“The creation of a new heart, the renewing of a right spirit is an omnipotent work of God. Leave it to the Creator.”
– Henry Drummond
“Dad, do you believe I am a Christian?”
Each second that passed felt like a minute. We had just had an hour-long phone debate about my life, my struggles, and where I was headed. I felt unheard. I felt talked down to. Then, I finally asked that question.
Silence filled the space.
His answer came.
Working through that one answer has brought me to a question most of us struggle with. We publicly claim to be a Christian, but then someone calls us out for something and stating we are not who we say we are. After a while, we can become paranoid of others, suspicious of ourselves, and scared of our salvation.
What if I do this? What will happen? Will I still go to Heaven? Am I still saved? Does God still love me?
Those questions swarm us like piranhas in the Amazon ready to strip bare the hope we cling to.
What really signifies we are saved? What does it mean when people say our desires will change? Has our desires changed?
A New Life Has Begun
I bet you immediately thought of II Corinthians 5:17. It is the classic verse stating that belonging to Jesus means the old life has passed away, and a new life has begun.
We all love new starts, fresh beginnings, and slates wiped clean. I have a dear friend who one time I said something most cruel to him. My words shocked even me. We did not speak for about two weeks. Then we realized we could not quit each other. I asked for his forgiveness, and what I said emotionally tore me up inside. He forgave me, and he still hasn’t let go of me. Recently, I went through something quite dark, and that friend was right by my side. My shame told me I was rejected, but his love and friendship said, “Fall on me. You’re the reason I’m here.”
That is the love of Jesus. Our sin and wandering away from God is like spitting in his face or (pardon my language) pissing on the cross of Christ. He still looks at us and tells us to fall on him, because we are the reason he came to us. When we do, we experience a new life. Our old life is gone. He doesn’t see us like we once were. Instead, he sees us as we will be – perfected by the righteousness of his Son.
This verse isn’t just a hallmark card of well-wishes. It is a God-given promise. When we come to Christ through faith receiving his grace, our new life starts. It isn’t a question of if a new life is there. No! There is new life! It has started in you and me immediately.
What About My Desires?
However, many of us look at other Christians or our desires and say, “How can I be saved if I still want this?” Sometimes others look at us and think, “How can that person be a Christian if he does that or she does this or has those thoughts?”
Then starts a lot of talk about the changing of desires. Many of us hear about how our new life brings new desires. But, have you realized no one agrees what those desires look like. Everyone says you will desire the things of God, but when pushed for specifics, things get fuzzy.
Romans 6:4 tells us to live in a new way. Ephesians 4:22-24 urges us to put off our old self, and clothe ourselves with a new life renewed after the image of God. Many other passages get thrown around, but none of them state a specific path. Many times we immediately go to what actions we do – what movies are we watching, what music is on our playlist, what we eat, what we drink, what we wear, how we are perceived, how good we are before God and others, and the list has more red tape than a government mandate.
What does Scripture tell us? The key is actually found in I John 2:6. Our lives are to reflect the way Jesus lived. The way Jesus lived is the way the Father is (John 1:14 & 18). Therefore, when we follow Christ’s example of living, then we are living a new life that is fashioned after the image of God.
His desires were to do the will of the Father, to bring life, to love on people, to heal the sick, to preach the Kingdom of Heaven, to give his life as a ransom for many, to bring sinners to salvation, to build the church, and to restore all things that have been crushed by sin’s curse.
If our desires are beginning to align with those things, then everything else will fall into place. I truly believe Matthew 6:33 applies to this. When we seek God’s Kingdom first, then our desires will change to align to God’s desires. The specifics do not matter, because they will come to order in our life when we seek God’s Kingdom first. We mess things up when we seek specifics before we seek to live out the desires Jesus had.
What About That “Christian”?
