My church story began long before I was born. It has a lineage of Lutherans, tied together by blood, mother to daughter. I was born into that history; a lifetime of hymns and pews, Gospel readings and acolytes.
Shortly after my birth, I officially became a member, welcomed into an existing family, a community of people strung together by Sundays. I was dressed in white and sprinkled with my mother and father, godparents and congregation welcoming me in.
I grew tall in the church, attending Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, memorizing songs and stories. I grew into communion as one fall rolled around and I was offered to take my first.
I was soon old enough to join the youth group and participate in youth events. When many drifted from participation, I clung to it. I volunteered as a helper, an acolyte, hardly missing a Sunday. Soon I grew into confirmation, eagerly awaiting the next step.
My resume was solid. I had a list of accomplishments outside of church greater and more in depth than the ones inside. I was known as the “good girl.” I was known by the things I didn’t do: I didn’t attend parties, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs, didn’t date. As well as the things I did do, I was a class officer, mentor, volunteer, sports letter winner, choir member. I rarely argued with my parents, I did what I was supposed to, far surpassing the average teenager.
I radiated innocence from naivety, which personified my goodness.
I was like the poster child for Christians everywhere. I was even told that I had a direct line to Jesus because of my sweet disposition. It all went to my head, “elevating me” to a higher position. I was an incredible person, one worthy of eminence, of praise and adoration, or so I thought.
I valued recognition, though I never solely did things to get recognized, I wanted recognized in everything I did. My identity was in the things I did and didn’t do, it was in my goodness.
Somewhere along the way though, I began to realize I wasn’t as good as even I believed. There was a part of myself that only came out on darkened dance floors with drawn out beats, a side that I only allowed my fellow peers to witness. It was this side that frightened me, that tainted my goodness. I did not want to be known or associated with this kind of dark, though it lured me.
I wanted to be moral, I wanted to be good, I wanted to be a “good Christian.” And I believed I was. I believe I was good. I believed that God was pleased with how well I was doing. I believed he couldn’t be more proud of me, or more enthralled with me. I was his perfect little daughter, oh how he would welcome.
But there was a HUGE flaw in my understanding.
This was pointed out to me on one of my first dates with B. He had asked the all important question, the one that altered my world.
“You know you need saved right?” he had asked. A question that had never been posed to me, an idea I had never contemplated.
SAVED? That implied that I wasn’t able to do something that I needed help.
This was not an idea that was easy to swallow or comprehend. But with honesty and persistence and many conversations around this idea, I was lead to truth, to the Gospel.
Morality doesn’t save. Christianity doesn’t preach that, though churches parade this idea around. Christianity is the only religion that says,
YOU CAN’T, BUT GOD HAS.
You see, we are imperfect human beings, we have evil, sin that has tainted us. We are unable to cleanse ourselves, unable to make ourselves righteous or perfect. No amount of praying or volunteering, no amount of selfless acts or giving of yourself can change that fact. We are sinful, broken vessels captivated and lured by sinful desires. We need saved, we need changed and we are unable to do it.
Enter Jesus. God rich in mercy and love sent his son to walk among us. While in the midst of our depravity he lived a pure life, free from sin; the only man to ever walk clean.
In full measure, God lavished his love upon us, not just in sending his son to live, but sending his son to die.
Jesus, a sinless man, died nailed to a cross, strung up, bled out, broken, naked and ashamed for all the world to see. He died on a tree up on top of a hill, the death we deserve. He came to save us, and the only way he could was to put OUR sin to death, to pay the ultimate price, to wipe clean our debt, covering us in his righteousness by taking on our sin.
I grew up in church but this truth never sank in. I memorized verses of this story yet never paused for it to take root.
I am not good. My heart is a wicked thing prone to wonder from even the loveliest of things. I fail at loving B all the time, I desire other’s people’s things, pass judgment on people, spread gossip because I like to hear myself talk, become angry and irritated at people and situations because they aren’t serving me, because it isn’t going my way. I fail at loving people more than myself and I definitely fail at serving others more than myself.
The truth is, I have a HUGE list of imperfections, a huge list of things that I have done wrong, and no amount of good can wipe away my debt or cancel it.
Even in your best work, there is something to be pardoned. You are not perfectly good.
This truth sank into my heart changing my very core, acknowledging the place that I am, taking off the veneer that I so gladly held onto.
I got baptized again at the age of 22, after being married for a year, after actually knowing Christ for three years, acknowledging my lowly state.As I was washed by the water, I proclaimed my inability, my imperfection, my sin, my abundant need for a savior. And I felt the cleansing of the water, that I am washed clean, pure and perfect in his sight because of the blood of the cross.
Good people don’t go to heaven only God’s people, saved by the blood of Christ because:
morality doesn’t save only God does.