Updated: Feb 10
It's awesome. I mean that in every sense of the word - awesome.
But before I go into detail about the experience that a Christian has, I need to dismantle some false assumptions about what a Christian is. The following statements do not mean I'm Christian:
1) that I grew up going to a church or still go to a church
2) that I believe in "God"
3) that I read the Bible
4) that I believe I'm going to Heaven instead of Hell
5) that I have conservative values
None of those statements, according to Jesus Christ (upon whom we get the word Christian) actually make someone a Christian. Jesus spent a majority of his ministry calling out the religious crowds who essentially believed all five of these assumptions. Yet, they weren't Christians. This is important because many people think they have experienced Christianity because they held these assumptions, but in fact had no real taste of the living Jesus Christ.
I'm not going to spend the entire article defining what a Christian is, but I want that to be clear.
Back to the point....what's the Christian experience like? And more specific to this article, whats it like to experience Christianity at first?
To start, it always begins with a bang. Both kids and adults who meet the real Jesus recognize two things. The first thing that happens is the Holy Spirit awakens the persons conscience to its highest state - called holiness. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God who lives in people today; He is a direct representative of the living Jesus. Therefore, when the Holy Spirit enters a person, the first logical result is an awakening to holiness. This experience is disturbing because 99% of humans naturally think they are "good people." They are, after all, kind, helpful, charitable, neighborly, etc. But holiness is the highest state of the human conscience - like being at the peak of Mt Everest - and at that level, the reality of every sin, lie, lust, deceit, manipulation, bribe, cheat, gossip, sense of pride, bitterness, unforgiveness, and selfishness comes to light. It's like a light switch turned on in an old dark room and the roaches scatter in every which direction. The "good person" realizes the reality of a new standard - God's standard, which brings them face to face with their sinful nature. Sure, they had a great moral resume, but they aren't nearly as good as they thought they were - not even close. Perhaps for the first time, the real damage caused to themselves and others due to ongoing sin patterns and selfish decisions come to the forefront. It's quite uncomfortable and hard to sit with, but along with the discomfort, there comes newfound radical self-awareness that's goes far deeper than mere personality. Although heavy at first, it's also freeing. Facing the truth is the first step to freedom. From there, the authentic person behind the array of masks and personas can come out of hiding; they are finally able to stop pretending they have it all together. They can let go. They can surrender. The Holy Spirit bring a new clarity and acceptance to their soul - they know they don't measure up to their own standard, let alone God's standard. Their religion, morality, and social standard are futile compared to this holy experience. This is the first thing that happens when becoming a Christian - realizing how far we have been from God, and how much we need forgiveness for the sinful nature that's been running the show.
But the Holy Spirit doesn't leave the person there stuck in their sin like a two wheel drive truck caught in the mud and unable to get out. The first part - conviction - is admittedly quite uncomfortable, but the second part - comfort - is the like being hugged by God. While it is the Holy Spirit's job to convict of sin, it is also the Holy Spirit's job to comfort in love. Somewhat like a truck stuck in the mud, the person is now aware they cannot get themselves out of their own sinful condition. There's no amount human effort, moral behaviors, or religious dogmas that can change the sinful nature that they're in. It's stuck. For good. There is no way to "be a better person." That is just a secular phrase for self-made religion. It won't work. A truck that merely tries harder to get itself out only digs itself deeper into the mud. The only way out is with a power greater than itself. Here enters the grace of God. It's the only thing powerful enough to come to the rescue. Furthermore, it's objectively true, love-inspired, and all-transformative. It's at this point that God's grace completely and comprehensively overwhelms a person with a newfound sense of being loved and forgiven like they have never known in their entire lives. They feel the powerful presence of grace and mercy wash over them in a way they know they truly don't deserve. They feel a new birth, a new life, and a spiritual washing effect rinse off the mud. In this moment, God is breathing a new spiritual identity into a person. He is not making this person religious (by modern definition); rather, He is making them spiritually alive. The Bible doesn't say God turns bad people into good people. It says He turns spiritually dead people into spiritually alive people. This experience is why the Bible describes it something like being "born again."
At first, the sight of our muddiness is disturbing and uncomfortable; it's hard to admit that we are "muddy" people who need to be washed. But then, after accepting the fact that we see the mud, and admitting we can't get our selves out of the mud, God's grace washes it away. At first, we realize how far off we are from God; but then, we realize how much God loves us, has always loved us, and how far He willing to go - namely, to death on a cross - to bring us back to Himself.
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)
Notice how the experience of becoming a Christian is transformation, not tradition. It's relationship, not religious dogma. It's miraculous, not moral duty. Too many people believe they are Christians because they hold one or more of the 5 assumptions above, but experiencing the love and grace of God is foreign to them. No matter how many of those assumptions you hold and adhere to, they won't get us out of the mud that we are stuck in. The only thing powerful enough to rescue us is the grace of God made evident to humanity through the living person Jesus Christ.