I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine way back in junior high on music. All I really remember is being lectured. I don’t actually remember what was said. Something about having loose standards.
Before you start wondering about my standards at that point, they were basically whatever my parents told me was OK, so this particular person was trying to take her Christianity up one more notch than me. The reason why I was thinking about this conversation recently is that this particular friend has now turned away from the Lord and is living by a completely different set of rules.
My list of friends that grew up “Christian” and in “good” families that have now turned away from the Lord is not exactly a short list. Over time, this reality has just become more confusing for me.
Why me? Why did God pursue me to remain faithful and not the others who looked a lot more put together than I ever did? After praying about this question quite a bit, God brought back to my mind that conversation. We were busy serving two very different gods. Her god looked a lot like works. She wasn’t doing those things out of a love for the God of heaven. There was only a focus on appearance and what others saw. She tried for years to make her way work.
Our actions in life matter a lot. I don’t mean to say at all that our actions don’t matter. “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). The book of James says a lot about how important what we say and what we do is, because it affects God. 1 John 3:9 states that “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” This doesn’t mean that Christians don’t sin; it means that when a true believer sins he’s going to be smitten with so much guilt and remorse that 1) he won’t want to do it again, and 2) he’ll beg God to forgive his sin and help him change. Good works is one of the marks of a healthy relationship with God.
I’m very thankful for my testimony. I started wanting a relationship with God before I ever even thought about changing my life and sinful habits. As I got older, there are certain things that I have tried to change, because I wanted to make God happy. I wanted to change my attitude problems, because I love God and He hates pride (Proverbs 8:13). I wanted to change my language to be kind, because I love God and He loves people (John 3:16). I wanted to change my plans for God’s plans (like ministry), because I love God and I’d rather follow Him (Isaiah 55:6-8). There is obviously a lot more that I’ve had to work on, but I strive for a life of excellence because I love God and want to make Him happy. I don’t do those things because I feel like I have to earn God’s love. Good thing too, because I fail all the time! Or more specifically, I fail every time I take my eyes off of God. It is impossible to change ourselves in our own strength. The only thing that will change us is a close love relationship with God.
It boils down to the question, “who is your God?” Like I said, I have a pretty long list of friends that I grew up with that have now turned away from God. Parents are broken hearted, teachers are confused, and friends move on to new friends. Were they not listening all those years in church? Were they secretly lying to everyone and themselves? Are they still saved and just need to remember where they belong? I’m starting to see how many young people are worshiping the wrong god. When they DO all these “good” things, they receive so much praise! But without a growing relationship with God, how long can good works actually last? Eventually they fail, and everyone ends up shocked and hurt by the wickedness that we are all capable of.
Good works matter, but they mean NOTHING without a heart that loves God. We have to encourage others to grow and become more Christ-like because we love God, not because that’s how Christians are supposed to act. One reason I have been thinking so much about this is because of the influence I have on kids right now. If my background is any indication statistically, most of my students will end up turning away from God for a good chunk of their lives. I don’t want that! I have prayed so much, asking God, “How can I help warn my kids and prepare them with the right weapons to survive those spiritual battles that are coming their way?”
I’m still praying about that…. But I definitely want my kids to know that there is a God that gave His life in order to be able to have a relationship with them, not just one prayer and a list of rules. I want this to be an open conversation in the classroom. I want my kids to know that faith is all about their heart wanting to know and clinging to God’s heart. God’s love for us does not falter, but our love for Him obviously does. The only way for our love and devotion to last until we die is to become closer and closer to Him.