I may be the only one that I know who was made fun of for being “too religious” at a private Christian boarding school. I would sit in the common area of the dormitory, read my Bible or another piece of religious literature, and organize prayer meetings and bible studies. I didn’t have many friends at school, because all I wanted to do was talk about religion. I felt that being “different” was the cross I had to carry to prove my worth as a Christian.
Even though I was doing many of the right things at a young age, I was doing them for the wrong reasons. Not only was I making other people uncomfortable by being judgmental, but I have to admit that I wasn’t all that happy. I sat down one Sabbath afternoon to evaluate my spiritual progress and came to the conclusion that I was serving God out of fear rather than love. I felt that if I didn’t measure up to God’s holy standard that I would be barred from heaven.
That day I made up my mind not to worry about going to heaven. I would simply focus on building positive relationships with God and my fellow human beings. God would decide if I measured up to the standard of holiness that he required. I would simply accept whatever decision He made on the Day of Judgment.
It would take a few more years of Bible study to learn that I could have the assurance of salvation, but at this point in my Christian walk, I found a measure of peace by vowing not to worry about making it into heaven. I would follow my conscience and focus on being a loving person. This decision was one of the biggest turning points in my walk with God.
During this period of my teenage life, I was reminded of 1 John 4:18 (NIV): “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I vowed in my heart to no longer serve God out of fear of eternal damnation. I would do my best to find peace in knowing and loving Jesus.
I have learned much more about salvation in the twenty-five years since that paradigm shift. I still refuse to even think about the possibility of eternal damnation. However, now I know I will be in heaven as long as I maintain a loving faith in Jesus. My salvation is not dependent on what I do, but rather on what Christ did in bearing the wrath of God for my sins on the cross.
Obedience is no longer a fearful obligation, but a blessing of gratitude. I don’t obey God to avoid being lost. I know I am saved. Now I am happy to receive the rewards attached to being an obedient child. The perfection of Jesus covers my imperfections. I love because He first loved me: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Charles Spurgeon wrote the following statement:
“For the child of God knows his good works do not make him acceptable to God, for he was acceptable to God by Jesus Christ long before he had any good works; and the fear of hell does not affect him, for he knows that he is delivered from that, and shall never come into condemnation, having passed from death unto life. He acts from pure love and gratitude, and until we come to that state of mind, I do not think there is such a thing as virtue…”