In recent years, my walk with God has undergone a number of transitions that collectively amount to a total overhaul.
Fifteen years ago, I was an exuberant new Christian with all the hallmarks of southern evangelicalism: consistent church attendance, a vehement rejection of secular music’s demonic influence, and a staunch belief that all my beliefs were unerring because they came straight from the throne of Gawd. And, of course, the church I attended was always right because God had planted me there. And He wouldn’t allow them to mislead me, even accidentally. I could have been defined as easily by my naivete as I could me bold proclamations that the rules I followed should be adhered to by all humanity.
Today, on the surface, I’m completely different, and the old me would undoubtedly be trying to “save” current me through a subtle blend of condemnation and paper-thin role modeling.
Today, I have doubts, I aggressively disbelieve some of the fundamental teachings of my church, and I’ve re-purchased much of the music I’d once sold or burned. So what changed? Am I now backsliding? Is it a question of lost discipline or carnal influence?
It’s a question I’ve been evaluating lately, and I’d like to share what I’ve found over the next few weeks. Perhaps someone reading this could find answers of their own, and comfort in what I’ve found.
The Sin of the Idolatry of Sin
When I was young in my faith, I held to a few basic tenants, and most of these were shaped by the Charismatic and Pentecostal experiences I had early on. I might not have put it into these words at the time, but looking back I would distil my prior mindset into three key points:
- My relationship with my Lord is functionally identical to indentured servitude.
- Despite being a rigid law keeper, Jesus is also a kind slave owner.
- The primary objective of all people is to die to sin so that we can please our master.
I effectively believed sin *could* separate us from the love of God
I made an idol out of my sin.
My awareness of my own depravity overshadowed any message of God’s love. Romans 8:39 was almost as all-inclusive as it seems: you see, I effectively believed sin could separate us from the love of God.
God’s grace was an incredible gift, so long as one doesn’t waste it. You know, by sinning. Because God is as perpetually focused on my sin as I am. Or more so, since He has had an eternity to ponder my screw-ups.
Oh and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that my Pentecostal influences so aggressively emphasized? Yeah, He vacated my presence anytime I lusted or cussed or smoked. I was a freshly-converted teenager, so that meant the Holy Spirit was on sabbatical more often than not.
Of course, today I know that I was woefully ignorant and narrow-minded, but unfortunately, I didn’t keep that to myself. I saw sin as the enemy, and I saw sin in the world around me.
I recall instances where other Christians condemned my denomination’s beliefs (I was a Charismatic in Southern Baptist territory). I felt appalled that we would waste time attacking others over minor issues. So what if we don’t sing out of a hymnal? There’s a lost and dying world out there who needs to hear the Gospel.
It was a youthful version of righteous indignation.
Unfortunately, it was also hypocritical.
You see, I also recall instances where I condemned my new Christian friends for not aligning with the particular convictions I’d established already. I mentioned earlier selling or burning my secular music. I expected everyone else to do the same.
At one point, I even called my then-girlfriend (who was a believer) a distraction sent by Satan to keep me from accomplishing my life calling. And anyone who knows Clara knows she’s nothing of the sort.
God’s grace was sufficient for him, but it wasn’t sufficient for me.
As my body matured into adulthood, it was this version of Christianity that I carried primarily:
- My relationship with the Lord is less than it could be due to my frequent returns to sin.
- Despite all our unworthiness, Jesus loves the world.
- The primary objective of my life is to die to sin so that I can be less unworthy of Him.
Adulthood Defined by Insufficient Grace
In a now-published letter to his skeptic father, Minnesota pastor Greg Boyd wrote about the Genesis narrative and its talking snake:
The point is that Eve succumbed to a lie about who God was,
and who she was, and thus thought she could improve her lot
by something she did. She stopped being okay with herself
simply as what God created her to be. God’s grace wasn’t
enough. That is the point of the narrative, and that is the
essence of sin to this day.
Like Eve and so many others, I still lacked insight into the raw power of His grace and love. I could give it lip service, but I wouldn’t dare suggest it was in operation in my sinful life.
In essence, God’s grace was sufficient for him, but it wasn’t sufficient for me.
So when the real world of adulthood entered my life with a sonic boom, I was ill-prepared for the sort of thoughts that would rise. As I became more rational, how could I make sense out of the irrational faith I’d built?
Next week, I’ll address how the hard questions I faced brought forth a maturing process that brought about the sort of Christianity I now live out despite how my younger self might have felt about the new me.