the apology you've all been waiting for
Originally published by The Stream.
Some people want me to apologize for how I’ve lived my Christian life. Here’s my answer.
For those unfamiliar with my story, here’s a very short version. I became a Christian at a young age after hearing a sermon about Jesus saving people from their sin. I was too young to fully understand how that worked, but even as a six-year-old, I was convicted and relieved.
As I grew up, my parents nurtured my faith in important ways. I was never faithfully, consistently, discipled by anyone, though, aside from participating in the occasional Bible Study or prayer group. Like many young Christians, I went to high school with a pretty basic understanding of the New Testament and not much else.
In college I joined a college ministry. One of the women on staff attempted to disciple me, but it quickly became clear that she, like me, had no experience with it. Every few weeks she would buy me a coffee and ask me how life was going, but our conversations didn’t involve reading and understanding the scriptures, confessing our sins, or praying for one another and the global Church. Instead, it was always focused on how I was “feeling” about my life. If I was unhappy about anything, she usually advised me to remember Jesus loves me.
I know people who have had wonderful spiritual mentors, but I suspect this passive kind of “discipleship” is very prevalent in the United States. Churches and ministries are swimming with staff members who will happily sit down with young people, buy them a drink or a meal, and listen to them talk.
For the most part, though, those young people are on their own when it comes to learning anything beyond the basics of Christianity or developing any spiritual disciplines. This approach leads people to believe that faith is primarily about how it makes them feel. It leads them away from the real purpose of Christianity, which is cultivating a trust-inspired obedience to God.
As a result of that feelings-focused mindset, I was a very immature Christian for a long time. My focus remained split between myself and God. My own interests and desires received the greater emphasis in that.
A Feelings-Focused Mindset
If any part of my Christian faith made me uncomfortable, I was terribly confused. My thought process would look something like, “I thought God wanted people to be happy? Isn’t that the whole point of having a relationship with Him?”
When my Christian identity caused any social friction, especially in my intensely secular progressive degree program, I rushed to appease non-Christians rather than God. I justified that by telling myself it was more important to be “gentle” and “winsome” than to tell the truth.
If any Christian ethic felt too burdensome, I danced around it. I downplayed the destructiveness of sexual immorality, envy, pride, and anger. It was easy to push any feelings of guilt and conviction away, thanks to anti-legalism rhetoric and “don’t judge” platitudes abounding in the church. applied those flimsy standards to myself and went on sinning.
A Poor Christian Witness
My immaturity caused a lot of serious problems for myself and others. I claimed the name of Christ, but I had a quick temper. My relationships were strained. I had double-minded approach to everything I wrote and said. My marriage was weakening. Thankfully, by God’s mercy, I snapped out of my self-focused stupor by my mid-twenties. Since then I’ve made incredible progress in these areas and more. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel intense regret over those many years with such a poor Christian witness.
For This I Will Not Apologize
Here’s the ironic part, though. After I finally became aware of my selfish approach to Christianity and my sinful tendencies, many of the people around me, including Christians, became very unhappy with me. I would critique the passive, people-pleasing Christianity that I’d just broken free from; they told me not to be so legalistic. I point out some of the ways that many Christians take their social and political cues from secular culture rather than from scripture; they told me not to judge. And when I started asserting my allegiance to God over the whims of the godless, I was told that people like me are the reason that others don’t want to become Christians. More than once, Christians and non-Christians have asked me to apologize for being insensitive, offensive, demanding, intense, or unloving.
I will not.
I am not sorry, and I never will be. God rescued me from sin when I was six years old. He rescued me again when I was twenty-six. And there is nothing I am more grateful for than His persistent, unrelenting love. His is not our culture’s passive “love” that says, “Destroy yourself if it makes you feel good for a while.” It is a love that comes with life-saving demands and discomforts. His is the love that will grow you into the kind of person you’ve always wanted to be but cannot be on your own.
For This I Will
What I will apologize for is living a double-minded life for many years. To those who knew me as a teenager and young adult, I am sorry for trying to appease myself, you, and God at the same time. It never worked. My conflicted identity made our relationships unnecessarily confusing. I wish I’d been mature enough to share a consistent and compelling vision of the Christian faith with you. I am doing best now to make up for lost time.
Christians parents, siblings, friends, pastors, and priests: If you truly do believe the gospel, then please live and work and speak as if you do. Do not soften, distort, or compartmentalize the demands of the Christian life, no matter how often the world screams at you to do so.
Too many people are drowning in self-obsession, self-justification, quick excuses for sin, bottomless sentimentality, confusion, and passivity. So if someone accepts your invitation to get coffee, share the life-saving truth with them — and do not apologize for it.