This past week I was blessed to see the new movie, Paul: Apostle of Christ. Though there was theatrical longitude in writing the script, it was fairly accurate to the biblical account of Acts, and remarkably accurate to the historical account of Christian life in Rome some 30-35 years following the death of Jesus. In those days, professing the name of Christ as a “Christian”, a “follower of the Way”, wasn’t casually done for acceptance or social benefit. It was literally a statement of life or death.
The actor playing the role of Paul made some wonderful statements throughout the movie, many coming directly from Scripture, but one statement really stuck with me—“We can’t ever forget what it was like to be lost, and we can’t ever forget what it was like to be found.” Such beautiful, convicting, God-honoring words. However, the statement also troubled me, because at times in my life, I’ve forgotten what it was like. Or maybe better said–I didn’t know how to remember it. Let me explain.
I grew up in the church. My first Sunday was just a few weeks after my birth. Since that time, I can count on my hands the number of Sundays I’ve missed worshipping with the saints. I’m about to begin my tenth year of preaching. I went to a Christian university. I married a Christian woman. I’m very thankful for my parents who raised me, as well as a congregation who loved me and surrounded me with Christian community as I matured. I’ve never tried drugs. I’ve never drank alcohol. I’m certainly not writing this to flaunt my own righteousness, for I assure you my sins are numerous and my weaknesses are many. Without Christ, I’m not “righteous”. No one is. I miss the glory of God every day, and by no means do I consider myself “better” than anyone else.
I’m just saying that when you grow up in the church and spend the majority of your life doing “Christian” things, it’s hard to understand the feeling of being “lost”. I’ve spent my life around the other “99 sheep”, and I can’t ever remember drowning in the world, reaching for the life-line of survival. Therefore, if we haven’t experienced that depth of despair, can we really understand the life changing feeling of being “found”? If we were raised by “Christian” principles, in some ways, when we obey the gospel and arise from the waters of baptism, life goes on as usual. Sure, we officially wear the name “Christian”, “saint”, and are added to the church (Acts 2:41). Our responsibility for holy living is increased; but if our previous life was already God-honoring, the words of Paul in Romans 6:5 about NEWNESS of life can be difficult to grasp. Or at least to resonate with.
How is my life any different now than it was? I still go to church. I still live by Christian ideals. I still stay away from drugs and alcohol. I still believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven. Sure, I’m continuing to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2nd Peter 3:18), but overall, what’s changed? It’s not “I don’t believe at all” to now “I believe with everything I have”. It’s certainly not the road to Damascus experience of persecuting Christians to preaching to Christians. I’ve discussed this very thing with other Christians and they understand the exact feeling I’ve described.
So, what do we do? How do we make sure we don’t forget what it was like to be lost, and don’t forget what it was like to be found, if we aren’t real familiar with either experience?
The more I think and pray about this struggle, I keep coming back to the same answer: even if we’ve lived a God-honoring, biblically-shaped life since birth, we must keep remembering and reaching for the beauty and depth of God’s grace. Passages like Ephesians 2:8, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23 and others remind us that because we sin, even though we may not sin as much as those who don’t know God, we still deserve death; and there’s nothing we can do that’s “good enough” to make “right” the wrong we’ve done. Perfect church attendance, marrying a Christian spouse, raising Christian children, living by Christian ideals, continual self-sacrifice, memorizing Scripture, becoming a preacher, serving as an elder, doing mission work, selling all we have and giving to the poor—none of it–and I mean none of it–will “earn” us a “home” in Heaven. Only by God’s grace will we spend eternity with Him. We must accept His gift of salvation through our obedience to the gospel (baptism), but the grace of God and the blood of Jesus is the wind under our wings which lifts us to Heaven.
Have you forgotten? Try to remember. Without Jesus, you are nothing. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see!