Both of my parents grew up in the church but neither of them was saved until adulthood. It so happened that my dad attended a camp meeting of the “brimstone and fire” variety and was so convicted that then and there he gave his life over to the Lord. He changed so much, in such a short amount of time that his actions led my mom to want what he had, and to give her life over to the Lord. The impact that had on her was tremendous, and also impressed his dad so much that my grandfather, “Pop” to us kids, followed suit. Pop never saw the need for a savior, because he was a “good man.” And he was! He had a compassionate heart and was virtuous. He never stole anything, never mistreated anyone, and was just all around a decent human being. He had the family attend church but it wasn’t for him. Then when my dad changed, he suddenly was no longer the same person, Pop thought, “Maybe there’s something to this God business after all.”
I too grew up in the church and I was baptized at about thirteen years old – in a stock tank at a country church, but it was not until I turned seventeen and attended a Women of Faith conference that made the biggest decision of my life – to give myself completely over to Him. It was a choice I made as an adult and it was not done lightly. My transformation has not been as dramatic or evident as what my dad went through but I am a different person today than I was ten years ago when I made that decision. I am a different person than I was last year. My decision impacts me every day, in all walks of life. Church is not an option for me, it is part of my week, but my dialogue with God and His influence in my life is not limited to that Sunday morning service. He is constantly at work on me, shaping me, guiding me, convicting me, and occasionally slapping me – hard. And once the sting subsides and I face up to my realizations and repent, then He takes me by the hand and we continue on the straight and narrow path together.
Many people have told me that we cannot judge whether or not someone else is saved, that it is left to God alone to know the condition of the human heart. This true and I wholeheartedly agree that only He will ultimately judge us, but I also believe that we know one another through our actions and through the transformation Salvation brings about in our lives. It is not an immediate fix-it-all for anyone, though some people like my dad may experience a more dramatic turn-around than others. For him, he knew he was at rock bottom, that in spite of being “a nice guy with a few issues,” he was in fact a sinner and incapable of getting out of this mess on his own and he repented. My parents have always taught me, as a result, that genuine repentance is more than crying a few tears and asking forgiveness; it is about getting up off your knees once the pleading is over with and making a total life change. Salvation is not something you hide; it is something that shines out through your actions, as a witness to others.
Unfortunately, our modern church has tried so hard to be “accepting” and “tolerant” as well as promoting the idea that “we are all sinners” (truth) that they have forgotten the essential key to salvation – genuine repentance. If you say the “Jesus, please come into my heart prayer” and leave that Church building on Easter the same person you were when you entered it, well, there was no change of heart. If you go back to your sinful lifestyle, there was no change of heart. If you continue to live as you used to, without feeling the need or conviction to change anything, there was no change of heart. You are like the soil on which the seed fell; it started to sprout but because you neglected to make the right choices, the words burned within you for a time and then faded, as the weeds (sin) choked it out. You are still living among weeds, not lush growth.
One of my fascinations is church history; the different times and situations in which the Church thrived or diminished, when it was strong and when it became corrupt. During the middle ages, there were ups and downs within the Church, times when a “good” Pope was in power and when a “bad” Pope was in power. Because of a lack of accountability and the fact that the church had become all about profit rather than truth, immorality was rampant among the clergy, a rot that festered and consumed innocent lives until Martin Luther’s Reformation spoke out against it. One of the most notorious Popes was Rodrigo Borgia, who purchased his way to power and engaged in seduction, murder, and blackmail to keep himself there. Recently watching the new television series about this notorious family, I noticed that on many occasions when confronted with the evils they were committing in the name of preserving their stronghold in the Vatican, he would simply shrug and answer, “God will forgive us.”
Chilling statement from a man dressed in red (and later, white) robes as he speaks to his eldest son, a cleric who by night seduces handmaidens and occasionally resorts to murder, but even more chilling when we stop to think about in our watered-down version of Christianity, it is a phrase that is too often uttered. “God will forgive us.”
Yes, He will, but that does not give us a license to misbehave.
Scripture is very strict on what God requires from those who profess to follow Him, and it is a long list of things that some of us would rather forget, morality demands that are not popular now or that do not fit in well with our “tolerant” culture. Many Churches are reluctant to confront sin, so eager to please and not offend that they permit immorality where it should be uprooted. Where one weed grows (a “tolerated sin” among a congregation) others will soon spring up and the Church will be punished for it. I have seen it many times. We must cease our silence and stand up for what we believe within the Body, regardless if it makes us “popular.” Whatever happens in secular culture, whatever sins are committed outside the Body, is not ours to condemn; but we are called to hold one another to account in our actions.
None of us will ever be perfect, nor can we hope to even attempt to strive for perfection, but we must be eternally in a cycle of transformation, ever improving, ever enriching our spiritual life, and ever drawing nearer to Him. Our lives must show evidence of His influence, for it is our lives that people see rather than what comes out of our mouths. How we confront sin in our midst will also reveal the presence of God. We cannot judge, for we are all fallen, but we must not allow sin among believers to go unquestioned; and we must expect Change in the lives of those who profess belief.
Our lives are a continual sacrifice in honor of the greater sacrifice, and as Christ did not rise from the dead untransformed, our own transformation must, in its barest, humblest form, echo faintly the gloriousness of Him.