I worked with a guy once that was one of the nicest people I have ever known. He was one of those guys that would literally give you the shirt off his back. He never seemed to meet a stranger and everyone always liked him. He was a very dedicated family man – over the moon in love with his wife and kids! Every weekend was dedicated family time and he wouldn’t miss it for the world… unless someone needed help. It was actually really amazing to me how much he seemed to enjoy helping people no matter what the need was – he was there to jump in and help. He became a real inspiration to me and so many others that knew him.
In contrast – someone else I knew was potentially one of the most worstest (yes I know that isn’t a real word) people I have ever known. This person could not seem to say a nice word about anyone – for any reason. There almost seemed to be a joy that was taken in talking about and judging others. It sometimes felt like you were being enveloped by poison to be around this person… But it was always done in a very sly way… You know – with caveat statements like “Now you know I’m not one to judge, but…” It was always that “but” that let you know that’s exactly what they were doing and someone was about to get skewered. I don’t remember ever hearing this person say anything positive nor do I remember ever seeing them reach out to anyone. I cannot remember a single time while I knew this person that they did anything remotely placing others in front of their own needs… I do remember them giving lots of looks of disgust, disdain and even hatred…
Now I’m sure you know people that probably match both descriptions. We all do. There is nothing extraordinary really in either example… except for one thing. The first person I described was someone I worked with before I went into ministry. He didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. In fact – he was a stand-fast, proudly proclaimed atheist.
The second person? A CHRIST FOLLOWER.
I wish that I could say the first story ended up with me being able to witness and introduce them to a relationship with the Lord. I really do wish I could say that. The truth is though that he got really sick and died unexpectedly and I never had said a word to him about my own faith in Jesus… because at the time – honestly… I wasn’t living my life according to God’s will or desire for my life. That was almost 20 years ago. I think about him often and how I failed him in that regard and that is something I will always carry. But I was able to help the second person… eventually.
Now, there are two ways to look at this. The first is one that I struggle with. That it is unfair that my first friend did not receive eternal life – even though he was a great guy who loved others, was unselfish to the core, never would speak ill of anyone and put others needs ahead of his own… while the second friend came to know Jesus and declared him as “Lord” – but walked around without even seeming to have a clue of who Jesus really was. Is it really laid out that way? We go to heaven or hell on technicalities? Claim Him, be baptized and you receive a “Get Out of Hell Pass” forever card? That is unfair if that’s true!
But like I said – there are 2 ways to look at it. That first way is pretty messed up – though it is the way many would have us look at salvation. The second way is really very well summarized in I John 2: 3-6. “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
That’s really much different than the “Get Out of Hell Pass” – isn’t it? I mean we can say all day long we know Him. That we have accepted Him as Lord of our life… But if we aren’t living the way He set as an example – we are liars… We are lying to those around us and lying to ourselves.
I know it doesn’t really answer anything about my first friend, though I know he certainly lived his life in many ways that would be Christ-like. Ultimately – God knows what really happened in my first friend’s heart just like He knows exactly what is in the heart of the second person. In both cases, ultimately, God is the only one that knows for sure… and I trust Him.
So what about the second person? Well… I’m not one to judge, but… the second person was a person with some truly twisted theology and a complete misunderstanding of Christianity. I know for sure this is true because that person was me. The key word being “was.”
Thankfully, I John 2 finally sank in and the example of my first friend was a catalyst in waking me up to a reality of who Jesus really was and is. Strange that it came in the form of a staunch atheist. But God truly is mysterious in His ways. I can now say honestly – that just as it says in I John 2:6 – I do abide in Him and I do try to walk as He walked… and I am so thankful for His grace and His mercy and His patience and His understanding with me… a flawed and broken and extremely – unlikely pastor.