If I could write an open letter to some of the friends I’ve had who didn’t buy my reasons for faith in Christ, I think I would imagine them as a person I’ll call Aaron and write something like this.
I hope you are doing well. I miss our conversations. Even more, I regret that we haven’t kept in touch.
“I’m writing now because a lot has changed in my thinking over the years.
“I remember, Aaron, that you used to say that you didn’t think that, as a group, church people were any better than anyone else–they just think they are. You said the best people you knew never darkened the door of a church.
“Even though I argued with you at the time, it’s clear to me now that you were right in arguing that followers of Christ often talk a better game than we walk. I remember arguing for the humanitarian impact of Christ on culture. Yet you were quick to point out that his followers have too often been on the wrong side of issues like slavery, poverty, racism, the environment and war.
“I remember the letters to the editor you wrote, and the streets you walked, to protest the wrongs of racism, the evils of war, and the pollution of the environment.
“Since the last time we talked, I’ve traveled enough internationally to see the hospitality and goodwill of people of non-Christian cultures. In other countries, as in our own, I’ve seen that a person doesn’t have to believe in Christ to be loving, gracious, and even heroic in the face of human need.
“Such experiences over the years have reminded me of the disbelief I saw in your eyes whenever I talked to you about your need of Christ. I remember the questions you asked when I quoted the words of the apostle Paul when he wrote, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’ You told me that you didn’t buy it because you had grown up in the church and knew firsthand that these were not people for whom all things had become new.
“Well, Aaron, I wish I had been quicker to listen and slower to say more than I knew. Along the way I’ve seen enough in myself and in others to know now how foolish I must have sounded to you. Somewhere along the line I started asking questions like: If believing in Christ changes people’s hearts, why do so many of His followers turn out to be moralistic, self-righteous, angry people? Why does faith in Christ too often produce visible changes that are more like the honeymoon phase of a marriage than a lasting change in life?
“At this point, I admit that my spiritual journey has run parallel to what I’ve learned in marriage. What doesn’t change in either one is the human baggage we bring into both. The independent inclinations that were a part of me before and after marriage were also a part of me before and after I put my faith in Christ. The self-centeredness that makes it difficult for me to hear the concerns of my wife also makes it hard for me to hear the words and wisdom of Christ. Growth and maturity don’t come automatically or easily. In both cases, I was not prepared for what turned out to be the greatest challenges of my life. What I didn’t realize beforehand is that the biggest enemy I would ever face would be my own unchanged inclinations.
“I don’t mean to minimize the wonderful sides of marriage or conversion. But I can see now how wrong my expectations had been. I had looked to salvation to make me good, as I had looked to marriage to make me happy. I didn’t see that in both cases my own human nature would stack the deck against me if I didn’t do whatever it took to let the relationship change me.
“Aaron, as I look back on some of our conversations, it’s clear that I had not thought carefully enough about what the Bible means when it says that all things become new for a person who is in Christ. For too long I missed the obvious. It didn’t occur to me that whenever the Bible encourages us to love, or to pray, or to think and speak honestly, it is because, in moments of temptation, we remain so inclined to do just the opposite.
“Yes, Aaron, my thinking has changed a lot since the last time we talked. Life has been a lot harder than I expected. Looking back, I don’t regret putting my faith in Christ. He is by far the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for what he’s done for me. But what I can see now is that accepting his offer of forgiveness and everlasting life didn’t automatically assure that I would be good or wise in what followed.
“I now see more clearly the parallel between being married and entering into a relationship with Christ. Upon a couple’s public confession, a minister declares a man and woman married, but not mature in their love. And when we put our faith in Christ, God declares us legally forgiven, but not good or wise. In both cases there is a difference between the legal declaration and resulting quality of life.
“I now believe that church people, in our best moments, have a lot in common with members of a 12-step recovery group. We attend meetings and work the program, not because we are better than others but because we know we need our God and one another to overcome the problems that are stacked against us.
“I only wish, Aaron, that I had understood years ago that to believe in Christ is not the same thing as sharing his wisdom.
“Thanks for listening. If you’re ever inclined, I’d love to hear something of where you are in your own spiritual journey.”