It changed my life. You’ve heard it scores of times. You’ve probably said it yourself.
But what does it mean?
Change can be plainly visible yet superficial. Or profound and barely noticed except by careful observation and inference.
We’ve all encountered the person whose ways and habits slip into the church unchanged except for the Bible tucked under his arm and the cross in his lapel. He’s used to being the center of attention, only now he’s dominating every Sunday school discussion and church business meeting, sometimes to the exclusion of those more qualified to speak and the detriment of everyone else.
Clearly something has changed or he would be home in bed instead of here in church on Sunday morning.
But it’s not enough to separate the wheat from the chaff only. “Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever” (Isa 28:28). “Threshing” (i.e., separation) may be the first stage of the Christian life, but maturity requires further refining.
I became a Christian late in the spring of my first year of college—that was 43 years ago, incidentally. When I got home for the summer, one of the first decisions I made was to stop going out with friends to the local bars. It wasn’t long before the news got back to me through the local grapevine : Something’s happened. Dave’s changed.
Truth was, I never really cared for the smoky, noisy, often crude atmosphere in which I socialized with friends. So it wasn’t a big deal to give it up. There certainly wasn’t any struggle to let go. It wasn’t a vital part of my life.
When I returned to school in the fall, I plugged into an entirely new circle of friends. I acquired a voracious appetite for every type of weekend training, Bible study and fellowship opportunity I could find. I was commended for my enthusiasm and devotion.
But the next time I went home, I began to second-guess my previous summer’s decision about socializing. I didn’t want to be pegged as religious, so I rejoined my high school friends, drank ginger ale and tried to blend in again.
And then, for the next couple of years, chameleon-like, I was religious at school (among my religious friends) and not-too-religious among my non-religious friends.
So what was going on here? Had I changed, or hadn’t I? Was I just another religious hypocrite, albeit one still palatable to my old friends?
The Bible provided an elegantly simple insight into my condition: I loved praise from men more than praise from God (Jn 12:43). That may sound dissonant to modern ears, but I have to give Tyndale credit for his illuminating choice of words (actually, the prayse yt is geven of men in his translation), as illuminating as this explanation for the Pharisees’ religious conduct: because they wolde be sene of men (Mt 6:5).
It became very clear. I took my cues from the company I was in. I soaked up every fellowship opportunity I could at school because it was gratifying in itself, but also because of how it enhanced my standing among my religious friends. I toned it down in the much different milieu of my hometown–but for the same reason, “loving praise from men.”
Like a stream fed by springs, my life was fed by something that straddled my before and after conversion existence. The issue was not carefully calibrating my life to stay within certain boundaries—cf., “a sabbath day’s journey” but no further—but dealing with something that superseded loving God with all my heart.
Hence another life. Regardless of your views on baptism, the symbolism in the ceremony says it all. Something is immersed, buried (your old life) and something else emerges as you are raised back up (a new life).
As I hope to elaborate in posts to come, the life you gain is wholly different from the one you had. There is no such thing as “serving” Christ on your own terms; in fact, that’s a contradiction in terms when the call to discipleship begins with “Follow me.”