It's been about two weeks now since the beginning of my "grace awakening." In so many ways, I feel like I'm starting over with God... although "starting over" implies that I've been here before, and I really haven't. I'm entering brand-new territory!
Before, I was afraid of God -- intimidated -- scared that He'd reject me whenever I messed up. I wanted to have a relationship with Him, but most of the time I thought the best I could do was keep a respectful distance.
At times, I wondered if the stories of people's "intimate" relationships with God were just that -- stories. I wondered if what I had experienced at times in the Pentecostal church was genuine or just a manipulated experience or emotionalism. I longed for something real, but had no idea if that sort of thing was even possible. Every once in a while I'd get a glimpse of something more than what I was living... but not consistently.
I thought I was pretty spiritual. I read the Bible. I had quiet times. I went to church. I served. I gave. But in some key areas, I still managed to miss it completely.
I didn't understand grace. If you had asked me about it, I would have confidently answered that I did. But if you watched me, my pride would have demonstrated that I was not familiar with giving or receiving grace. What I knew was legalism -- but I wasn't just a passive victim of legalism, I was an active practitioner of it. I judged others the way I didn't want to be judged. I had my own set of unreasonable standards for other people... and I felt superior to the ones who didn't measure up.
I didn't understand God's power. If you had asked me about it, I would have sworn that I believed in His omnipotence. But my insecurity betrayed my true belief that His power was no match for my mistakes. It wasn't just a false belief, it was a sin. I never would have stated it this way, but essentially I believed that I was more powerful than God. I believed that my ability to obey was more important to my salvation than Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That's arrogance in the highest degree.
I couldn't even begin to understand God's love, except in the most general of terms. The idea that God truly and unconditionally loved me wasn't compatible with the idea that He would reject me if I made too many mistakes. And I was even worse than what I imagined God to be: I don't know if I ever offered love or acceptance without strings. If someone offended me, I could stew over it for a long long time. It took me a while to get really annoyed with someone... but once I reached that point, I had a very difficult time forgiving, and an even more difficult time putting it behind me.
Thankfully, that's all starting change now. I'm learning how to accept God's grace towards me, and now I'm starting to learn how to extend it to others. It's been painful to see the truth about myself in these areas -- but it's a good pain. And I know that I'm making progress.
Today, the idea that I could lose my salvation sounds just as ridiculous to me as the idea that I could have earned it in the first place. I have a new understanding of grace... and that has brought with it an amazing freedom.
I still can't claim to understand God's love, but now I believe that it is truly unconditional and unfathomable. God's love for me is far beyond anything that I'll ever be able to comprehend. I deserve nothing -- in fact, I deserve less than nothing. I've broken God's laws, I've broken His heart, and nothing I could ever do on my own would even begin to bridge the gap that existed between myself and Him. Even if I devoted myself fully and perfectly to the task, it would be absolutely impossible for me to make things right.
That's why the cross only had room on it for one person. That's why Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice. "I do not consider the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, there was no reason for Christ to die." (Gal 2:21)
I still have a long way to go, but for the first time in a long time -- if not the first time ever -- I'm not scared of losing my salvation. I'm not scared that God would punish me or let something bad happen to me so He could teach me a lesson. I'm not scared that I'm vulnerable to attack because I'm not following a formula and I've removed myself from "divine protection."
For the first time in a long time -- if not the first time ever -- I can accept that God loves me, and that He actually wants me to have a relationship with Him. I'm just starting to get to know Him. I'm just starting to trust Him, rather than worry that my efforts are falling short.
I'm learning to appreciate the depth of the grace and love that God has extended toward me... and as that grows, so does my desire to show the same grace and love towards others... only I'm not motivated by guilt or rules this time.
I'm absolutely certain that I can never go back to the way things were...
This is such a significant change for me that I've decided to get baptized on Saturday evening (after the Saturday service at my church). I'm really looking forward to it. I've been baptized before -- but at that time, it was more about formulas and requirements than anything else. This time, I have an entirely different understanding of what I'm doing and why.