Today Justin did something awesome. He sat down with a guy who’s repenting, full-on Apostle Paul style. After years of addiction and deceit and rebellion, he’s finally decided to come back to God—the God he fell in love with as an eight year old, the God he spent the last seven years fleeing. And he’s on fire.
All he wants to do is be with and learn from and serve and praise and love God. He can’t concentrate on anything else. All of a sudden, nothing seems important but getting close to God.
He told Justin, “Because of the mistakes I’ve made maybe I can help other people who’re making the same mistakes—not right away—but that gives me hope. That in the end this change can be about more than me.”
You Can’t Appreciate Christianity Like I Can
I read a facebook note this morning, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it all day. It was about the trend, I guess it’s a trend, toward being very transparent about our sinful pasts, even celebrating them as spiritual advantages. The author was clearly distraught that her children (great kids) were being told that their unwavering faithfulness (faithfulness that came at a high price) made them inferior Christians.
Here’s what she said:
More and more I am hearing college devo leaders say things like “If your life has never been totally messed up with sexual sin, then you can’t fully appreciate Christianity like I can.” … Or, “I wouldn’t trade places with any of you out there who always walked the straight and narrow because I love the Jesus who came to the wide path and rescued me.” Or, “There may be those of you who think you made all the right choices through high school. You may have. But, if you did, I doubt you really know a lot about reaching the sinner with His forgiveness.”
She went on to discuss the implications of this attitude. Basically, that we would end up encouraging sinful behavior so as to facilitate this “stronger” faith.
I think she’s right. I think it makes no sense to brag about the wrongs in our past as “evidence” of our compassionate, understanding hearts or close relationship with God.
On the other hand, I sort of liked the quotes she cited. I can’t understand Christianity like the first kid can—we each experience it uniquely. I’m glad that second kid is embracing the life he’s led. I’m glad he’s experienced God’s rescuing love. And, you know, I think that third kid may be onto something. Maybe the good kids do need to spend some time thinking about the power of forgiveness. I know I did. I was a holy jerk in high school.
Truth is, there are advantages to having lived in sin. Look at the parable of the prodigal son. The bad guy isn’t the one who partied with prostitutes. It’s the guy who stayed home and worked hard. When Jesus says “But he who has been forgiven little loves little,” I can’t help feeling bad for myself because I’m not the sinful woman. I’m a lot more like the people at the dinner.
I’m thinking about my repenting friend here, thinking about all he’ll be able to do in service to God and God’s people—stuff I couldn’t begin to do.
But that’s not the end of the discussion, because there are advantages to faithful living, too. I think of Abraham and Joseph—both faithful at just about every turn and praised for it. And of course there’s Jesus. If God preferred sinfulness I guess He might have tried it out.
I like this line from her closing paragraph: “We cannot afford to make the depth of depravity to which one has slipped the barometer of perceived spirituality.” And to that I’d add, We cannot afford to make the heights of holiness to which one has arisen the barometer of perceived spirituality.
We’re the Same
We need to understand that the Christian life isn’t a competition. We’re not out to have the most intimate, real, and true relationship with God. The goal is for everybody to have a relationship like that. Ranking our spiritual states is so unhealthy and ungodly. It’s gross.
God can love the prodigal son and love the older brother. So long as the prodigal comes home and the brother gets humble.
When the Jews and Gentiles were arguing over who was holier (The Jews thought they were ‘cause they were “chosen” and the Gentiles thought they were because they hadn’t totally disobeyed God for hundreds of years) Paul said:
"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Like a teacher breaking up a fight between toddlers on the playground, Paul says, “You are a son, and you are a son. You’re both sons.” I think of the many times I’ve had to convince London that Eve’s bottle is exactly the same as hers. “You both have the same milk. Mommy made London milk, and Mommy made Eve milk.” Hers isn’t better than yours. Yours isn’t better than hers.
We’re all saved by the same blood and washed in the same baptism and clothed in the same Christ. No one’s any more an heir than I am, and I’m no more an heir than anyone else. It doesn’t matter where we’ve been. It matters to whom we belong.
Corny but way true.