How Not to Mess Up Your Christian Life, Like I Did

One thing we hope we never hear ourselves say: “I can’t believe I did that.” 


An Embarrassing Wrong Turn

I messed up my Christian life right after it got started. My conversion experience had been authentic; I had been born again while in the Army in Europe.  And though the barracks are not the most conducive places for new faith to flourish, still, I drilled down and became a committed believer.  I read my Bible and prayed with the ravenous fervor of the newly saved.  I hung out with the most serious believers I could find. I also tried to share my faith any way I could.

It was a top-shelf experience for me that lasted about three months. Then the Army began to do what the Army always does—transferring guys out.  And so my small group started to disappear, beginning with the leader, who was also my personal mentor. It was a mildly depressing season for me.  We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, dissolved.

I was the last man standing, until I got transferred, too.

Within that following month, I experienced three large changes in my life—a change of marital status (I got married), a change of location (to west Texas), and a change of job (a new Army unit and duties).  With these came a sub menu of smaller changes. For instance, for the first time in my adult life I had ready access to a vehicle. I had an apartment of my own. I had a little more money than usual.  And I had a woman.  Now what? Compared to the Spartan beginnings of my faith, I found it hard to even conceive of Jesus as belonging in my new environment.

I decided to put my Christian life on ice until I figured out this new set of circumstances. The holding pattern went on for about four months. Then one day I found myself in a 7-Eleven flipping through a National Lampoon magazine.  I thought it was funny and just had to have it, but the cover price seemed ridiculously high.

So I carried it out of the store without paying for it.

When I got in my car with the stolen magazine, I dimly wondered how I got there. How did I go from being a committed Christian to a thief? I understood how it worked in the opposite direction—how a thief could become a committed Christian. But this was something backward.  It became even more disturbing to me when I repeated my shoplifting several more times.

Before leaving that troubled season of life, I learned some serious things.  For one, it is much easier to steal something than it is to return it and confess your sin to the store owner. Suffice to say, it was so humiliating I never stole anything again.

I’m Not Alone

My story mirrors that of other Christians who found themselves in unbelievable situations. Like for instance, the Christian man who wakes up in divorce court and wonders how he got there. It seems like just yesterday my wife and I were singing Amazing Grace together in church. How did we get here? It is the college student who is agnostic, but remembers going on high school mission trips, and even leading a few natives to faith in Jesus.  After one year on campus, I’m not sure I even believe in God anymore. How did that happen?  It is the Christian girl who suddenly wonders how she began sleeping with her boyfriend. Only three months ago, we were talking about sexual purity and waiting until marriage. How did we go from Bible to bedroom?

The underlying principle is that evil usually doesn’t emerge without warning. It is mostly the byproduct of neglecting spiritual development.  When something doesn’t grow, something else will.

The biggest blessing and greatest protection to you as a Christian therefore, comes through simply living and developing your Christian Life.   This is not a vote of trust and confidence in human efforts, though.

What You Need is What You Have

Take a look at 2 Peter 1:3.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Pay attention to the tense, has.  He has granted to us all things.  It doesn’t say his power will grant to us things, as though we are left waiting for something to happen.  Furthermore, He has granted all things that we need.  We are currently in possession of everything required for life and godliness.

This is all “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”  God has given you not only what you currently need, but whatever you must have in order to arrive in His excellent Glory.

Verse 4 continues:

“He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” These gracious grants (again in the past tense), enable us to dig down into God and participate in Him.  This coincides with the fact that we have “escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” We escape from something, and we enter something. We get out of worldly corruption, so we could partake of something divine.

Verses 5-7: “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control was steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

This is a developing Christian Life.

Note, however, that effort is involved—“Make every effort.” God expects us to be committed to our Christian Life. We should invest 100% in our development. Yet at the same time, remember that God’s grace precedes all such efforts. Since He has provided everything we need, He never tells us, “Make every effort first, and when I see that you mean business, I’ll kick in the extra that you need.”  Instead, He says, “Based on the fact I have given you everything already, now move forward!”

