Brian Fikkert opens chapter one with a story about a well-known pastor in the 1960s south who kept silent about the horrendous suffering of African Americans but lambasted civil rights workers for immorality. He wraps it up with:
Like many Christians then and now, Reverend Marsh’s Christianity rightly emphasized personal piety but failed to embrace the social concern that should emanate from a kingdom perspective. He believed Christianity largely consisted in keeping one’s soul pure by avoiding alcohol, drugs, and sexual impurity, and by helping others to keep their souls pure too….
Indeed, for many Christians James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:…to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Somehow, we often overlook the phrase that pure and faultless religion includes “look[ing] after orphans and widows in their distress” (page 36)
That was me. I used to believe that what God primarily wanted from me was holiness. In my effort to be a good girl and to please God, I made all kinds of rules for myself in high school:
- No skipping church.
- No dating, no kissing…no boys.
- No Bible, no breakfast. (Cute alliteration, right? I was 15.)
- Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
Of course, I wouldn’t have even considered the BIG no-nos. They didn’t even make the list, because I was taking piety to the next level. During college, my propensity to make rules for myself became a running joke with my fiancé, who made frequent obscure references to “rule #3” and “rule #97.” He married me anyway, and even stated aloud after 17 years together that I have not been high maintenance. I want this on public record.
I don’t regret all the days I got up early to read my Bible or all the boundaries that kept me from much regret and heartache. But I am thankful that God didn’t leave me in that place of laser beam personal piety. Somewhere along the journey, He allowed my heart to break for the world He loves enough to die for.
I shifted from being a moral Christian to being a Kingdom Christian.
There was that first time that I wept all through a worship service for those that were in prison because of the gospel. Finally, I felt things I had studied and memorized and recited.
There was the first time I spent the day visiting inner-city ministries. I began to learn that people and problems are complex and that only God can work this miracle of transformation.
There was the day that God sent a homeless woman to the door of our college apartment asking for water. My roommate and I invited her in and we loved her. Her gift to me was flesh and blood (literally, bloody feet) that wrapped around the disembodied word “homeless.”
There was the first time I met a real live woman from Africa and heard her speak on living with AIDS. She traveled thousands of miles from her home to my suburb to give a face and a voice to the big headline story of the moment. She was beautiful and intelligent and funny. My sister in Christ. That was the day I decided to work in international ministry.
And so many more days.
Step by step, God has worked this sanctification. I am still on the journey. Still sliding back into comfort and complacency. Still repenting and falling on grace. Still learning what love is. Still realizing how often I hurt people I think I can help. Still looking for God through a clouded window.
If you are reading this blog, you are somewhere on this journey too. What and who have God used to transform you into a Kingdom Christian? How are you continuing to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12)? Who can you encourage on their kingdom journey today?