Thankfully, my parents had me in church from the time I was a baby until I left the house for college, so I learned early on about my sin and my need for Jesus. I became a Christian at age 8. When we moved to a new town right before I started sixth grade, I eagerly joined the youth group where I learned how to have a "quiet time." Unfortunately, I somehow missed out on a main component of the gospel. In my mind, even though I knew it was about a relationship, I thought Christianity was a list of do's and don'ts to help me stay right with God. It went something like this.....if I have my quiet time, then God is happy or if I have an attitude with my parents, then God is not happy. Your basic run of the mill legalism, although at the time I didn't have a name for it. I had only major guilt and condemnation to keep me company because, really, who can live up to those kind of standards? I also had alot of pride when I was keeping those plates spinning well. I was drowning in all kinds of misconceptions about God and how He relates to me.
When I went to college, my performance based religion stayed with me, but morphed into a desire to be liked and please people. I had the "good Christian girl" role pretty much figured out and was pretty good at playing it. I really did have a relationship with the Lord during all this, but still had no concept of God's love. I was striving by the things I did to complete the spiritual check-list. Of course, I heard over and over "God loves you" but I honestly hated hearing it because I didn't believe it.
After Kyle and I got married, I started to understand more about God's grace toward me. One day, for some reason long forgotten, I snapped at Kyle and even before he turned and walked out of the room, I felt horrible for how I had responded to him. I went after him, said I was sorry, and he immediately pulled me into his lap, kissed me, and said, "I forgive you." "That's it?" I thought. I guess I expected to have to do penance or something. God whispered, "Christine, that's how I respond to you."
That happened at a time when I was really struggling under condemnation of not being "good enough". My husband had just started as the college minister at a large church, which thrust me into the minister's wife role. I thought everyone had all these expectations of me and, having no idea what I was doing, I was sure I was failing miserably. My relationship with the Lord was pretty non-existent, primarily because I felt like if I went to Him, He would just remind me of all the things I was doing wrong. I was really struggling.
Soon after, as I sat talking with two girls (Lacy & Bethany...if you happen to read this), I said something about God straight from my if/then playbook. Bethany graciously said, "Christine, I don't think what you said is right." When I drove her home later that day, the Holy Spirit used our conversation about grace to pierce my heart. God impressed upon my heart so clearly that I had no understanding of the gospel of grace or of His true character. I started reading Galatians, a book summed up by the word "grace". It changed almost my entire way of thinking. Galatians took my “if/then” understanding and shredded it like an old bank statement, replacing it with a solid, basic understanding of God’s grace and love through Jesus.
The words that affected me most were 5:1-5: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision [or any good work meant to save yourself or earn God’s approval], Christ will be no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
I honestly felt so stupid. I was attempting to please God by doing good, but my feeble endeavors had only severed me from Christ, the only One who could do good in and through me. The God I thought I knew, the one of dull grayish colors, revealed Himself to instead be One who exploded with color and dimension and complexity and beauty and power and gentleness. In time I realized that He loved me, not because of what I did, but because of what He did through Christ on the cross. I was free!
Suddenly, things that had never made sense came into focus. For instance, I learned that works are a result of and a response to God’s pursuing love for me; that because of Jesus Christ, there is nothing I can do that will change His approval of me; that Christianity is not a to-do list, but a gift of a relationship that is not an obligation, but an unearned privilege; that the Bible and the Spirit are given as a compass and I must listen for His voice to obey rather than concern myself with self-made stipulations. The most important truth that would thankfully be solidified in me in preparation for the years to come was this: God disciplines sin, but hard circumstances that come into my life are not a reflection of how God feels about me or a punishment for not being good enough. Instead, they can be a means of pruning me so as to bear spiritual fruit in my life and even an opportunity for me to experience God’s love and give Him glory.