Before and after

th-6

I think I like the first guy better.

Some did not catch the hyperbole in my Catch on Tuesday about “Always Christians.” There is no such thing as an “Always Christian” since we are all born into sin (Psalm 51:5). The “Always Christian” I was writing about is the person, like me, who has been raised in a Christian home, taught the word of God from as early as they can remember anything, and pretty much accepted it as fact the whole way.

I was told I accepted Christ into my heart when I was five (by the way: “accepting Christ into your heart as your personal savior” is nowhere in the Bible; it’s strictly evangelical-speak), but I remember going forward at church after seeing a Billy Graham film when I was eight. I had no choice. I was sobbing. I also remember crying out to God when I was twenty-one, that if He was real I really needed Him to show up right then in my life. “Forget all the other times I called out to you: this one is for real. If you don’t answer me in some way right now, I’m going to go insane.” (And He did, by the way.)

So when did I actually become a Christian? When was my “before?” When I was three, seven, or twenty? For some people this can get a little ridiculous. I can never remember not wanting to please God. Others have a very real turning point. Their before and after are well defined. I don’t think this has to be the case, nor do I think it really matters.

I’m not so sure everyone can point to a moment in their life history when they were born again. I can’t. I can’t say when I became a Christian, I can only truly say I am one now. Today, I believe, and I definitely plan on believing tomorrow.

In the same way, I don’t believe that anyone can point to a time when they stopped sinning, as in: “I was a sinner and then I accepted Christ, and now I’m not a sinner any more.” Just as we are constantly experiencing our salvation, we are constantly experiencing our need for it. Want to see my current sin? Back up the dump truck; where would you like me to put this?

One of our readers felt I was being unfair to good Christian people who have always lived a life of “joyful obedience.” For instance, she pointed to her pastor’s wife who always wanted to know “if her testimony was less valuable than a person who had led a sinful life, then repented and came to Christ.” My answer to that is: Yes, her testimony is less valuable, because she has led a sinful life too, and she’s not being honest about it. Like Bob, the good Christian kid in the movie “The Big Kahuna” who says to his coworker, “You mean I have to do something I’ll regret in order to have character?” and his coworker answers, “No, Bob. You’ve done plenty of things to regret; you just don’t know what they are.”

That “Always Christian” Catch was for those who, like me, thought that they were Christians because they did all the right things, not because they are present tense sinners saved by grace.

My mother was an incredible Christian woman whose life could be characterized by all who knew her as a life of joyful obedience. If anyone could receive that accolade, it would have been her. Everyone looked up to her because of it. But I knew differently. I knew it wasn’t always joyful. And though I do think she live a life of obedience, I would have to say it was more often than not, a life of resentful obedience. Joyful to everyone out there, a different story on the inside. And how many know that story? Not enough, because of all those people who admired her, most of them also knew they could never live up to her example. I think of all those who praised her at her memorial service, and then went home to their own lives of quiet desperation, and how they could have been set free had they known the truth, that God could use them just like He used my mom, in spite of themselves.

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8 Responses to Before and after

  1. Carole says:

    Very well put John and your meaning the other day was most likely CLEARLY understood by many.

  2. Andrew P. says:

    When did John become a Christian? Yes!

    When was John saved? Yes!

    We often try to answer the unanswerable. Today’s Catch reminded me of a sermon I once delivered after carefully studying the tenses of the word “save” in the Greek. I learned that that scripture clearly makes both past, present, and future tense statements about salvation. They are NOT used indiscriminately — meaning, scripture doesn’t one moment describe the exact same aspect as past tense, and in the next moment use it in future tense. Rather, different aspects are past, present, and future. I was saved, I am being saved, I will be saved. And I praise God for it!

    As to “Always Christians” — being one of them, myself, I took your point clearly, and it was an excellent one. We “Always Christians” are also, at the same time, “always sinners,” as well.

  3. Cynthia Cody says:

    John, this is a difficult concept to explain but the truth is what can really set us free to be real and not have to hide behind the mask. As usual you can bring things into focus for us Thank you.

  4. LDMartin1959 says:

    “…pastor’s wife who always wanted to know “if her testimony was less valuable than a person who had led a sinful life, then repented and came to Christ.” ”

    This is one issue that has bothered me for decades because it is exactly the sort of thing that so many churches teach, at least covertly if not overtly, and the sort of verses in the Bible on which they focus to the exclusion of other less dramatic passages. This teaching, whether intentional or inadvertent, causes massive destruction by ‘teaching’ those without an “inspiring testimony” that their value as a Christian is zero — they have done nothing which preachers can point to as evidence of “the miraculous saving power of Jesus” and therefore are of no value to Christ in the “building” of the kingdom. This often leads to the mistaken “realization” (again, covertly encouraged by preachers more often than one might think) in those ‘uninspiring’ believers that they need to go out and commit some sort of massive sin to be forgiven of in order to have an “inspiring testimony” as opposed to a ho-hum (aka, “worthless”) testimony.

    There as so many distortions and destruction’s of scriptural principles and Christian lives by preachers out to promote their own pet projects, beliefs and doctrines that many preachers are destroying the kingdom as quickly — or even more quickly — than they are building it.

    • jwfisch says:

      Yes, but I think you’re missing the solution to this. The solution isn’t to go out and sin “big time.” Nor is it to set these people who don’t have dramatic testimonies up on pedestals, but it is for them to realize that their sin is just as bad as the guys with the outwardly sinful lives. If anyone thinks that their sin is somehow less than anyone else’s, they are blind like the Pharisees were blind.

      • LDMartin1959 says:

        No, I didn’t miss the solution any more than I missed the primary point; they are both things with which I whole-heartedly agree. My comments were simply intended to highlight the widespread damage that has been and is being done — and the type of reaction many feel compelled to understand — by the focus of so many preachers on the “great testimony” method of evangelism.

  5. Suzan says:

    I have really enjoyed this recent series of Catches. The “Always Christian” trap is so easy to fall into, even when trying hard to avoid it. We “Always Christians” are blind to it, even when we’re right in the middle of it – like a fish oblivious to the fact that it swims in water. Just when I think I’m somehow different – well, let’s be honest, better than those other “Always Christians” – one of your examples gives me a new insight about myself, and for a brief moment I see around the plank in my eye! That realization shocks me into understanding just how much we “Always Christians” need Jesus too! Sometimes I think we forget just how desperate we truly are, even though we’ve never done any of “those terrible things others have done.” Jesus definition of sin in Matthew 5 pretty much convicts us all.

    Dear Jesus, thank you for the ways you reveal Yourself and Your truth through John and the Catch Ministry. Amen.

  6. Ann says:

    Your devotional truely touched my heart and I wanted to thank you for your words of wisdom.
    I grew up in a Lutheran home and I always believed in God and then I had friends that kept asking me about being born again and I said, What do you mean – when did you ask god to be your personal savior and I said God and I have always been good buddies. I have loved and walked with the lord since I was knee high to a grasshopper, as my grandmother used to say:) I am now 56 years old and my faith in God continues to grow in leaps and bonds, it took me a long time to give him everything and believe he knew better than I did. The greatest thing I have learned and try to do everyday – IS – God First, Others Second, Myself Last. Giving is so much better than receiving. Thank you again and God Bless you! Have a very Happy Thanksgiving:)

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