In the Bible, when someone receives an act of healing, Jesus always affirms the faith of the individual. When someone encounters Jesus, he or she reaches out in an act of faith, knowing that Jesus is capable of healing them.
Today, one’s “conversion experience” may look a little different. True, the act of faith is certainly there. We know that when someone comes to Jesus, it is the Holy Spirit’s drawing us, in conjunction with faith in Christ, as well as our own free will to receive God’s gift. But there is another element at play.
I received Christ when I was seven years old. I heard stories about this Jesus guy, that he loved me and that he wanted to have a relationship with me. As a person with a disability, Christianity had a particular appeal to me. Like some characters in Scripture, I was one viewed as weak. As someone with a disability, I certainly knew that I was different from others. I couldn’t do some of the things other kids my age could do – I couldn’t ride a bike, I couldn’t do sports, and I certainly was no track star.
Most of all, I was terrified of the idea of going to hell when I die. After all, what seven-year-old kid wouldn’t find that terrifying?
Others come to Jesus for different reasons. Perhaps they are drug addicts. Perhaps they come from dysfunctional homes. Perhaps they have lost one or both parents and are forced to raise themselves. Perhaps they are victims of violent crimes. Perhaps they were born with physical or mental disabilities. Or perhaps they, like me, fear death. Or perhaps they simply want to go to heaven.
Thinking over some of these things, I realized something that I at first found a bit disconcerting.
One’s Christian walk begins, at least in part, with some element of selfishness.
If you need more proof, consider the traditional Western model of evangelism. We want to save souls (more properly, we acknowledge that God uses us as his means to save souls). How do we appeal to our people? By talking about Christianity in terms that sound appealing. “If you accept God’s gift of salvation, you will live in heaven when you die and receive an eternal reward.” Or, “Jesus loves you and wants to save you. He wants to rescue you and bring restoration to you and your life.”
While all of these things are certainly true, notice where the focus is. If someone comes to Christ, THEY get something out of it.
So it was with me. My weakness and my fear of death compelled me to choose Christ. I came to Christ for selfish reasons.
But the remarkable thing is that, as one progresses through his or her Christian walk, things begin to change. For the Christian, the Holy Spirit is constantly changing us into the likeness of Christ, gradually restoring the image of God in us that was marred by the Fall. One eventually comes to realize that the Christian life is MUCH MORE than what is traditionally presented to us by modern evangelists.
As the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer, one becomes remade more and more into the likeness of Jesus. That’s one of the remarkable things about Holiness theology – it’s not what we do ourselves, but what God does in us.
As I progressed through my teen years and into my twenties, I discovered that the idea of a “reward” for my faith – be it in heaven or on earth – did not matter quite as much as it did at the beginning of my faith journey. The reason? Through his regenerative work, the Spirit transforms us. Where we might once have begun our Christian journey out of a selfless motive, the Holy Spirit has transformed the believer. We have moved – or, more properly, the Spirit has moved us – from a spirit of selfishness to one of “selfless-ness”. Once, we did Christian charity with the expectation of reward – now, we do Christian charity for the benefit of others, and often, at the expense of our own selves. What a radical difference!