So, the other day I decide that I’m just too bored. I’ve got to do something! Learning to juggle just really wasn’t getting me too excited so I took out my camera kit and decided to go downtown and do what I am calling a “bored walk”. I was trying to find things that reminded me of God or just things that I found interesting to shoot. I spent a couple hours just walking and enjoying myself. It was actually pretty fun–worth the effort. I came up with several photos that I thought I would share. They have also inspired some thoughts that I’d like to blog about.
This first photo I’m going to call “broken chains”.
To me, this makes me think of Romans Chapter 6 in Scripture. This chapter has been bitter-sweet for me. On one hand, it offers amazing hope and really is “good news”. On the other hand, it can be discouraging. Let me explain…
First of all, don’t feel like I’m going to start preaching to you. I’m not trying to pretend that I’m a Christian and you’re not so you better get on board. Not at all. In fact, I’m still trying to figure out what it means to get on board. Anyway, what I read in this chapter is that the writer (Paul) begins with a discussion of what baptism symbolizes. Why do people get baptized? Well, because it symbolizes what is supposed to happen in the life of a genuine Christian. All at once they die to everything they formerly were and their life of sin and all that entails. Old things pass away. And, they also become new. They get a new life with power over sin. Jesus died and was raised from the dead. The gospel promises the same thing to Christians. And they are baptized in commemoration of that change.
That happened to me 15 years ago. When I was baptized at age 23, my life truly had changed. I had left all of my former ways and began a completely new life–seriously I mean that. EVERYTHING changed! I no longer desired the old things from before. All my tastes and desires changed. I now found the Bible and God and religion to be very appealing… For about three years or so. Then, something happened. A beast awakened in me that I had not known was there.
It all started with a pop-up on my computer. I lingered too long in curiosity. It was the first time I had ever seen porn on the computer screen. I didn’t want it, but I kind of did at the same time. I don’t know what happened but I made some wrong choices that led to more wrong choices that led to keeping secrets (essentially lying) that led to habits that led to full-blown addiction which has led to some real emotional scars and problems in my marriage, etc. ONE POP-UP OVER A DECADE AGO!
Anyway, my baptismal experience didn’t seem right anymore. I struggled so many times wondering what had gone wrong. I felt out of control because no matter how many times I tried to quit, I kept going back. Sometimes I would quit for months only to return to what had become my comfort food.
So, back to Romans 6… Paul says that the death part of baptism symbolizes the reality that in becoming a Christian we are freed from the power of sin. Paul says it this way: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” vs. 6, 7 “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you” vs. 11-14 “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” vs. 22
Does it get any more clear than that? So, I began to feel like I was broken. I wanted so badly to have that experience but I couldn’t seem to find it. There were some months in there where I really did feel like I was experiencing that. But, then I would fall into the sin again. I began to doubt my own sincerity. I began to get a little angry with God. Why wasn’t He delivering on His promises? I started to doubt the gospel.
People were also making it confusing. My church seemed to be making it more confusing. I kept hearing the message that we’re good Christians as long as we’re progressing–as long as we are sincere. I was being told over and over again that sin is to be expected and that we shouldn’t expect to be perfect.
But, is that what Paul was writing in Romans 6? I think everyone wants to think so because maybe, like me, they were in slavery to something too and couldn’t accept that they weren’t really Christians. Maybe they were in denial and it made them feel better to put a nice coating on the gospel so that they could have the hope of salvation. But, not me! I didn’t want that coating. I didn’t want a gospel with no power. I didn’t want a false hope. If God wasn’t going to give me victory over my sin, I don’t think I’m interested. I want change! I want victory! I want real hope! I want to experience God! To me that’s what Paul was talking about and to me that really is “good news”. And, that’s the gospel that draws me!
So, what about me again? Well, interestingly I’ve come to some conclusions in the last couple weeks. First, my chains weren’t broken. Second, if I’m a slave to sin then I’m not experiencing what Paul was writing about in Romans 6. Third, if I’m not having the Romans 6 experience, then I haven’t died and been resurrected to new life in Christ. Fourth, if I haven’t died and been raised, then I’m not a Christian. Fifth, if I’m not a genuine Christian then I should stop calling myself one! Simple as that!
I talked to a friend of mine about that decision and she was seriously angered and troubled by the conversation. I asked her if she was a slave to any sin and she admitted she was. She became so defensive about it all that we couldn’t even read through Romans 6 together because she was so busy telling me how it wasn’t saying what it seemed to be saying because of this and because of that–all things that had been shoved into her brain by religion. Could it be that religion has filled her head with such an idea that she is not in danger (even though she is captivated by sin) and will never come to terms with the reality and seek for the REAL THING that she desperately needs? Why is it so scary to admit that we are lost when that may be the case?
A real freedom came to me when I realized I wasn’t a Christian. All of a sudden it all made sense to me. I hadn’t been a Christian for a long time–I just thought I was. I was religious, but not a Christian! The moment I came to terms with that is the moment I realized that the gospel is still a possibility for me. I begin to seek it with fresh new motive and fresh new understanding.
I have to admit I’m being very cautious about rejoicing. The Bible says, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” I don’t want to get too inwardly focused and trip up. It’s like Peter when Jesus called to him to come out on the water. Peter began taking those steps across the surface of the water. He had no self confidence that he was doing it on his own. He had no confidence in his own water-walking talent. It was completely Jesus. But, I think something started entering into his mind. Maybe he started to think of how he was the lucky one. Jesus must have selected him to walk on the water because he was special compared to the others. He started to look at the waves and the things around him. He was taking his eyes off of the one thing that was allowing him to walk on it. I don’t want to do the same. Because, while I’m looking at Jesus and the gospel I seem to be walking. I seem to be doing what I was before unable to do. It’s exciting! But, I have to concentrate to keep my focus.