I was taught that if I believed Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, I would be saved. Saved from what? Hell and eternal damnation. I was also taught that once I believed that Jesus was the savior of the world and that He died for me, my life would change and that I would be free from sin. But that was not true. My life did not change. I did change it by altering my behavior and becoming a “good Christian,” but that’s not what I was taught would happen.
After a little while, I got tired of trying to be good. And I really did want to be good. However, the harder I tried to control my sin the harder it became to do so. So, I became really good at hiding my sins and pretending at church, and around other “Christians” to be okay. This went on for years. Why wasn’t I really changed? I believed what they told me to believe, that Jesus was the savior of the world and that he had died for me.
These statements about Jesus are true. Why hadn’t I changed? I truly desired to change and I prayed for it, just about every day. I tried fasting, going to church more often, paid my tithe, and I prayed for others. I gave to homeless people on the street, but in the end, I didn’t feel safe. Shouldn’t I have felt safe? After all, what I was taught to believe was supposed to save me.
Well, it seems like I was taught the wrong thing. Yes, Jesus is the savior of the world. Yes, he died for my sin. I was even taught that God loved me. It was one of the first verses I ever heard when “Christians” were trying to convince me to convert.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
I did not make the connection. I don’t think those who were trying to convert me had made the connection either. Sure they convinced me to become a Christian. I wanted to avoid hell and damnation! Who doesn’t? But when my life didn’t change the way I thought it would, I became afraid that God might leave me, and maybe doubted that He was ever with me. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. What had I missed?
Fourteen years of “Christianity” would go by before I heard the first clue from God about love. I am sure that for those fourteen years He was trying to reach me but I was so focused on trying to “live rightly,” I was missing what He was trying to reveal to me. Even when I got that first clue, I didn’t really get it.
One day I was reading in Ephesians, the first chapter. Paul was relaying a prayer of thanksgiving for the saints. Around verse 17, Paul says he has prayed that God would,
“give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him (Jesus), having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints…” (Eph 1:17-18)
The clue about God’s love is hidden here, but not written out where I could see it. Paul was a very intelligent individual, educated, and a competent writer, which made it difficult for me to glean his full meaning upon the first reading of his writings.
What caught my attention in the verses above was, “..what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints..” Wait! His inheritance? What does He get out of the deal? I had been taught that He died for my sins; even that He loved me (still hadn’t made the connection). I had not actually contemplated what He gets out of all this.
I think this was the first time I’d been stopped in my tracks while reading the scriptures. Yes, I stopped reading. I was stunned. So, I asked Him, “I know what the benefit for me is in all this, but, what do you get for your trouble?”
As quickly as I asked the question the answer came back, “I get you.” For the first time in my “Christian life” I had been stunned by something the Lord had spoken directly to me. This was my first clue about the love of God. More importantly, it was a clue about His love for me.
I still had not fully grasped what this meant where I was concerned. Just a few years later, under some extraordinary pressures in my life, I found myself alone, drunk and hungover, angry and cursing God out, and blaming Him for all the woes of my life. I actually told Him that I hated Him.
Then I was stunned again. Instead of that feeling of condemnation, I would get when I “sinned,” I was overwhelmed by a wave of love like I had never felt before. And that feeling carried me for the next several weeks and months. In fact, since that moment I have never doubted His love for me or the fact that he is with me. But He still was not done yet.
How does one actually change like I was talking about at the beginning of this article? I had already begun to feel “safe” as a result of these two instances of God’s love being revealed to me. But what about that change I had been wanting so badly?
From around 2010 until the present I have been realizing that God not only loves me in this powerful way, but he loves others with the same force and desire. And not just Christians.
“..We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially those who believe.”(1Tim 4:10-11)
“God is Love,” the Apostle John says. And the more He reveals to me how He feels about all people, even those we would consider evil, the more I am blown away by who He is. I believe in this God, the one who overwhelmed me with his love while I was trying to hate Him. This is what has finally begun to change me!
The more I realize whom He is, the more it changes me on the inside. What I have come to understand is that I become what I see in Him. The more I understand Him, the more like Him I become.
I know that sounds very bold and it’s quite a statement to make. I am not saying I have arrived, but I am moving forward in real change which I have wanted since I first believed anything about Him.
Now I do feel safe. I know that I have been saved, and am being saved. My life is being salvaged from the waste and destruction that I’ve caused in my past. Each day I am better.
I hope you know I’m not talking about material wealth and gain, but about the life that is on the inside of me, inside all of us; the life of Jesus Christ through His Spirit. Salvation is real, and it is based on the love of God and the fact that God is good. I believe that is what we should be telling people.
We as the church have been trying to recruit by the perceived mechanism of escaping hell and wrath and damnation, and it’s not working. The God who is love itself is the only way anyone can ever change and be satisfied, and feel safe in this life.