Recently my pastor gave the congregation a challenge. He wanted each person to write down the story of how they came to know Christ. He included a three-point outline in the bulletin intended to help:
1) My Life Before Christ
2) How I Met Christ
3) My Life After Christ
The problem with such a task for me is that my life doesn’t fit into the three-point outline. I didn’t lead a life of debauchery, interrupted by a salvation moment and followed by a radically changed life. For years this bothered me. My story is about a much more mundane person who has been slowly shaped by the Master Creator over the years and who is still a work in progress.
My parents tell me that I accepted Christ’s salvation at the age of three. I don’t remember the event. For years, as a child, this caused me worry. Was I really saved if I couldn’t remember making the decision? Should I pray the prayer again? But then, which prayer was the “real” one? I was looking for the neat, three-point story even then.
When I was in my mid teens I went to camp and made a decision I was sure of. I would be a Christ follower. That took care of points 1 and 2, but the “Life After,” point 3, was still not the radical transformation I was looking for. For one thing, I hadn’t accrued much in the way of big, obvious sins beforehand, to compare with. Also, I was still an adolescent, still self-centered and concerned with what I wanted to do. I didn’t instantly become flawless. I worried that I hadn’t “done” salvation as well as others and wondered what else I needed to do.
It took some more years until the basic truths of Christianity filtered down into my heart. I learned that I was a sinner no matter how small or inconspicuous I thought my imperfections were. I learned that I could not “do more” to redeem myself, but that Christ had truly done it all already when He died and rose again. He covered me with his righteousness because my own imperfections don’t really go away. I am always flawed and I always need Him.
I didn’t know it as a younger woman, but I, with all my self-doubt, was in good company. It was that of the apostle Paul, who has an impressive three-point story: 1-Persecuted Christians, 2-Blinded temporarily by a light from heaven while Jesus spoke to him saying, “Why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads”(Acts 26:14) 3-Lived the rest of his live preaching Christ’s gospel, exemplifying what a Christ follower’s life should look like.
Even so Paul writes in Romans 7 of his struggle during part 3 to consistently follow Christ. Even though his radical change is obvious in the hindsight of his Bible story, it was not always evident to him. He lamented of his Christian walk: “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Romans 7:19). It is, in a way, comforting that someone like Saint Paul would voice the same struggles I feel and need the same saving grace and reassurance that I do.
So I have learned to accept that there is truly no consistency or perfection within me. My salvation is 100% a gift from the only Perfect Being. Though I see growth in me, there will never be a faultless point 3 in my story. My “After” story will most likely continue to be a series of ups and downs, events where Christ teaches and shapes me, as well as times when I futilely put myself first and resist.
I take heart though in the confusing statement that Jesus made to Paul as the light from heaven blinded him. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” A foot note in my Ryrie Study Bible says that this is a Greek proverb about useless resistance. A goad was a tool used to prod oxen with to keep them going in a straight line while plowing. I can picture the oxen, at times veering off in a direction of their own and being set straight with a tap of the goads.
I too have been prodded back on track over and over again. My life, which has felt so haphazard and unplanned at times, has in reality been guided each step of the way. I hope this will be more obvious someday by hindsight. I’ve had difficulty going against the goads, like the oxen and St. Paul. I thank Christ that he cares about this one mundane life and has seen fit to call me and guide me. And I thank Him that it has been useless for me to resist.