I know what you are thinking. “What in the world is this title and why am I even reading it. I promise it will make sense by the end.
From the moment I confessed with my mouth that Jesus Christ was my Lord and savior, my life has changed. For most of us that is the case. All our walks are different though. God dealt with us differently for reasons we do not fully understand. Some of us were given salvation early on in life. Some of us later in life. Some of us may not be there yet but we are searching for something that we can’t quite put our finger on. For me, I was younger. I knew about God from an early age, but I didn’t truly know God until I was 14. It has been a long and interesting journey ever since. There have been ups and downs. There have been a lot of questions. There have been times that I have forgotten about God. But lately what has been on my mind is the distorted view of Christianity that I had early on.
I was told from the day the day that I was saved that there were things that I had to do in my life from that moment on. I was a teenager walking in uncharted territory. So, everything that was told to me by the adults in my church, I assumed was an absolute. I assumed that if I didn’t do the things they said I must not truly be a Christian. It was more than just the typical “don’t drink, don’t smoke, abstinence until marriage” that I am sure most of us heard. I was told how to pray, how to read my Bible, how often to read my Bible, don’t wear this, don’t wear that and so on. I felt like there was all the sudden nothing good in the world because it was all bad and if I so much as had an “unholy” thought that God would strike me dead where I stand and strip me of my salvation.
I did not like the way that felt. I just knew that there was more to it than that. I just knew that was not the God that I read about. That was not the God I was told about. But I went along with it anyway because I did not know any other way. That is where the beauty started though. It was so beautiful how God has worked on me these years. That HE was there every time I cried out to HIM even though I didn’t deserve it. HE was there the whole time and when I did cry out he was like, “Why are you yelling?! I have been right here all along!” It was what I had done during those seasons in my life that made me feel distant from HIM. It wasn’t that HE ever left me. And here I am today continuing to learn and grow in my faith. Continuing to be molded for HIS glory! That is just beautiful! So, what is the point to me talking about my journey like this? Why did I feel the need to talk about my distorted view of Christianity and God? Let me share with you what I have discovered in my journey, especially in recent months.
A lot of what I was told I needed to do early on was based on works. Mankind is so obsessed with having total control that we think that if we are just good people and do what we are “supposed” to do that we will be seen as good in the sight of the Lord. Pressuring someone to live a life based on works is just a way to have control over them. That is what was happening to me early on in my journey. It really turned me off to faith. I pushed back against that control. In recent months though God has reminded me to get back to the basics. Through HIS word HE has reminded me what saved me to begin with. HE did! HIS grace! That FREE gift that HE gives to us. Romans 10:9-10 says, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you WILL BE SAVED.” It all starts with FAITH! Faith in Jesus Christ! It wasn’t my works that saved me. It wasn’t my works that gave or took away salvation. Paul says in Romans 11:6, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” Who are we that we think we can determine where grace is given or not given?
As I stepped away from the religious world and pushed back against that control I still had faith that Jesus was my Lord and I was open about that. I called myself a Christian. Did that mean that I could go out and do as I please? It was during my reflection on that period in my life that God revealed even more to me. So, I started to dive in to scripture some more and really unpack some things I was told at a younger age.
Works were usually determined to be good or bad according to the law. If it is the law that can save us, then what was the point in God sacrificing HIS son? The law was something that mankind could use to claim they achieved salvation through themselves. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That is great and all but there is no way someone would have looked at me at that point in my life and said, “There goes a Christian man.” It was easy for me to see that our works are important. But, if we are saved through faith then why do works matter? The first scripture that I was lead to is James 2:24.
“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith ALONE.”
OK?!?! That isn’t at all what I had been seeing elsewhere from Paul. But I broke down that verse. Paul says we are SAVED through faith. James says we are JUSTIFIED by works and not by faith ALONE. James was building on the fact that there MUST be faith. Justified means that we were MADE righteous in the sight of God. So, we are MADE righteous because we are SAVED by faith. I won’t break down this whole section of scripture, but I encourage you to read through James 2:14-26. But James talks about “dead faith.” James 2:14 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” How many people do we know that will come across someone in need and say, “I will pray for you,” but they don’t fill the need of that someone. How many of us just see ourselves in that example? Before we had faith and grace was given we were slaves to sin. That would have been a normal for us to just wish someone the best without actually helping. But now that grace has been given we probably cringe at the thought of how many times we have done that in our lives. That is because we were also justified, and our hearts were changed in that moment God gave us that grace.
Now, I have come to realize how much faith and works go together. I have come to realize that FAITH leads to works. Works, however, does not lead to faith. But one does not exist without the other. You see, if we have true faith then the works will come. If we simply have faith and no works, then we have dead faith. If we have works but not faith, then Christ died for nothing. But there is pure joy in knowing that we do not have to consume ourselves with trying to perform “good works” and we do not have to feel like we are exhausting ourselves trying to make sure we have works to show for our faith. If we simply get to the basics and remember that it all starts with FAITH, then we will feel a sense of freedom like never before. When we do this, we can leave the rest to God. We have the Holy Spirit in us that guides us. Our desires will change. Our works will change. Remember what Ezekiel 36:27 says, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
So, all that time that I was pushing back and wrestling with the struggle of doing what is right and fearing that God would strike me dead, all I really had to do was just have faith in Jesus and let the Holy Spirit guide me. Some of you may be struggling with that today. If you are, then do as the song Be Held by Casting Crowns says, “I’m on the throne, stop holding on, and just be held.” Some of you may have a desire for something in your life that is wrong to be gone from your life right now. Remember that our journeys are all different, but they are all lifelong. We will not stop growing and changing through our faith until the day HE calls us home. God is working in your life and HE has you just where HE wants you because HE will be glorified in this time and your testimony will show all HIS attributes. In closing remember that Faith leads to works (FLTW) but works does not lead to faith (WLTF). So, get back to the basics, let the Holy Spirit guide you, and just be held!