Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Salvation is a growing tree

I've lamented before that our evangelical culture has become focused on drive-by evangelism: we just want to get someone to walk the aisle and say, "I accepted Jesus," and then everything is good.

We don't bother disciplining anyone...we just get them converted. And I get that: people get excited by conversions and baptisms, but discipleship takes work. It's like marriage: everyone focuses on the wedding and the honeymoon, but it is the years of hard work--the arguments forgiven, the failures overlooked, the sacrifices made--which turn it into a marriage.

I think it is no coincidence that salvation is so often compared to marriage in the Scriptures: just as with marriage, it may be true that your salvation occurs at a single vow in a single moment, but it is the lifelong sacrifices and commitment to each other which, retrospectively, prove that the vow was heartfelt and the commitment true.

But you see...that's not sexy. Hard work in quiet moments is not cool. When Hollywood wants to show a happy marriage, they show couples traveling the world or enjoying their grandkids or the like...they don't want to show the hard work of holding a wife in the midst of tears, or a husband working two jobs to make ends meet for the family, or a wife forgiving her husband for adultery, or a husband forgiving his wife for nagging. The hard work in the quiet times is where the marriage really happens, and the couple grows: it didn't happen at the "I do."

The same is true in our Christian life: the hard work in the quiet moments is where you grow. It isn't when you accepted Jesus that grows you as a Christian (though of course, that must happen first!): it is when you let Him convince you to come home early and invest in your family (even if it costs you the promotion); it is when you let Him choose your bride instead of your lust; it is when you let Him choose your spending habits instead of your greed. This is taking up your cross and dying to yourself--it doesn't mean that you have no value, it means that you have no control: it is the choice that He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world, and as a result we will do whatever the Spirit leads us to do...not what we want.

But...the altar call and baptism are "cool." They are monumental. And so we focus on conversion instead of discipleship. But go read Matthew 28 again:  we are not called to make converts, we are called to make disciples. A disciple is someone who not only believes, but also follows, their rabbi:  we are called not just to have people call out Jesus' name, but also to train them in how to follow Him.

Being a Christian is, in my experience, less like a bolt of lightning and more like a growing tree. Even Paul, with his dramatic Damascus experience, did not become a disciple yet: it was after he had days to think, ponder, meet with Christians, etc. that he truly became saved. The seed of God needs both to be planted (in salvation) and watered (in mentorship) for a Christian to grow.

And then it takes over, like an unstoppable infection, until eventually the word of God spreads from inside you to the outside, changing who you are.

Following Christ is more like a tree that must grow, than a bolt of lightning which flashed brightly but then is gone.

So do not be discouraged when the Christian life is hard. Of course it is.
Do not be frustrated when it takes you years to become the person Jesus wants you to be. Of course it will.

After all, it is a hard task, this changing of the mortal into an immortal.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post and one that really rings true for me. I became a Christian when I was young, and it's been a very slow, gradual process through which God has grown me into who I am today - it's not especially glamorous or exciting like marketable conversion stories. What's most encouraging about it, I guess, is that God is very patient in getting me where he wants me to go, and it's gone through a lot of phases - interest in apologetics and scholarship that gave me an intellectual foundation before I was ready to really "get" what the story of the Bible is all about - God's grace and his Kingdom. Things happen a lot less quickly than I'd like, but it just makes it all the more plain that God is the one running the show.