My entire childhood, my family was devoutly Christian. My father was a pastor and my mom was a teacher and pastor’s wife. Without a doubt, we were both spiritual and incredibly religious. When I was young, I could remember people getting baptized at church and how everyone gave them attention afterwards and congratulated them. Congratulated them for what? They didn’t do anything, right? I was jealous. I wanted that attention. I wanted everyone to look at me. I wanted everyone to think I was good. So, after seeing another friend be baptized, I decided I wanted to be baptized too. What I didn’t know was this: Baptism is only for people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God who paid the penalty for my sins and then rose from the dead for me.
Luckily, my parents did know and refused to let me get baptized. I was as angry as a seven year old can be. At the time I was furious, but now I can see how that was a good thing. Instead, they chose to teach me all the things you have to believe in order to be ‘baptized’. What I ultimately came to learn from my parents was this, though: You can’t get baptized if baptism is most important to you. Only people who trust, love, and find satisfaction in God are baptized. So where did that leave me? Over time, through teaching from the Bible and discipline from my parents, I came to see that I was a sinner. I learned that to sin is to rebel against God. To sin is to mess up but in the worst way possible. I learned that I was born this way; we all are. I am not a sinner because I sin, I sin because I’m a sinner. It’s part of who I am. I couldn’t trust myself to be good or know what’s right. I was more likely to lie to myself than anyone else.
One of the funny things about learning about sin and what it means that God says we have to be perfect is that I began to worry. I knew I was a sinner, sure. It only got worse when I learned that God, being perfect and demanding perfection, couldn’t be around sin or with sinners, and also is in the place of judging sin and deciding punishment— and the ultimate punishment is a life after this one completely separated from God, the only source of true joy and peace in all of existence. What I didn’t know is how to fix this situation. I tried to be good. Besides, how bad can you be as a kid? Well, apparently bad enough that you can’t ever be perfectly good. And I was only getting worse. The more I learned about the world, the more rules I broke or wanted to break. My parents did exactly what they should have done: they told me the gospel a lot.
The gospel is the truth that though humans are sinners from birth, God has sent his son Jesus Christ to save us. We have to believe we’re sinners or else we will never think we need saving from our sins. The way Jesus saves us is by having lived a perfectly moral, religious, clean, and shameless life. Jesus did everything I was supposed to do, only he did it perfectly. Then, Jesus was killed for telling the truth: that he was God’s son! The best part is this: that Jesus let them do it. Here’s why: when they killed him, something else happened: God accepted Jesus’ death a sacrifice. Instead of me being punished for all of my sins, Jesus willingly had God punish him in my place. God took all the sins I would commit in the future (he can do that; he’s God!) and punished Jesus for them 2,000 years ago; both God and Jesus wanted this. But that isn’t all: After Jesus died, he was brought back to life by God in real human flesh. Then he was taken up to heaven and is seated on the throne there now as king of Heaven. The best part of the news of the gospel is this: if we believe that this happened for us and for our redemption, then we are given all the perfection that Jesus had and the punishment that he took for sin is credited towards us.
We will never be punished; it’s been done. We are accepted by, loved by, and have peace with God himself. He is like a perfect father to us if we believe, loving us unconditionally and disciplining us to make us like himself (he is perfect, after all). None of this depends on us, but all on what Jesus did. If we just believe, we are ‘saved’ from our sins and as long as Jesus is still alive in Heaven, we can’t lose that salvation. It’s ours and God will make sure he doesn’t lose us. The way he does this is by putting his Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, in us to help us to obey and to not lose faith. This doesn’t make us perfect, but the Spirit keeps us from quitting and keeps us trusting God. If God can do all that other stuff, keeping us isn’t going to be a big deal to him.
This is the message my parents faithfully taught me and I believed. I was saved and, finally, baptized. But now it wasn’t about baptism for me, it was about God. Baptism is just the way Jesus told Christians to show that they are trusting in him. In Baptism, it’s as if we are saying ‘Just like Jesus was buried and came out clean, I’m going under the water to show I’m cleaned by him being crucified, buried, and rising from his grave.’ After all of that, I continued to learn about God and love him more and more.
Over time, some things changed, though. A group of people at our church was really mean to my family. My dad was asked to resign as pastor, and all sorts of lies were spread about him. It was awful. My family was wrecked over it. Then a few years later my mom died— right before my senior year of high school! But being a Christian isn’t like some other trite commitment. We never said, “Well this isn’t working. We quit.” Instead, God brought comfort during those times. I knew that all was not lost. God has told us in the Bible that this world isn’t our home. As for those people that hurt us, I have learned that the people who claim to be Christians but work really hard at hurting other people are never trusting God or having faith when they do such bad things. Sometimes people are making mistakes, but a lot of the time these people are just lying. At times like these, we learned that people will fail us, friends will betray us, and we will even let our own selves down whether that’s by sinning or just by our human bodies breaking down, but God will never leave us nor forsake us. Instead of being a burden, God is our comfort. Instead of berating us, God shows us his acceptance. He does this through fulfilling promises he makes to us in the Bible, all of which are encapsulated in a Bible verse that says that God makes all things work together for our good. Don’t I know it!
As a Christian, I fail a lot. I’m still human. I still am a sinner. Still, God has shown himself to be true to his word: I have yet to have any event (even the tragedies in my life!) not work out to my good and make me love God more. Daily I learn the truth that there is no full joy, peace, or satisfaction in possessions, people, or my own power. Yet whenever I listen to God through reading his Word or hearing it taught, speak to God through prayer, or trust in God through faith and faith-led actions (that often don’t make sense) I learn more and more that he loves me, has not left me, and is making me, little by little, more like Him. I’m not perfect. He is. But he’s perfecting me. He’s even promised me (and he never fails to deliver on those) that when I see him, I’ll finally be fully perfected like he is. He did it for me. And he can do it for anyone.