When I was younger, I had always heard about how giving my life to Jesus would change me.
As you probably assumed, I grew up in church. I always heard about how I would never be the same, and that I would forever be different. When I gave my life to Christ, then, at around age 11, I expected some sort of drastic, dramatic cinematography. I expected that when I said that prayer with that pastor, the words and that moment would be all-but-literally emblazoned on my mind forever.
You know how when Peter Parker wakes up after having been bitten by that spider? I expected something like that. His vision changed (literally, he didn’t need his glasses anymore). He could now climb walls. All his senses were finely tuned, and his whole outlook on life changed significantly.
Not to take anything from the awesome power of God, but my experience wasn’t like that.
I should have known, though, because my pastor always made a point to say that when you come up to the altar to accept Jesus, “ain’t no lightning gon’ strike or thunder gon’ roll” (remember, I grew up in the South), but that you would never be the same again.
So, imagine my later teenage self’s fear and confusion when I struggled through constant cycles of toxicity and negative thinking. I kept falling back into the pits from which God had already sprayed the mud off of me. Worse, sometimes those “falls” weren’t really falls, but something more deliberate. It was always this succession of “falling”, wallowing in guilt, then striving to convince myself and believe that God was still okay with me.
“Am I still saved?”
I wondered this a lot. I had learned that one cannot lose her salvation, basically, unless she purposely renounced it. Unless she intentionally cursed God, turned from Him, and threw her cross down. It was and had to be a conscious decision. But what does that look like? I readily acknowledged that I had knowingly rebelled sometimes. I had consciously decided to do things and entertain thoughts that went directly against what God had instructed of me. Isn’t that considered “turning from God”? Also, there were people in the Bible, I learned, who had turned away from God, but being the loving Father He is, he chased after them and brought them back. Then, there were some who turned away and who God shunned and cursed for it.
I knew God to be the God of second (and third, and fourth…) chances, but I feared that eventually, my chances would come to an end. How would I know? What would happen then?
I found myself mouthing the prayers of salvation at the end of almost every sermon, just in case.
I loved (and still love) my home church, but something I did not get when I was growing up (perhaps they taught it, but I just didn’t grasp it) was that I would still mess up after my salvation. Mess up horribly. Although I was “free” from the eternal consequences of sin, I was not free from being a human. I always heard testimonies of people’s lives before and after Christ, and the “after” almost never mentioned that there were still issues. Or, if it did, they were never self-inflicted issues.
I had always heard that life with Christ would not be void of trouble, would not be perfect, but I understood this to mean that life circumstances would sometimes still give issues, not that I would. It was always easier to accept that God would take care of me when external things went wrong than when I myself was the cause of my wrongs. That’s how it is with humans, isn’t it?
If I get into a car wreck because someone was driving drunk, everyone will rush to my bedside and bring me flowers and curse the name of that driver. If I were to be that drunk driver, however, people would (understandably) not show me that same level of love and concern.
I thought that’s how it was with God, that my level of culpability determined in some way His level of care.
His love for me is not conditional.
Over time, I learned that the difference in my mistakes before and after Christ was not that they would stop, necessarily, but that they would no longer define me.
During the altar call, my pastor used to also always say that God wasn’t asking anyone to stop smoking or drinking or whatever else for which they felt God was judging the. God was just asking that we come, and He would take care of the rest of that.
This is how it has been for me. God has been taking care of the “rest”.
I thought that I had to change a bunch of stuff and then I could rightfully be called His and “righteous” and “holy”. In fact, I got it backwards. When I came to Him that day, He changed my name, and all those other Kingdom accolades came with it.
We actually see this trend in the Bible as well. For example, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, because “Peter” means “solid rock”, and Jesus proclaimed that this man would be the one with whom He built His (solid) church. At the time of the renaming, Peter was merely a fisherman- and a somewhat inconsistent one, too, depending on who you ask. The whole church-building thing came after a process.
And so it has been with me and unlocking the unique potential that God has secured inside me. I still miss the mark, but my name is no longer “mark-misser”. Not in God’s eyes, anyway. He changed my name, and with it, my trajectory. God knows that I will still slip up, but in giving my life to Him, He now transforms my every backslide into forward potential. Every time I get pulled back (or pull myself back), He fights for me and uses it as an archer uses the motion of stretching his arrow in a bow- to advance me.
Does this mean I should purposely fall? Of course not. It just means that when I do, God constantly and consistently restores me. I don’t deserve it, but it’s who He is and what He does.
He saved me and changed my identity to incorporate His.
What’s in a name? With God, more than you could ever ask or imagine.
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