So I have a funny feeling that I'm not alone in skimming over parts of my Bible that I find... uncomfortable. I admit to hovering around the Proverbs or sticking to the few Gospel parables I was familiar with. I didn't like to read things that made me feel uncomfortable because it was... well, uncomfortable.
I particularly avoided a certain passage in Matthew 7. It read, "On that [judgement] day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"*
I think a modern translation of Matthew 7 may read something like "On judgement day, many people will say to me, 'But God, I went to church! I stuffed the boxes for Operation Christmas Child and gave to the needy. God, I volunteered at VBS and donated money to the poor!' And then I will say to them, "But I never knew you. Depart from me, you evil doer."
Every time I came to that verse I would hurriedly skip over it. I didn't like the way it made me feel. I also didn't like the way I felt in church whenever my pastor would talk about salvation, or the evidence of salvation in a believer's life.
My problem was that I never really thought I was that bad. I mean, yeah, I did things occasionally that my grandparents would probably be embarrassed by, but come on! I was nice. I graduated college early and had a good job and was in a long-term relationship with my boyfriend. I never really felt any strong emotion about my sin because deep down, I didn't think I really needed God because my sin wasn't this horrible thing. Not compared to all the murderers and child molestors. So when I read about Jesus being crucified on a cross for my sins, I just felt... apathetic? It was a story I had heard so many times, in so many ways, that it just ceased to have meaning to me.
I mean, I did EVERYTHING in church. I practically grew up there. I was in the Christmas pageants, I went on overseas mission trips, I fed the homeless, I sang (rather poorly) in the student choir. I went to Sunday School. But at age 21, I had a sudden realization that I was going to be one of those people who would stand, completely and utterly shocked, at the judgement seat of Christ at the end of the my life when God would say to me "I never knew you. Depart from me."
I was 22 years old when God finally gotten my attention. I had spent years shoving the nagging feelings aside, but on one completely ordinary day, and for seemingly no particular reason, I found myself face down in my apartment in tears, and I cried out to God for forgiveness of my sins. I prayed to him to change my life, and I immediately quit living in sin.
Then I put my pride aside, and went before a church I've attended and been involved with since childhood and was baptized. I felt I could almost hear a confused murmur when I stepped into the baptismal pool, but in hindsight, I can see that it was just the enemy trying to discourage me. Because other believers will ALWAYS rejoice in people coming to faith in Christ. And it doesn't matter if you're a pastor's wife or a meth addict; a student at a private Christian school or blue-collar grandfather.
Forgiveness is available to ALL. Jesus said in the Bible to repent (which means to stop living in sin), and confess your sins. Believe that Jesus is the only son of God, and that he was crucified, buried, and raised from the dead on the 3rd day. Then to daily follow him.
My pastor has always said, "no change, no Christ." Another way of saying it may be "check your fruit--check your faith" (Thanks for that one MB!). And what is fruit? Jesus talked about it a lot. He said good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit. The Bible tells us what the fruit of the Spirit looks like in Galatians 5: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
Sin will continue to be a struggle even for believers after they come to know Christ, but I can honestly say that I am different now. I still sin. I sin everyday. But it burdens me and I can't sleep until I ask for forgiveness. My "want to"s are different too. I want to go to church now. I want to read my Bible. I love spending time with other believers.
God changed my heart, and then I changed my name for him. He was always "god" before. For me, a distant and impersonal name. But now I call him the Lord. My Father God.
If these words make you get that feeling--you know--the one in the pit of your stomach? I have good news for you: that's the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in charge of drawing you close to God. The other good news? God tells us in 2 Peter 3:9 that he doesn't want anyone to perish, but for all to come to faith through repentance. And some more good news: God tells us in James that all we have to do is ask God, and he will give it to us.
So if you wondering about all of this--I encourage to open your Bible and pray to the Lord for understanding. Feel free to talk to me or a pastor at a BIBLE BELIEVING church. I can recommend many great churches, podcasts, and other resources that can help you in your walk with Christ.
The Bible poses a great rhetorical question on the matter: "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" **
Just do me one favor and ask yourself this question. At the end of your life, when you are standing before God, what do you think you would do, and what you GIVE, to have your soul saved? And what kept you from doing it while you still had the time. Money? Pride? What other people are going to think?
Friend, don't let these matters stand in the way. There is too much at stake.