But, the specifics still stick with us, don’t they? Those lists we create become the way we look at other Christians. We even may put quotations around that term depending on who we are talking about. We may see a “Christian” drinking a beer, or a “Christian” with tattoos, or a “Christian” who is a single mom, or a “Christian”… you fill in the blank. To be blunt, we judge Christians who do not look identical to our specifics. We say, “I can’t believe they said this, did that, believe this, or think that way!”
How many of us have had that said about us? It doesn’t feel nice.
Scripture guides us in this discussion in I Corinthians 8-10. What Paul boils everything down to is that the heart of the matter is where our heart is. If we are loving God and loving people, we are free. We use our freedoms to love God by showing love to others. We create an environment of grace for each other to grow in God’s grace and knowledge.
Peter experienced this in Acts 10. God gave him a vision to stretch his thinking outside of regulations into a mindset of a relationship with God through his Spirit. Because of Jesus, we are free. But, our relational love with God, because of Jesus, constrains us to live and make each moment about God. This will be in how we love others.
But, what about the specifics? Leave the specifics to the Spirit. Seek God’s Kingdom first. Jesus promises us the Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Do you think the Spirit will lead us astray if we are seeking God’s Kingdom? He will show us how to live in each moment and how to make decisions about things the Scriptures are not black and white about.
We judge so many people if they do not fit our version of the Christian life. But the better question is…
Do you fit the Spirit’s version of the Christian life? Do you follow after the desires of Christ? When we do, that other “Christian” becomes a brother more than someone to question.
The Unfinished Artwork
Ever seen a painter work? While they work, we may see things that look like a picture, but it looks strange. We may even give advice on what colors we would use and disagree with what they are doing. Yet, who’s artwork is it?
It is the same with other Christians and our changing desires. God is the artist. We are not. We need to give space for the Spirit to move and finish the artwork of God’s love in another person’s soul before we try to form that individual in our image. Encourage them to pursue Christ’s desires and God’s Kingdom. Then, step back and watch God work. Read through the Old Testament. Many of those people were messed up. One family had the struggle of lying (Abraham and Isaac; like father like son), plenty of murderers (Moses and David), plenty of doubters (Esther), a king who liked to have a new woman every day (Solomon), and a prophet who cursed God when he didn’t nuke a nation (Jonah). Yet, he still made their lives beautiful. They are recorded in Scripture for our encouragement.
No one is a finished canvas. God will fashion our desires as we seek his Kingdom. The new life is there. As we follow the Spirit everything else will fall into place.
When The Silence Breaks
So, what did my dad say to me when I asked if he thought I was a Christian?
He said because he felt my desires were not pursuing the things of God, he doubted if I was still a Christian.
That was May 2, 2021. I remember the date so clearly. It was a Sunday afternoon. His words hurt deeply. Our relationship has not been good since. Would I like a relationship with my family? Yes, but right now it seems impossible. All because of disagreements of the Christian life. In my family there was no space to grow in grace. Instead, it is one way – their way.
Do you think I am a Christian?
It is a tough question to ask. The silence and the answer can crush a soul and suffocate hope out. But, our hope is not in our actions, our specifics, or in how we are perceived. It is in Jesus Christ, our living hope. He breaks the chains, his Spirit changes our desires, and he will finish our canvas. Our life will become his beautiful artwork he will display for all to see.
When we ask that question, we need to preach the Kingdom of God to our heart. What is the river running through this Kingdom? It is the blood of Jesus poured out for us as the seal for God’s new covenant. We have a relationship. We have bold access. We have his Spirit baptizing our life. We need to start with that, then all the specifics will fall into place.
Our desires will change as we seek God’s Kingdom. We should never align our desires after a Christian image made by man. Instead, let’s align our desires to be changed by the desires of Jesus. There is a reason the Gospels are in Scripture and not just a list of do’s and don’ts. It is because it is in the Gospels we see our living hope living out God’s desires.
Let the Spirit change you. Let the Spirit change others. Let’s work together to be more like Jesus and to seek God’s kingdom first…
Then our desires will change to be God’s desires.