God and others, things change and we either get closer or farther away. I went farther away but then I came back. I think this is part of the natural process of growing in Christ, I just did it in a more extreme way *smile.*
I liked how my pastor put it so I’m going to quote him for a moment.
“In the Romans message we talk about the fullness of Salvation—God saved us (justification). God is saving us (sanctification). And God will save us (glorification). When someone becomes a Christian, they get the whole package of salvation. But they may not realize or grow into that whole package right away. This is especially true of children who receive Christ at an early age. They buy into the justification part of salvation … Jesus forgives my sin and pays my debt. But they don’t know what it means to embrace the rest of salvation… Jesus is changing me continually as I walk with Him (sanctification)… and I can’t wait until He finishes the job when I’m with Him (glorification).”
So what now?
I’m hoping to be rebaptized sometime but don’t know when. God will tell me when my heart and mind are ready! I don’t consider my original baptism “invalid” (in fact, the implication I get of that from some churches downright offends me), but I want to make a new statement. The last time I was making a statement of childlike faith. Now I want a grownup relationship with Christ and I want something that symbolizes that.
I pray that as I trudge forward in this life, I will continue to keep my eyes on Christ … and him alone.