Yesterday I became a full member of Sendai Minami Yoshinari Christ Church, a Lutheran Brethren Synod congregation about twenty minutes from my home. It took over twenty years for me to transfer my membership from my former church in Tokyo. What on earth took me so long? My sin. My pride. My shame. I did not want to give them up. Well, I was sorry about them, and I asked for God's forgiveness, but I still imagined that the triune me, myself, and I had to get my act together and convince, if not others, at least myself, that I was truly a real Christian.
Long story. I grew up in the Lutheran tradition, and it was nice. I believed that I needed a Savior, and I said I believed. But, so often my behavior didn't line up. I kept doing things for which afterward put me into despair. My life definitely didn't show any dramatic improvement. If anything, all I could see was someone who desired to do the right things, but never did. A complete moral failure.
In college, I remember asking a campus pastor, "Doesn't God want us to be good?"
"No, Becky, God doesn't want us to be good. He wants us to live with His Holy Spirit in us."
What kind of answer was that? I noted his comment in the margins of my Bible, and remained perplexed as to what he meant for the next 25 years. Maybe he meant that Jesus set us free, so we didn't have to worry about what we did or didn't do? Maybe not?
Another popular phrase, which I thought profound, was on a little desk placard someone gave me. Lord, thank you that there is nothing that together You and I can't do. Or something like that. I liked it because it made me feel like God and I were partners. He was there for me, and I could count on Him to always be there encouraging me as I went along the path of my choosing.
When I was 16 my Mom gave me a Bible for Christmas. I soon started marking it up, highlighting it, underlining and applying its principles to my life. Or maybe it was more like, I'd go looking for phrases that I could claim approved of the ways I thought things should be done. I went to that Bible often, always doing after-the-fact checks that the Bible really did line up with my concept of what God wanted for me.
The more I did that, the more I seemed to go further into despair. What on earth was wrong? I was in the Bible, but none of it seemed to "work" for me. Wasn't my life supposed to be an example to others? Wasn't my Christian life supposed to brings others to Christ? It certainly wasn't doing that! It wasn't even making my life all that satisfying to me! Maybe Christianity wasn't what it claimed to be? Especially since my parents divorced and the family I grew up in was crumbling, and my Japanese fiance's family seemed to have it all together, maybe I was too narrow-minded and arrogant thinking that Christianity was the only way.
So, I started, well not really allowing that all religions are equally valid, but at least not insisting that Christ was the only Way, Truth, and Life..... at least while we are alive on this earth. I didn't really get into other religions, though I did do yoga while pregnant. But I quit that as I started freaking out whenever the yoga instructor would talk in his hypnotic tone about how we were bowing down to Mother earth. I didn't like that.
Then I would meet with Christians who insisted I could not be a Christian because I was baptized when I was only a toddler, and I had to have a "born-again experience," a visible change from my sinful self to my new (sinless?) self. Since I could not point to such an experience, that was proof that I was a false Christian. That put me further into despair and made me mad as well. And, everyone "knows" that Christians are not supposed to get mad, so maybe they had a point there....
So, let's just put this on the shelf and cross the bridge when we get to it. Trouble is, you can't. I couldn't. Even though I had muddled God's Word, it was already there hidden in me. After years of going to church, a strong liturgical church at that, God's Word would come to me time and again. I could refuse to listen, but no matter how much I tried I couldn't keep from hearing it. And one day, it was as though I was put in a corner. Am I going to admit that Jesus is the Truth or is He just a liar?
I'm skipping all over the place here, but to make a long (mundane, too) story short, I got out my old copy of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Two things from his book remain in my mind. One is that in Christianity, all hangs on the person Jesus, and who He is. There are three choices: He is a lunatic, a liar or LORD of Lords. The other thing Lewis said was that it does one no good to stand in the hallway wondering which door to step into. He was referring to all the Christian denominations; one has to be part of a public Christian community, you can't just sit in the hallway and say you are part of the body of Christ.
That's when I realized that I had things all backwards. Jesus called me to follow Him, not for me to lead the way and have Him run along after me. He said that He is the vine and I am a branch; whatever good work I may do is completely because of being connected to Him. Hardly an equal partnership!
It is not necessary that I prove that I am a Christian. That is not what I "have to" do. The only thing needed is for me to believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, and that He has died in my place. And even believing is not my own accomplishment, that is a gift given me by the power of the Holy Spirit. And now I see what it means that God does not want us merely to be good for goodness's sake. He wants us to belong to Him, to come to Him in repentance, to receive the forgiveness that He offers and to rest in Him. Once that happens, the godly good will come. This is the peace, the eternal life, that we have in Christ. All praise and glory goes to God. It has taken a long time to transfer my church membership, but now that is done. Phew!