For the Christian Church, the Easter season evokes symbols of death, rebirth, and the promise of salvation. Every year, Christians celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection and what it stands for with the understanding that the death and resurrection of Christ mirrors their own “rebirth.” While the means and duration of spiritual rebirth can and do vary tremendously from person to person, the eventual result, a life evidencing the changes that come with knowing Christ, is the same. As the oft-quoted passage from the Gospel of John tells us, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” While some throughout history have heatedly debated what constitutes “belief” - and Christ did make clear not all who profess belief actually believe - most would agree that the end result is a changed life that bears the “fruit” of the gospel as it compels Believers to live out its mission and tenets.
For me, my rebirth elicits a series of contrasts between my life before Christ and my life after Christ. Before knowing Christ, I earnestly believed that my righteousness was of my own doing. I believed in living “uprightly” because of how I thought I would appear to others and because of what I thought I could gain from it. My upright lifestyle, I believed at the time, would help me be esteemed by others and would make me a better candidate for “making it” in school, in jobs, and in my social circles.
Before knowing Christ, my self-made righteousness allowed me to willfully cover up and ignore my sinfulness. Since my righteousness was of my own doing, I frequently bent my self-made rules to suit me in the event I fell short of certain standards. In my own eyes, I was righteous - or better yet, more righteous - because I didn’t swear as much as others, because I studied more diligently than others, because I didn’t go out and drink like others, because I didn’t get angry about the same things as others, because I didn’t lust as openly or in the same ways as others, and so on and so on.
Before knowing Christ I invested myself into my work and image with reckless abandon. For example, I had a love for sports that far surpassed a love of just the game itself, the friendships it fostered, the lessons it taught, or the enjoying the opportunity to witness feats of athleticism. I poured an immense amount of my self-worth into athletics. I embodied the coaching cliche that “you’re only as good as your last performance,” riding the volatility of every good and bad performance as either a validation or indictment of my personal being. In many ways, my deep identification with athletics was a perfect representation of how I approached living – each performance measured how “good” or “bad” I was.
This is just a snapshot of how I used to live and what used to drive me. In the years that have passed since committing my life to Christ, I have seen Him already work changes in my life.
First, my relationship with my sinful fallenness has changed. While almost two decades of self-made righteousness can’t be reversed quickly or easily, I have found great comfort in knowing that my salvation does not rest on “my last performance.” I am still sinful and broken. Very much so. I still wrestle with sins that have followed me from the time before I knew Christ. In fact, knowing Christ has greatly amplified my awareness of my sin now that I realize how short of God’s standards I fall and how shallow and feeble my own self-manufactured standards really were.
However, my fallenness is no longer what defines me. Because of my understanding of the sacrifice that God made for me and all others, I am free to pursue good and resist sin, not as a means for appearing better to others or to appease God via some giant, cosmic scoreboard, but rather as a way to gratefully, diligently, and contentedly serve a loving, merciful God.
A second major change is that knowing Christ has revolutionized my understanding of the Church. Previously, “church” had been a stale service that I attend for about 90 minutes every Sunday (or every other) because my parents went or because I wanted to look good and upright in front of others. “Church,” to me, was just another extra-curricular to join solely for the purpose of enhancing my appearance. Now, however, I understand that the Church is not a building that sits mostly empty six days out of the week but rather it’s a vibrant body of Believers that I am excited to be a part of and share in their experiences as followers of Christ. I am energized by their community and sense of mission, and I look to contribute to its mission of proclaiming the Gospel and living it out. This hasn’t meant that I’ve somehow become more eloquent in talking to others or less awkward in having serious spiritual conversations with others. I’m still the same bumbling conversationalist that I was before knowing Christ. However, when I have (or make) opportunities, I make efforts to make my identity known and speak Christ’s truth into others lives, either through actions, deeds, or both.
A third major change brought by knowing Christ is that God no longer appears as a “celestial killjoy” to me. God was and remains a God of holiness and justice who abhors sin, but I now understand that it is through that holiness and justice that He offers hope to a broken, hurting world, promising us that one day all things will be made right and new through Him. This is possible because God is also a forgiving, loving God. He willingly paid the horrible penalty necessary for humanity to be redeemed and reunited with Him in eternity, and in paying that price and rising again, He defeated the hold that sin and death had had over us. Despite my horrible brokenness (and my tendency to revert to seeing Him as a scowling, disappointed patrol cop), I know that He loves me perfectly and fully. It paints a sharp contrast for a journey I know I’ve only just begun.
Photo by Robert Jinks