Years and years ago, I had a conversation with a college student who was processing the story of how he had come to be a Christian. He was struggling a bit because some of his friends insisted that being a true Christian meant knowing when (precisely) one had given their lives over to God. Yet he couldn’t recall a single defining moment in his spiritual life. He had gone to church for just about all of his life, and he was very aware that this alone didn’t make a person a follower of Jesus. He had been baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran tradition, and he had tested and examined and owned his own faith even as he was continuing to grow in his understanding and expression of that faith in Christ. Was he missing something?
It’s vital that we don’t underestimate the importance of making a personal response to God’s grace and of commitment to believing in and following Jesus Christ, His son. For some people, there comes a moment where like Jacob, we wrestle with God and emerge with a new name. Yet we should be careful about creating fences defining who is in and who is out based on our own experience with God.
Are we a Christian when we first respond – even though we may not really understand what it all means? Is it when we make a public commitment to Christ in Baptism (or Confirmation, for other traditions)? Is it when we start to live out that faith? And do we risk ignoring the grace God surrounded us with through our parents and grandparents and communities? Or God’s grace present in the guiding and shaping and convicting work of the Holy Spirit, long before we knew how to give it a name in our lives?
It makes me think of C.S. Lewis’s essay The Weight of Glory, where he says there is no such thing as an “ordinary” person: “Every human being is in the process of becoming a noble being, noble beyond imagination; or else, alas, a vile being beyond redemption…” What he’s getting at is the matter of trajectory; are we day by day responding to, welcoming, surrendering to, God’s grace in Christ and in and by that grace growing closer to Jesus, or are we rejecting and running away from it?
Another way to say it is to borrow an image from Alan Hirsch, who describes cattle ranches in Australia. They are too big for fences, but what ranchers do is dig a well, and they know that the cattle will not stray too far from the well – for the well is the source of life.
May we daily receive and respond to the grace of God and work of the Holy Spirit, and draw ever nearer to Jesus in a living faith. And in our church community, may we not build fences, but bridges and beckon others closer to the well of life.
Blessings on the Journey,