i've been a Christian now for about... oh, i'm practically coming up to my sixteenth rebirthday, about sixteen years now. i don't think i was a Christian before that, and if i had lost my life beforehand i imagine that i would have died "in the flower of my sins" (as the bard has it) and gone to hell.
some people i know would contest that; holding to a calvinist understanding of predestination as i do, it's somewhat of a contradiction in terms that i believe dying before my conversion would have ended with me in hell - surely if you're predestined to be converted you wouldn't possibly go to hell? i suppose my reasoning is that my predestination at that point wasn't to convert in time, but rather predestined for the judgement of God rather than for his efficacious salvation. now that i am converted from living death to eternal life, i know my place in heaven is assured; next question, please.
but what do i say to someone who doesn't think that? the text we looked at last thursday at Bible study (not last night, but thursday night last week) was on paul's second missionary journey and the events particularly in phillipi. the disciples meet lydia, they heal a slave girl of a demon, and they meet the philippian jailer, who like lydia is baptised along with his household.
i don't know if the general thinking is that the slave girl was likewise converted to Christianity but i don't think the text makes it a natural extrapolation from the narrative. it would be great if she did but i don't think it's a fait accompli that she did.
concurrent to this, i have just finished reading the New Testament, which i was reading every workday morning on the train leg of my journey to work. the revelation to john pulls no punches when it talks about who will be with God in the new heaven and who will not. john elsewhere talks about those who had seemed to be Christians but who left the church and in doing so proved that they never were Christians. did they know that the whole time? had they fooled themselves into thinking they were when they actually weren't? and what kind of God would let people think that?
these are questions that might be asked by one who has been a Christian for some time and now no longer knows why he believes what it might be expected that he believes; he questions if there really is a God at all; he hangs his future actions and happiness on the answer to a question it seems he has already decided for himself.
paul says to the corinthians that "if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" [1 cor 15:19, esv] but until we die we have no ultimate way of knowing if our hope has been directed correctly or not! the Christian says by faith that he knows he will be in heaven; he trusts the scriptures are true; he trusts that the Holy Spirit in his heart is interceding for him when he prays; he trusts that Jesus' blood shed on the cross makes him clean before God. the Christian trusts that God has done everything for him, then lives trusting that it is so.
i say, "the Christian does such-and-such", but that is the Christian when not torn by doubt, plagued by insecurity, overwhelmed by circumstance and emotion. "the ordinary Christian" does suffer from these; some feel them more acutely than others.
does this cancel out the efficacy of that in which we have believed? by no means! rather we have moved away from God, not trusting in that which he has provided for us.
so if we will not pray, if we will not read the Bible; if we will not be persuaded by our brothers and sisters; if we will not consider our hearts from other than our own perspective; if we will not believe God, what then remains?
for me, nothing remains. my faith is literally what keeps me alive. if i do not believe, then the last sixteen years i have lived are all for nought, and i should have done what i'd planned in that bath tub so long ago. i can see no sense in the world without God, no point to this "quintessence of dust" except to eat, drink and be merry. the writer of Ecclesiastes is equally bleak about a world without God; that his words remain long after he fell away does not undermine their power, but rather proves that God's truth outlasts all things.
don't get me wrong. i'm not saying i'm perfect, or that i am the Christian who actually manages to do such-and-such. i have done more wrong after i converted than ever i did before; and yet i know that my redeemer lives - i believe God, and trust that he credits that to me as righteousness. i struggle to show my faith by my deeds.
don't we all?
(... to be continued, i think...)