If our Heavenly Father is the Gardener, then consider me one of His late bloomers.
I grew up in a non-religious family, and my first time going to church was in my late teens with my high school boyfriend. Unfortunately, in the dramatic way of teenagers, I ended up adopting all of the legalism while absorbing very little of the love and grace. Like the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, the seeds of truth I heard in church fell upon rocky ground and failed to take root. From college onward, I vacillated between atheism and agnosticism, seeking to put distance between myself and the “brainwashing” I felt I had been subjected to in church as a teenager. However, in a stunning illustration of God’s steadfast love and faithful pursuit, the day came when I found myself with hands raised, standing soaking wet and triumphant, baptized and raised to life in Christ.
I was 28 years old when I became a follower of Christ, the only Christian in my immediate family. I quickly found out that this made me something of a novelty among my church community, who were mostly raised in Christian homes and can say they have believed in Jesus for as long as they can remember.
We each have our own grace-drenched stories of how God captured our hearts, whether we first came to faith at age 5 or age 55. However, the conversion to faith for believers who have spent a significant chunk of their adult lives outside the umbrella of a Christian worldview can be challenging. Here are three things I wish had I heard early and often when I began my Christian walk.
You Have Something To Offer
For a long time I felt compelled to explain to people that I was a “new” believer. I was simply a spiritual sponge eager to soak up the wisdom of more mature Christians, while sidestepping the notion that I had anything of value to offer in return. But like newly weds on their honeymoon, new believers are often marked by a contagious enthusiasm and child-like curiosity that is a breath of fresh air for those who have been plodding down the road of faith for a long time. The dust gets knocked off of questions and bits of theology that have been sitting neglected in the corner for years by long-time believers. It becomes necessary to articulate out loud the truths we often hold abstractly in our hearts or take for granted as being self-evident. No matter where you are in your faith journey, you have something valuable to offer the body of Christ. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Our Sin May Look Different, But We Are All The Same
For those of us who spent much of our adult lives conforming to worldly values, our pasts can seem dramatically darker and messier than those who grew up in the church. We can be drawn into a comparison game and come out feeling like our sins are more egregious than the sins of others. For me, this stigma came with my sexual history. Among my three closest girlfriends and almost all of the girls in my church small group, I was the only one who had not saved sex for marriage. The good news is Christ’s death is sufficient to redeem every terrible ugly bit of our past, present, and future. The Word of God says in John 1:7-9, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Although sin manifests differently in each our lives, the penalty we each deserve for it is the same – death. As followers of Christ, we are united in acknowledging this universal truth and gratefully accepting the unmerited grace and heroic rescue offered to us by Jesus. Amen!
We Are All Works In Progress
Spiritual growth is a messy, non-linear process, and confessing Jesus as Lord makes us neither perfect nor invincible. As Christians, our faith produces the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But this does not happen overnight. As a new believer, I envied the bounty of the fruit ripening in other believers’ lives and then looked wistfully at my own sad little patch of dirt. All I could see were feeble seedlings still struggling to take root, much less produce any fruit. I found myself struggling to eliminate profanity from my casual conversations, to not drink to excess in social situations, to pursue purity and adhere to appropriate boundaries in my relationships with men, and to possess a genuine love for other people and sincere willingness to put their needs above my own. I had 28 years of worldly attitudes and values sown into my heart and mind, and weeds were still sprouting up unexpectedly. Sanctification is an ongoing process in which the obedience of the believer and the power of the Spirit help us to become more like our Savior – over time. As Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2:12-13, we are to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
Regardless of what your life looked like before you met Jesus, what age you were when you came to faith, or how long the Holy Spirit has been performing the beautiful and sometimes capricious work of sanctification in your life, may you be encouraged by a truth summed up so well by Paul in Philippians 1:6:
“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”