Within Christian circles, we enjoy stories about people who have really, really messed up and then, through Christ, turned their lives around.
You know, former gang members, Mafia hit men, millionaires who lost it all and lived in the streets, raging alcoholics who will just have a coffee now, thank you. They make people like me, and a lot of you, look . . . boring.
Some lives make great published books, movies, and speaking engagements, because the people who lived them were so outrageously involved in appalling activities that we flock to them for inspiration:
“Wow. He was responsible for the financial ruin of thousands of innocent people, and now, praise Jesus, he’s saved. Do you know that he has a talk show?”
Of course, in our society where the book is outdated shortly after it’s printed, we rarely follow up on these people, and we don’t know much of the continuing story, but for a week or so, they’re all the rage.
We’re Promoting the Wrong Message
Without intending to, our fascination with extreme badness, redeemed, offers a few subtle messages:
1) Being bad, really really bad, pays off in publicity, fame, and money.
2) Jesus solves problems instantaneously, and although we’ve been bad, really really bad, once we trust in Him, we are completely and totally free from all the troubles that plagued us in our pre-Jesus life.
3) Unless we have been bad, really really bad, we have nothing of interest to say to anybody. Nobody — book publishers, Christian women’s lunch clubs, Oprah — is interested in us.
Let’s address these misconceptions:
1) The consequences to our actions generally last a long, long time, so while redemption from extreme badness may result in fame, fleeting or not, the hurt we’ve caused, the lives we’ve damaged (including our own), the dishes we’ve broken — don’t go away. Through Christ, thank God we receive forgiveness, but this doesn’t necessarily absolve us from restitution: paying back the people we’ve cheated, serving a prison term for the crimes we’ve committed, replacing teeth that meth addiction destroyed, accepting that some people will never forgive us and there’s no way we can make them do so.
Do you think that the apostle Peter ever forgot that he denied Christ three times? Or that the apostle Paul blithely disremembered lives that were destroyed, because of him, prior to his conversion? The pain of these memories fused into the fiber of their being, affecting the remainder of their lives — and while God takes bad things and uses them for good, memories and regrets remain. The consequences of our past actions become a part of the way we live through our future.
It is only through grace, and Christ’s love, that we keep standing, and walking. This process tends to not be particularly exciting or glamorous, and when it’s working, it leads us toward humility, as opposed to fame.
Change Is Not as Easy as It Seems
2) While it is true that some people are immediately, completely, and miraculously cured of an addiction, like alcohol abuse, most people slog through the tedious, dreary day-by-day challenge of overcoming what has enslaved them. While this isn’t as dramatic and worthy of Tweeting about as an instant cure, it’s reality, and the people who go through it possess a sense of compassion, empathy, humility, and grace that is actually helpful to those around them who are also struggling.
Think of it: when you’re hurting, who helps you out more:
Person A: Jesus healed me and I’ve never had a problem with it since!
Person B: I know what you’re going through, because I battle with it every day. Christ gives me strength, and He is giving it to you, too. Hang in there, and hold tight to His hand — it’s His strength that will save you, not yours.
3) Every single Christian has a story, and the means to help other people on this planet. Your unique experiences and life, in tandem with your walking close to the Master of the Universe, mean that you do, indeed, have something to say, whether or not it’s on national TV. (Don’t hold out for being on the cover of the Oprah Magazine; the qualifications for this position are pretty stringent.)
You’re too ordinary to be interesting? Don’t worry about it — there are 7 billion ordinary people walking around on this planet. It’s God who is extraordinary, and when we focus on his amazingness as opposed to promoting our own, everyone wins.