“How are you different?” is the second question a friend asked me when we had lunch and I told him I had become a Christian. (I wrote about the first question he asked – What does it mean to become a Christian? – last week). This second question is much more difficult to answer and when my friend asked me, I’m not sure what I said, but it was probably something like “I don’t know, I just feel different.” The reality was that not much changed right away, especially on the outside. And being a follower of Jesus is much more about “becoming” than it is about simply “being.” Or at least that has been my story.
The best way I can describe this becoming is to liken it to getting braces on your teeth. Usually, there is some work that needs to be done on your jaw, the structure of your mouth, or the teeth way in the back before the crooked teeth are straightened or the gap in the front closes. Only once the jaw is realigned and the teeth way in the back are adjusted, will the beautiful, straight smile be visible. And the thing is, that structural, jaw realignment work requires pain relievers. When I had braces, I had to participate in my own torture by attaching rubber bands and strapping on a headgear (at night, thankfully). If I refused to do these things (and sometimes I just couldn’t), nothing would change.
The day I became a Christian, and for at least a year thereafter, I looked pretty much exactly the same as I did before. I mean, sure, I knew some more Christian words, read the Bible, and went to church, but I was still very crooked, gap-filled, and misaligned. But there were some imperceptible, deep, structural adjustments going on. I became very aware of my own sin. Things that I previously viewed as being victimless or as acceptable outlets for my own happiness and desires, I came to see were offenses to the one who had hand-crafted me out of love and to fulfill a purpose. I became aware of how often my actions arose from a seemingly compulsive need I had to fill the growing internal gap between who I wanted to be and who I actually was. I began to wonder about my purpose and whether it could possibly be to acquire stuff, escape from my life by taking trips, or save for retirement.
My sudden awareness of these things did not change anything, though. For change to happen, I had to enter into them and participate in the work God was doing in me. Right at the beginning, there was work to be done:
- I had to stop doing some things and start doing some other things. I’m telling you, there were days (and there still are) when not doing certain things felt like torture and something for which I simply did not have the strength.
- I had to begin to see myself differently – as already loved, instead of someone who could be loved if certain things were true.
- I had to read Scripture and accept some things about who God is and what Jesus came to earth to do even if I did not know from experience necessarily that they were true.
- I had to listen more and talk less.
- I had to ask for help from God even when I wasn’t sure if he was listening to me.
To be clear, just like there were times I did not wear the rubber bands or the headgear, there have been times when I have refused to participate in the work God is doing in me. But he is patient and keeps giving me grace and strength. Some days I go backward, some days I make no progress, and some days, I am a conqueror.
So, how am I different? Well, if you examine me, you’ll still come across crookedness, gaps, and areas of misalignment. But today I am more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, kinder, more faithful, more self-controlled, and more forbearing than I was before. (Gal 5:22-24) Not the most, just more than before. Not perfect, just better than before. I am still becoming.
How are you different?
Are there things you need to stop doing or start doing?
Have you been refusing to wear your headgear and rubber bands?