The conversion of "churched" kids.
Some, like the thief on the cross, have a quick and dramatic conversion. Death is before them and the immediacy of eternity demands it. Some may have grown up Muslim or in another religion and country and their conversion story is dramatic and clear, filled with danger. An ex-Hindu we know sought to end his despairing life by jumping before a coming train, but was wonderfully converted. Early Christians faced martyrdom, and so their testimonies may have been sealed with their blood.
But what about the child of Christian parents? Nurtured in a culture and home where there is peace, and all the advantages that come with great privilege? Perhaps they went to a safe Christian school, or were even home schooled. Their family attended the meetings of the Assembly/Church, and they heard over and over the true gospel. For them there are two dangers,
the danger of assuming they are Christians because they have "always believed."
the danger of assuming they are not Christians because they have "always believed."
This may appear to be a dichotomy and a contradiction but it is a real problem, and this is written for those who may struggle with #2.
It is a common experience, and for some a real struggle. One may hear the testimonies of others - about how they used to drink, and live a wild life of paganism and immorality. How these became Christians and their lives were altered dramatically. The child brought up in the privilege of a Christian home may compare this to themselves and they find they have a difficulty pinpointing when they first actually believed and were converted. A comparison and struggle may ensue to search for the reality since they had no such outward drama.
Some Christian circles can compound the problem and demand a clear conversion experience (apart from wisdom) and these young people can be left groping for "experiences" that lead them into darkness. We do believe there is an experience involved in conversion, but I would caution against unscriptural requirements we impose upon the tender hearts of those struggling in this area.
Of course, it can be true that there has been no conversion and the struggle is a needed one. Yet for others, there is present an honest love for Christ, for other believers, for the church, and for that which is righteous in God's sight - which are real evidences of the presence of eternal life within.
For others, there is an embedded legalism that creeps in, a pressure (from within - self generated) to meet the self-imposed expectations that come with a false conception of "acceptance" before God.
Here are some snares:
1. Perfectionism - the high performer will make the best grades, be a model child of obedience in the home, a server in the local church, and quick to apologize. Good traits, mind you...but not a resting place.
2. Introspection - this one may analyze him/herself to the nth degree, to seek evidences within of conversion and reality. This one often becomes sadly disappointed due to the presence of the sinful nature within that exhibits such a contradiction.
3. Reputational - here a person may unknowingly seek the approval of others, and by devotion, attendance, and adherence to the expected behaviors, seek a peace by hearing the affirming term "brother" or "sister" used towards them, or by being given responsibilities.
4. Service - this includes similar behaviors to Reputational, but may go beyond to official service and position in Christian circles, obtaining a Christian assurance by the positions, services, and devotion undertaken.
5. Sacramental - this one is very dangerous in that a person here ensures they have gone through the required steps in their circles - like baptism, communion, and the like. I may look at all I have done, ensure I have done it according to the pattern, yet lack the peace so desired.
6. Experiential - some will seek out other avenues of religious experience. This is the lure of the charismatic and messianic groups. There are popular draws of religious experience, emotionally charged "praise and worship", or the use of obscure diets or even a return to Hebrew roots terminology. There is an understandable reality desired, but this too can lead to a long bypath that ends in disappointment and disillusionment, even wasted years.
7. Self righteous - This can be associated with the experiential, where one holds to certain identity markers such as the avoidance of the holidays of Christendom, the refusal to eat pork and other dietary quirks. It may include certain dress codes and other legal tendencies of what is righteous - usually things on my “list” that I can measure up to.
What advice can be given?
For those who dabble in sin and are not concerned about their state, we have little advice here, but for those who are concerned this is offered:
1. The fact that you are concerned about your salvation is a healthy sign. There may be unhealthy patterns going on, but the fact that you are concerned is much better than the indifference of many. A story here may be helpful. There was a man years ago that worked in the massive shipyards in Ireland. At the end of the day, he and thousands of others would be found walking the streets in droves towards their homes. Empty streets suddenly bustling and jostling with workmen looking forward to the rest of home. This particular man would get paid on Friday. He would take his pay given at the end of each week, and button it and secure it in an upper pocket of his work clothes for the walk home. Often he would reach up and pat his pocket just to be sure it was "still there." Interestingly, he never checked that pocket on Monday-Thursday. It was only when he had it that he would check it. The point being, he checked it because he had it. (retold by memory from a Jim Flanigan message on www.voicesforchrist.org).
