Written by: Sarah Walker
“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)
We are saved when we believe that God sent His only Son to die for our sins so that we can live with Him in heaven for eternity. All we have to do is say “yes” to Jesus! No matter what we are going through, no matter what we have done, God is waiting for us to turn to Him and trust that He alone can save us.
This is basic Christian understanding! But isn’t it funny how some Christians then add on piles of rules and standards for anyone who attends church – even if that person isn’t a Christian yet?
As a non-Christian teenager, far from God, I had moved out of my parents’ home, and one Sunday, my unsaved brother and I both showed up at church. Neither one of us attended church at the time; I myself hadn’t been there for years. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, and we were surprised to see each other that morning. We were sitting in the very back pew quietly giggling and catching up. As the first worship song started, a long-time church member sitting in front of us turned around and very harshly snapped, “STOP TALKING! You both should know better!” In a time of my life where I was struggling, and where I had felt drawn to church that day for some reason, and where I would have loved to be welcomed back, instead I felt like I was basically told, “Behave, or get out.”
Years later, after I had finally said “yes” to Jesus, I briefly dated a guy from a good Christian family. After I shared some details with him about my darker years before I had turned to Jesus, he then went and told his entire family about my previous struggles. Soon after, I went to a family event at his home, not knowing that his family had been judging me horribly and gossiping about me behind my back. They were rude and cold to me the whole day, and I had no idea why. It wasn’t until he dropped me off that night that he told me, “My family thinks that you’re not good enough for our family…and I agree.”
I must say that if it wasn’t for a lifetime of my parents pointing me towards Jesus, (even in my wandering years), and laying down a firm foundation for my faith, I might very well have walked away from Jesus that day. I was a newborn Christian, feeling shaky and embarrassed of my past, and I felt like I was being rejected and shunned by the Christian people who I thought were going to show me love and acceptance, just like Jesus had.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
I grew up in the Christian world, and coming back into the Church was really difficult after my embarrassing years away. How hard it must be for some people to even walk through the church doors for the very first time, when there can be high standards and rules pushing them back out. How many people will not meet Jesus because they couldn’t pass the dress code, act in the proper way, use the right language or have the right reputation?
When asked which was the greatest commandment he replied, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-30)
I know from experience that “the Church” is not always very loving. Sometimes the “rules and standards” have become more important than loving our neighbor. However, God offers grace and extends His offer of salvation to EVERYONE, regardless of our rules and opinions. How I wish our compassion was as big as His!
Thankfully, I have since met countless people in the Church who love without measure. They are patient, kind, humble and compassionate. After that family, I quickly found a few friends who celebrated my new life in Jesus with me! They took great joy in encouraging me, and in watching me grow in my relationship with Him. They never looked down on me, but only saw me as the person that I was, and didn’t judge me by the things I had done in my past.
Some time after my discouraging encounter with that young man’s family, I met and fell in love with my husband, and I started attending the church where he served as pastor. One evening, at a women’s small group, we each took time to share our testimony. Each woman had an incredible journey with God in one way or another, and not one person was seen or treated any differently after sharing. It was my first time attending a church where everyone was genuinely loved from the moment they walked through the door! They are all wonderful examples of what a Christ-follower should truly look like, and what I want to be more like!
Love God, love others. Jesus made “the rules” simple! When in doubt, and unsure of how to act, that unconditional, gentle, accepting, compassionate love is always the way I want to lean!