[Finding the small gate: It’s of infinite importance]
I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things. I made assumptions, and had preconceived notions about things I knew nothing about, as well as the people who believed them. Technically, I’m still unlearning the things I thought I had right, and I’m still searching for the words to express it all. I’m also wondering what it is I’d say to someone who believes that Christianity is false, a crutch, or a delusion.
My dad once used the word crutch himself: ‘people use religion as a crutch,’ he said to me over the phone one night. That was the first time I can remember feeling like I was stumbling over my words as I tried to explain what I believe, and why I believe as I do. All I could tell Him was, “That’s not what I’m doing. being a Christian isn’t easy, in fact at times it can be very difficult.” Try being the only believer in your family; that isn’t easy. I didn’t say that to my dad, (maybe I should have. I don’t know), but words escaped me that day. I sure didn’t feel prepared to give an answer for the hope that I have (1 Peter 3:15).
Before I became a Christian I hated religion, and Christianity once fell under that title for me. I didn’t want anything to do with it–religion that is. In a way, you could say I still don’t. Try telling that to someone who doesn’t understand what you mean by it. It’s confusing to them. It doesn’t make sense. Isn’t Christianity just another religion?
If you define religion as the belief in God, then yes, I do believe in God, but that’s not what I’m referring to. That’s not usually how religion is seen or defined anyways, and that’s not how I ever defined it myself. I’m talking about meaningless words and actions. I’m talking about trying to earn your way to heaven. I’m talking about idols and adhering to man made rules, but that isn’t true religion. Because C.S. Lewis so often puts thoughts into words better than I can, in Mr. Lewis’s language, this is what I mean:
“The word religion is extremely rare in the New Testament or the writings of mystics. The reason is simple. Those attitudes and practices to which we give the collective name of religion are themselves concerned with religion hardly at all. To be religious is to have one’s attention fixed on God and on one’s neighbor in relation to God. Therefore, almost by definition, a religious man, or a man when he is being religious, is not thinking about religion; he hasn’t the time. Religion is what we (or he himself at a later moment) call his activity from outside.” C.S. Lewis/The World’s Last Night
My childhood was immersed in “those attitudes and practices to which we give the collective name religion,” but I didn’t grow up in a house that knew or served God. I can’t speak for what my grandparents believed, but my particular branch of the family didn’t know Him. What’s the difference between that empty religion and knowing God? It’s definitely a heart thing, but It’s also a knowledge thing. We didn’t know anything about the love of God, and we didn’t have it either. I don’t think my parents even knew the way to Him, at least I was never shown the way.
My parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and only because this was our family religion. Originally, my great-grandparents were Anglican, but one of their daughters became involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses; eventually my grandma followed her sister and started attending too, then my great-grandparents followed after them. My great-grandpa even lead the work crew that built the Kingdom Hall that we attended.
Amazingly, what happened to my family happened exactly as I wrote in Made to Follow. Sheep will follow sheep, but who you’re following matters. It makes a huge difference. Somewhere along the way, who our family was following either was misplaced or was never understood (at least by my parents generation and forward). I do wonder what my grandparents believed, but I choose to believe that they knew Jesus. However, I wonder how my parents were raised, and what exactly they were taught.
My parents went through all the motions, but there was no faith there. We went to what they called “meetings,” dressed in our very best, but the reason we did it was void of all meaning to me. The activity of it was bogus. What I mean is, I really didn’t have a clue what it was all about. My parents did read us some Bible stories, but I don’t remember ever hearing about Jesus. That seems rather odd to me now. I’m not sure why, but other than “meetings,” a few Bible stories, and my parents going door to door on occasion, what we believed wasn’t really talked about in our home. What exactly did my parents believe they were selling when they went door to door? I can remember my dad praying at the dinner table, but even that was just something we did.
I also remember being excluded from certain activities at school because of our religion. I remember taking my teacher a note, and not being able to do the holiday crafts that other kids were doing: Halloween, Christmas, Easter… They were all banned. Even birthdays were banned! Can you imagine not celebrating birthdays? Well, my parents apparently didn’t think much of this rule either. They found a loophole by giving my three brothers and I presents on their Wedding Anniversary instead.
When my parents did disassociate from the Jehovah’s Witnesses though, a lot was said; religion was scoffed at, and we celebrated Christmas for the very first time. I was twelve the first time we ever celebrated Christmas, and I went trick-or-treating twice before I was considered too old for it.
I guess I learned more about God after my parents abandoned their religion than I ever did while they were attending those “meetings,” but what I learned wasn’t anything good. I learned to distrust people who talked about God. I learned to distrust what Scripture said too. It was all just religion to me. It was all just a bunch of nonsense.