Your Strategic Moment

Imagine a rolled-up carpet representing all things that pertain to life and godliness.  Anytime a person truly repents and believes in Jesus Christ, God hands them this roll.  Not knowing what else to do with it, Christians typically tuck it under their arm and carry it around.  Naturally, they bring it to church on Sunday morning. Then they take it home afterwards, and prop it against the wall. Approximately 6 1/2 days later, they retrieve it for church again. This kind of Christian life can be transported or stored wherever you want.  Others have discovered a rolled-up carpet makes a great club. Worse, some lay it on their shoulder, where it makes a splendid RPG. And of course, it’s a pretty good crutch, too.

A good number of us, though, realized that this “rolled up carpet” was supposed to be walked on.  And so we put it down on the floor in front of us, and contemplated unfurling it.  That was a strategic move, because in our beginning state, there is 99% more of us than Jesus. The best we could say about ourselves is that although we were justified through faith in Christ, we were saved jerks, self-centered people, with many ugly dispositional issues.

A Quick Schematic of Your Growth—Here’s What Happens (Approximately),
According to Peter

We begin by interacting with the Holy Spirit and adding to our faith virtues like compassion, mercy, and righteousness.  Maybe someone noticed your progress and mentioned you seemed different—a good sign, especially if it was your spouse or children who noticed.

But after a while, just being nice isn’t enough.  You experience a growing curiosity about spiritual things.  You swear off comic book theology, and dig into Scripture, adding to your virtue knowledge.  It is inspiring as you tackle the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation.

Eventually though, it becomes clear that you are still extremely vulnerable to temptation, especially toward some of the things you used to do. Maybe toward things you’ve never done before.  At this point you dig more deeply into God’s provision for your soul, and add to your knowledge self-control.  Out of your defeats and struggles you begin to log some victories as well, discovering you can say no to yourself and mean it.

However, with the passage of time you plateau, and some of your original fire seems to subside.  The Christian life isn’t as exciting as before.  Maybe there are other things you can make central to your life.  But with some encouragement from others, you go deep again, adding to your self-control steadfastness. At this point you’re learning not to follow Jesus on the strength of mere emotion.  You walk in faith, not feeling.

Still, as a stable, knowledgeable, nice person, you will begin to suspect there must be a deeper dimension to the faith, and so you press into it, adding godliness. Godliness, a condition of being devout, forms because the presence of God influences your attitude and behavior.  In this more mysterious area of Christian experience, you find a trove of spiritual reality.

But having reached this stage, you scan your earthbound and awkward church, noticing all those who aren’t so godly.  They are too silly, or too serious.  Bossy.  Weak. Opinionated.  Fragile.  You don’t have a positive feeling about most of them.  For the first time you seriously consider whether you even need the church at all.  Yet, you suspect something amiss with this attitude, and renew your seeking, not so much individually now, but relationally with others.  Brotherly affection begins to augment your godliness.  You look at people in your church with affectionate eyes.

Even on this peak, where you genuinely care about the folks in your church and the Christians beyond, you may still literally despise people outside the faith.  They deserve the flames of hell for the way they’ve been living, and if they want something different, they can “find us on Facebook.”  Otherwise, you’re not going out of your way for them.  Of course this collides with God’s heart for the lost, and so you plunge into the Holy Spirit and the Word yet again, until you add to brotherly affections, love.

At the end of Peter’s description of the developing Christian life, we become generally loving people.  But this love is more than the preference-based, biased, all-heat-and-no-substance worldly kind.  It is love backed with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, and brotherly affection.

Blessed and Protected

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet. 1:8-9).

That’s real protection.

“For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10).

And that’s real blessing—the ultimate that entails more than a mere entrance, but a rich entrance.  Think of red carpet, trumpeters, cheering, confetti, shouting, whistling, dancing, feasting, toasting, laughing, high-five’s, and fireworks.

If you haven’t begun a seriously developing Christian life, now’s the time. Don’t tell yourself that things are crazy right now and you want to wait until it all settles down.  That will never happen.  The longer one lives in this world, the more complicated life becomes. Yes, you will complete your program. You will get your certification. You will buy your house, or whatever else it is you are holding out for. But then another kind of craziness sets in, and possibly due to your neglect, some things that absolutely shouldn’t be happening.

Don’t postpone this process and miss out on the wonder of excellent glory unfurling into your life. By the same token, if you have stalled somewhere in the middle of the Christian continuum because you hit the pause button and now can’t seem to un-pause it, remember God has already given you what you need.

Lean into Him and see what happens.

 

 

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