Growing up, I was clearly taught that Christians went to Heaven and those who didn’t believe went to Hell. As a teenager, my mindset was definitely that I had to be living a life that was pleasing to God otherwise I would end up in Hell. I was terrified of this possibility. Whenever my life was on track I had a sense of peace and believed I was on the path to Heaven but when I was living in sin feared I would end up in Hell.
When I came to true faith at the age of 23, it was in large part motivated by my fear of going to Hell. I knew that I had been living a sinful lifestyle for a number of years and believed this had separated me from God. I realised the things I had been taught as a child were true and that I needed to turn away from my sinful life putting my whole faith and trust in Jesus’ death on the cross to get me to Heaven one day.
At this point my life changed dramatically and the vices I had been unable to shake off fell away and became mere temptations, in certain circumstances, rather than things that I felt I couldn’t live without. It was only later that I understood what had actually happened when I had asked God for forgiveness of my sin and help to lead a new life: that He had exchanged my sinful life for the perfect life of Jesus once and for all. That this was something that could never be undone or changed and that I was now guaranteed eternal life in Heaven.
I was (and am) immensely grateful to God for sending Jesus to the cross and thankful that Jesus willingly submitted to the will of His Father. I determined to serve Him with my life and to try to live a life that pleased Him knowing that when I inevitably failed, my sin had already been dealt with. I'm not talking here about earning my salvation or trying to pay God back. I wanted my life to be a testimony of what God had done for me in sending Jesus. I had been saved for good works not by them.
Obviously, there were emotions and feelings involved at various stages in this process but the reason I became a Christian was because I realised the Bible was true, I believed the warnings about rejecting God, and I wanted to go to Heaven one day. The Bible detailed how God had provided a way of escape from the “wrath to come”. and I wanted to take it. I had a healthy fear of God. I responded trusting that if I confessed Jesus as my Lord and believed in my heart that God raised Him from the dead I would be saved (Romans 10 vs 9).
Now, I constantly find that I’m being confronted with sermons, and conversations with Christians, suggesting that if I don’t feel certain things towards God, or the person of Jesus, I cannot be saved. That coming to faith due to a fear of Hell or a desire to be in Heaven is not a legitimate reason and not enough to save. That I have to be attracted to the person of Christ and not just to the stuff He offers including eternal life. Books like Desiring God by John Piper also contain this idea.
My question to those suggesting this is, what if I don’t have these feelings? Should I attempt to manufacture them? My conversion had little to do with being attracted to Jesus and everything to do with believing His instructions to repent. I feared the consequences if I didn’t obey!
We are frequently told not to rely on our feelings because they will lead us astray. Attraction and desire are both things that are subjective and therefore subject to change. Personalities and temperaments can be very different. I may not be a particularly emotional character and I may not feel certain emotions towards God. Does this make me less of a Christian than someone who is more emotional?
We are clearly told that we should love God and seek to follow Jesus. Some have turned this into a sentimental love where Jesus becomes almost like some kind of divine romancer. I’m guessing this comes from the Scriptures about Christians being the Bride of Christ. However, this isn’t speaking about individual Christians but the church as a whole, and it represents a sacrificial love that gives itself for the other party not a romantic love.
For those who, like me, struggle with the modern move towards a more emotional relationship with God. I find myself coming back to Jesus’ words in several places in John’s Gospel:
“If you love Me, keep my commands.” (John 14 vs 15)
“Whoever has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me.” (John 14 vs 21)
There is nothing here about attraction, desire or feelings. We are also told that we will recognise Christians by the fruit of their lives. Someone may appear to have a very close walk with God due to their visible emotions but their lifestyle may contradict their proclamation.
I discovered that my life only changed when I truly repented of my sin and trusted Jesus. This is one of the reasons I know my salvation is genuine as I couldn’t sort my life out myself. It was only when I recognised that my sin had created a barrier between me and God and that this needed to be dealt with by Jesus that my life changed permanently.
Let’s make sure that we aren’t adding requirements to salvation and remember that:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3 vs 16)