So I hated religion. When God was mentioned it made me cringe; It made me squirm even. I was doubly dubious of those who said, “Jesus loves you.” I had no clue what that meant, but I knew it was religious. At least it sounded religious. That’s what I believed anyways. Those who televised their religion were mocked in our home. You know what? Some of those televangelists are truly scammers (Not all). One particular commercial drives Andrew and I both nuts; this guy is selling so called “miracle water.” Really? Come on… That doesn’t even fall under the category of religion. That’s just some smarmy salesman preying on people who don’t know any better. That’s just a scam artist using the guise of religion for his own gain. Some people in this world will do that, but that isn’t what I believe in. What I believe in is loving and helping those in need–not using them.
“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” –James 1:27
My parents influence, and their experience with religion was what I gaged things on for a time, and they made it clear that they thought religion was foolish, though my dad sure had something to say about God when I’d bought into the idea of evolution as the origin for life. Apparently He did believe in God after all, so evolution was a ridiculous concept to him. What? What was I supposed to think and believe? This is what I was being taught in school. It was all so confusing, but if they didn’t trust religion then I didn’t trust it either.
Everything I believe now—well, that’s by the grace of God, through faith. I didn’t have that growing up. I didn’t even know what it was. Obviously my parents felt pretty duped by what they found in their religion, which for them was just meaningless actions and rules to be followed, but I found something very different: I found love and acceptance, and I found the only fix to all the chaos in this world: Jesus Christ. Yes, I know exactly how that sounds to an ear who hears only “religion” in His name. I once rejected Him too like He was some sort of bad plague. In truth though, it was God who found me. I was the one who was lost in the confusion. I was the one who couldn’t see Him through all of it.
When I didn’t know what to believe, and I was pushing the notion of Him away, God Himself reeled me in, hook, line, and sinker. You could say I was tricked if you like; I was bamboozled or hoodwinked even, but the only line I fell for was the one that He dangled in front of me. The bait that He used was the Christian man I’d marry. Yep, I’m calling Andrew the bait. Hey, whatever works right? I fell for it alright, and I’m glad that I did because it was a two for one deal. Andrew wasn’t the only one who won my heart.
I have an advantage. I guess you could say that I’ve viewed life from both sides of the fence. I understand the difference between going through the motions, and knowing and following God. It’s that empty religion that’s the problem–not God. It’s people who twist and use religion for their own gain that’s the problem–not pure and genuine religion as God sees it, and not God Himself.
How I got from point A to point B is a miraculous thing to me now. I was the one who couldn’t stand the name of Jesus. I was the one who reacted objectionably when It was even suggested that I was a Christian (at that particular point in time I wasn’t) “No, I’m not!”, I protested. I didn’t want to be associated with that! I was also the one who was handed a Bible tract at the mall by an elderly lady. (In a way you could call that an invitation to get to know God.) However, when I opened it up and saw what it was, I couldn’t throw it in the nearest garbage bin fast enough. To me, it was just “religion” as I understood religion. I was wrong. I was wrong about a lot of things.
I never wanted this. I never wanted to find out more about Jesus, but thankfully He wanted me. While dating Andrew I had to make my choice, and so I did. I committed to the journey–not only the life that I’d share with Andrew, but also the one I’d share with Jesus. Twenty-three years later, I can honestly say that I have no regrets. I wouldn’t be writing this if I did. Instead, I’d likely be mocking and resenting something I thought was foolish too.
I do believe in the transforming power of God; I’m walking evidence of it. I do believe that the Bible is God willed and breathed–every word of it. People will call it foolish, or whatever their choice word is to describe what we believe (I did it too before I knew better), but now–more than anything–I just want those who don’t know Jesus to have what I have: not empty religion, but to know God. This is why I’ll keep searching for the words. I needed to be caught (or found) by Him. I could never have accepted the things of God otherwise; I could never believe what I believe without the help of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; John 14:26; John 16:8; John 16:13-14).
“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”–1 Corinthians 2:14
“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” –John 3:6-7
So, I guess that’s what I’d want those who believe that Christianity (or religion, if that’s how it’s viewed), is false, to know. It’s loving one another that matters to God. It’s freeing us from the bondage of sin and death that matters to God. If what I believed as a Christian were false, it really wouldn’t matter, but if Christianity is true it’s of infinite importance.
Despite what others might believe, I don’t believe that all roads (or religions) lead to God, more specifically to Salvation, which is a restored relationship with God. The only way to God is through Jesus Christ. He is the small or narrow gate, as Scripture puts it, through which we must enter the Kingdom of God. It’s not an easy way. It’s indeed the narrow way, meaning that the journey is difficult, but you know what? It’s worth it. Jesus is also the only way to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is deposited in our hearts–and is the guarantee of what God promises is still to come (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” –Matthew 7:14
“‘Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” –Acts 2:38
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” –John 3:16
“Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”–C. S. Lewis