2. Rest in Him. This may sound strange, but a believer needs to rest in Christ. Or let us say, the believer CAN rest in Christ. If we say "needs to" perhaps we further the problem telling the reader to DO something… but can you see the blessing of "can rest" in Christ? What this means is really a Spirit taught rest and may come about after a struggle. The fight is painful but the rest, once found, is pleasant. Here let the reader consider the simple words of Christ on the cross, "It is finished." Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, which is God's great "AMEN" to His acceptance of the work of Christ. In other words, God is satisfied with the person and work of Christ, His Son. If God is satisfied, then the question we would pose to you is this: If God is satisfied, what is lacking? If you seek to add something to that satisfaction, we honestly would tell you now that is a losing battle, with only disappointment before you. But if you can rest where God rests - where He bids you rest, then what more is needed? Ponder:
the believer is Complete in Him (Col. 2:10).
the believer is Accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6).
He is able to present you faultless before His presence (Jude 24).
3. Consider the tests of 1st John. These have to be approached carefully, and not misunderstood. These are not things that we "do" to get eternal life, nor are they things we rest in, because we rest in Christ, but they are written that we may know that we have eternal life. So these are some of the evidences (not the means of, but evidences of) having eternal life. Just as Christ manifested eternal life, so may we:
1 John 2:3 You obey Christ's commands (these are primarily the commands summarized in 1 John 3:23, which are to 1) believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and 2) to love the brethren. Do you hate or loathe Christians and true Christianity or the Church? Or do you love believers? Are you quite sure that Christ alone is where you must rest and have made that decision somewhere along the way?
1 John 3:8-9 You practice righteousness and do not practice sin. This doesn't mean you never sin, nor that you are perfect, but there is a life pattern & movement in the right direction. The key word here for the fearful is "practice". If it said the true believer "does" perfect righteousness at all times and never sins, there is no hope for any of us this side of the resurrection. The life pattern of one who HAS eternal life is what he or she practices.
4. A lovely verse: The goodness of God leads thee to repentance. (Rom 2:4) The author of this article once struggled with a sin. At this time he cannot even remember the sin itself for it was years ago, but it was swallowed up in the grace of God by this simple verse. Here's how. After the disappointment of ...yet again... falling into that sin, we sat sadly looking at ourselves...sad indeed and unhappy indeed. There came an experience, based on this scripture (always test experiences thus), and a forgiveness was given, such a gracious realization that in the goodness of God, was this forgiveness. Oh what an appreciation of a God like this, and it was a powerful help to overcome...and at such a time of despair and anguish. Failure! But He was greater.
5. Last and similar, is what we learn in Romans 6. Verse 3 says "do you not know that as many of us as were immersed into Christ Jesus...we were immersed into His death. It goes on to state that we were buried with Him and raised to walk a new life in Christ Jesus. It is a tremendous thing for a Christian to recognize that we died with Christ. What we did and really what we are...in ourselves....has been crucified with Him. We have no authority any longer to expect that in ourselves we will find the good things we yearn for. Yet the fact that we yearn for them is again strong evidence that we possess eternal life. The victory comes in HIM. We can reckon ourselves dead to sin, it no longer reigns as king. This is the meaning of the chapter before us. Sin was king before we were converted, after conversion it is still present, but NO LONGER REIGNS as KING. Lay hold of that dear one.
If you are that young person - a churched kid, we pray that you do not despair, but that in this conversation you may find a help on the pathway to His presence-which is a place you are welcomed at - by Him.
I am my beloved's and His desire is towards me (Song of Solomon 7:10)
We dare you to believe it...believe Him, and find Him altogether lovely. Then, then, you will begin to walk and find the evidences in your life- don't spend too much time on the chronicling of evidences though. How we often reverse the order, and look for evidences and forget to look...to Him.