I’ve heard people give a lot of reasons for why they don’t believe in Christianity, or why they don’t think it’s relevant for them. One of the more common ones that I’ve come across is that people think they don’t need God because they’re already a good person. They treat people well. They have morals. They live in a considerate, more or less kind way. Shouldn’t that be enough?
But then Christians like me come along and say that not only do we think that God is real (as if that isn’t a big enough hurdle), but we also say that God wants to change us. To put it bluntly, we say that God wants to make us better. Whether or not people think they’re perfect as they are, our modern sensibilities don’t match up well to this belief that there’s an outside influence that thinks we need to be different.
It’s not like God wants to make small changes, either. He doesn’t say, “Just come along to church a few times, then you’ll be perfect”. He actually says that he wants to give us new life and a new identity. He wants to make us completely new.
Before I go any further, I want to boil this whole post down to one sentence so that you can see where I’m coming from. The sentence is one of the key ‘Vineyard distinctives’ (the Vineyard is a denomination of churches, one of which I attend in Nottingham). It says: “Come as you are, but don’t stay as you are”.
To borrow from Tim Keller, one of my personal favourite Christian authors and speakers, Christianity is at once the most pessimistic and the most optimistic world religion. It’s the most pessimistic because it teaches that none of us are good enough. That we have all messed up in ways that have torn us away from God, leaving us with no way to live the complete, satisfied lives that he intended for us.
However, it is also the most optimistic religion because it teaches that God has made a way for every single broken person on this planet to be perfect and enjoy the life with God that we were made for. God’s justice demands that our wrongdoings are punished, but in his mercy, God took that punishment upon himself.
Imagine that, in a courtroom, a judge sees his son come before him, guilty of theft. As a judge, he rules that his son needs to pay the victim a large sum of money – more than the son can afford – but then as a father, he steps alongside his son, and says that he will pay the fine. Justice has been fulfilled, but we have not been asked to pay a price that we could never afford.
However, whilst Jesus did everything on the cross that needed to be done to bring us to God, the life of a Christian does not come to a standstill when we accept the payment that Jesus has made for us. Once we accept Jesus’s sacrifice – being humble enough to say that we are not good enough, and we need someone else to help us – God begins to change us.
Becoming a Christian is not a magic potion that makes everything perfect in our lives. Something else that we talk about in the Vineyard is the tension between the ‘now and not yet’, which means that Jesus has come and God is active now but the world as a whole is not yet perfect – that is our hope for the future. This tension means that we can see God doing incredible things – healing people, giving prophecies, etc. – but we can still live lives dogged by suffering and brokenness.
The good news is that within the suffering and the brokenness, Christians can know that God is there, and that he is constantly making a difference in our lives. I have seen loads of examples of God taking bad decisions that I have made and bringing something good out of the mess. The thing is, God knows us. He knows that we’re still flawed, that even though the price has been paid, each of us is still a work in progress.
The change that God wants to put us through is something like this. Imagine that we’re all slaves in one country, but God has come in and bought our freedom. Now we have a choice, we can either go with God to his country, or stay as slaves in ours. For those that go to God’s country, although we are free, the transition isn’t always easy. We’ve lived lives as slaves under cruel masters, and the fear of being hurt, the selfish survival instincts, and all the baggage that comes with our pasts doesn’t just go away. God has to teach us how to live free lives because he knows that if he does, our lives will be so much better.
The amazing heart of the Christian message is that God loved us enough in our brokenness to send Jesus to die for us as we are, but he loves us too much to leave us as are. That’s why we say, ‘Come as you are, but don’t stay as you are’.
You might think that there is nothing more to life than being ‘moral’ (whatever that means) and trying not to hurt people, but that’s only a fraction of what God has for us. If you’re just trying to be good, it’s like you’re a laptop that can’t get past 10%, and you’re chugging along with a faded screen, but God wants to plug you in and get you running perfectly at full power! The charge isn’t instant, but as long as you’re plugged into God, you’ll get closer to where he wants you to be.
God doesn’t want us to settle for mediocrity and a faint sense of dissatisfaction. He wants all of us, no matter what we’ve done, to accept the price that he has paid, and come to know him. As we know more about Jesus, we’ll start to reflect him more, and that is the best change that can come. God doesn’t promise that life will be easy when we follow him (in fact, he promises the opposite), but I’ve seen some of the changes that God has made in my life and in the lives of those around me, and there can be healing from emotional and physical problems, addictions can be broken, and your eyes can be opened to the world in a way that you could never have imagined before.
God wants this for everyone, so come as you are, don’t stay as you are.
Note: You might have noticed that I haven’t referred to the Bible in this post, and that’s not an oversight! I want this post to be accessible for everyone, whether you’re not a Christian or you’ve been one for 50 years, and for a lot of people, quoting the Bible a lot doesn’t necessarily make everything make sense. If you want to read about this in the Bible, then just ask in the comments or on social media and I’ll direct you to some relevant passages. If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian, but you are curious, then I would recommend talking to any Christians that you know and asking them what difference God has made in their lives, because real life stories are often the most powerful, and the best illustrations of what God can do.