You all know that I’m slowly coming back around to Christianity and religious belief, after rejecting it for several years. This is the latest update on that. TL;DR: a sermon about the seriousness of sin has actually made me more receptive to Jesus than anything in the past few years. But there’s really a lot more to it than that.
I think I’m going to read through 1 John. I read through it this summer, at the suggestion of our marriage counselor, but I was in a different place then. I was cautiously dipping my toe back into the Bible, while now I’m in up to my shins. Maybe even my knees.
I decided I wanted to read it yesterday at church. It was the second time we’ve been to church in 2018. We were doing pretty good in October and November, but haven’t truly found a home church here yet, and got sidetracked by the holidays. After the holidays, I kind of decided I didn’t like the pastor much at the church we’d been visiting because he’s a little subconsciously sexist, and it became easier to sleep in on Sundays. We went to my parents’ church when we went to see them this month, and yesterday to his parents’ because we were down at their house.
I actually enjoyed the experience of their church. That’s the first time I’ve truly enjoyed and felt a part of a worship service in a long, long time. I enjoyed the music. And I really liked the sermon, actually. The topic was the seriousness of sin, and the main points were that even after you become a Christian, after you accept your own broken nature and the grace and sacrifice of Jesus, you are still held to a high standard of holiness, and your mistakes are not excused, but have already been punished.
I like hearing the “God loves you” sermons as much as anyone. But if I’m being honest, that sermon, about how Christians are still expected to be holy after salvation, makes me more receptive to the Christian faith than anything in the past few years. For one, that message highlighted the grace and character of God for me. It illustrated that God doesn’t compromise on his values or attributes: he is holy and he demands that we be holy as well. But he knows we can’t handle his standard of holiness because we broke ourselves away from that, and he loves us enough to have punished someone he knew could take it.
One thing that’s confirmed about myself over and over is that I perform best when I’m challenged and held to a high standard. If I’m not held to a standard, I either create one for myself, or — more likely — become lax. And I know that Christianity isn’t about performing; it’s about accepting and sharing the love of God. But it is encouraging to realize that God knows that even though we are broken, we are still capable of holding ourselves to a standard. We’re not perfect, but we’re not all bumbling, vapid idiots, either (which is, a lot of times, how Christians are viewed). If you believe that God made us in his image, it makes sense that he holds us to this standard because he knows we are intelligent and free-willed and capable of it. He made us to be like that. He knows we will make mistakes, but he knows we can handle it. He trusts us.
It seems like such a simple thing to realize that God has standards. It’s one of those things I’ve always heard growing up, although in different terms. I’ve always understood it, mentally. I mean, it makes sense, right? But I don’t think I really got it until yesterday. Maybe that comes with life experience, or maybe it’s just that I get it since Christianity is no longer an obligation for me. I don’t really think it matters.
It was a serious message, though. The pastor made the point that at the beginning of every new era in the Christian faith, God has made an example of someone who didn’t do what was expected of them at that point. God puts down his expectations, makes them clear, and once they have been given, immediately punishes those who ignore those expectations (he cited Leviticus 10:1-3, 2 Samuel 6:6, and Acts 5:1-11, in case you’re curious). The pastor, by explaining this, was trying to convey the seriousness of continuing in sin after you’ve accepted Jesus. But I truly, truly appreciated it.
In mentioning 1 John, the pastor said that it is a good book to read to get acquainted with what it means to be a Christian. That’s essentially what it was for the early church — it was a new era of the religion, and the new expectations needed to be discussed. Having heard the things I heard yesterday, I’m going to try to read that book keeping that in mind. More and more, I don’t love the churches that are around today, but I think I want Jesus. I want him and what he meant and what he stands for and I want to become a better person, and the more I think about it, the more I want it. My negative periods about it have become shorter and less intense. The more I learn about God himself, and the more evidence I see that he does exist, the more receptive I become to him.
It still sounds hokey to me, to be honest. I’m typing this all out and reading back through it, and it’s astonishing how institutionalized and ridiculous it sounds. I mean, I’m really admitting this: I really think God exists (most of the time), and I think I really want the type of personal relationship that Christians say is possible. The more I learn, the more I think it’s true. It sounds so weird. But I try to be honest on this blog, and that’s what’s going on with me. What’s going on with you?