He was the kid that gave his life to Christ as often as he could. At every retreat, summer camp, beach trip – even the normal Sunday night youth group worship – if there was the opportunity to stand up and make a profession of faith, he took it.
At first, everyone was supportive. The group gathered around him and the others who stood up, arms around each other, singing and crying and rejoicing over this faith that they all found in Christ. I stood next to him, an arm around his shoulder to show how much we loved and supported him. But after the fourth or fifth time he stood up and again professed to turn his life around, to do better next time, to make it “really count,” I started to notice a few eye-rolls. A few comments here and there about “attention-seeking” and doubts about whether it was real or all a show. And after the seventh or eighth time, I admit, I was thinking it too. And so I put my arms around the shoulders of other kids; others that needed support, others that needed to counseling and mentoring and guidance. I didn’t forget about this other student; I affirmed him and supported him each time, but to be honest I also wondered: “Would this be the time that it stuck?”
All pastors probably know this situation – those that have intense faith experiences only to fall away until the next intense faith experience. I can’t speak for others, but I know I struggle with how to best minister to these people. I want people to both profess Christ as justifying Savior and as sanctifying Lord. I want the talk and the walk. More than the mountain top, I also want the “long obedience in the same direction.” Instead of the consistent journey, however, we get the roller coaster. Instead of the saint, we have to spend way too much time on the sinner inside.
And yet, how many of us really have the consistent upward spiritual mobility we want to see in others? How many of us feel as though we are moving closer to perfection each day? Even the Psalmist seems to be on a spiritual roller coaster ride:
“I am considered as one of those plummeting into the pit. I am like those who are beyond help…” (Psalm 88:4 CEB)
And then, not even ten verses later:
“But I cry out to you, Lord! My prayer meets you first thing in the morning!”(Psalm 88:13 CEB)
This doesn’t sound like a routine experience of faith – a one time commitment followed by a lifetime of Wednesday night Bible study. This sounds hard and harsh! It sounds like ups and downs and falling away and coming back again and again for a fresh experience of God’s grace.
Somewhere along the way of our long church history, we got the idea that once you made the one time decision for Christ, you were basically set for life (and afterlife!) and any deviation from this model means you’re not really a very good Christian.
However, I think there is beauty in the person that stands to profess Christ again and again and again, no matter the motives. There is hope in seeing another soul once again stand to claim that the power of sin is broken, and that God’s grace is so expansive that we can accept it over and over and over. It never runs out. This is the kind of grace we should run towards, standing up and professing it as often as possible.
Questions for Reflection:
- What is your own spiritual trajectory at this moment?
- How can you develop a strong need for God’s grace while also developing habits of holiness?