Faith: Don’t worry, God comes down to us
There is nothing that we can say or do that can exclude us from the love of God
When I was young I had a unique experience of growing up in several different Christian traditions and church communities.
This experience sparked in me an interest of religion and led me to ask questions concerning the Christian faith. I listened to all the different teachings that were being instructed in the various churches.
One of the first teachings I picked up on was that we are all born sinners and needed to ask Jesus for forgiveness. I was taught that lying, stealing, cheating, cursing, etc., was not only bad but that they were sins.
And if you sinned you needed to ask for forgiveness, because if you didn’t you couldn’t enter heaven.
Therefore, at a young age, this caused a deep sense of fear and shame. I truly wanted to be forgiven and saved. Who doesn’t want to go to heaven?
In hindsight, this installed a relatively unhealthy obsession with trying to make sure I was forgiven and saved. I was fearful that Jesus would come again and I wouldn’t have asked for enough forgiveness.
I feared that I would be locked out of the heavenly gates. As a child this deeply bothered me.
So, as I aged, I kept listening to what was being preached at the different churches I attended — seeking answers to my doubts and fears.
When I finally settled into a single faith community and entered confirmation, I inquired about this longtime concern of mine to my late mentor, Pastor Mark Anderson, of Crosslake Lutheran Church.
The response was simple but profound. He explained that God always comes down. There is nothing that we can do to make our way up to God.
It is God’s grace, love and forgiveness that is freely given to us and ensures us of our salvation. Not of our own doing but a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
This tiny bit of wisdom freed my fearful soul. My childhood angst concerning whether I would ever be worthy enough was removed.
And I have carried this life-changing wisdom with me ever since, returning to this truth any time I have my doubts.
There is nothing that we can say or do that can exclude us from the love of God. That is the radical and profound nature of the Good News that Jesus shares with us all.
There is no work or charity that can make us righteous. No specific tithe that can grant us salvation. No prayer that can magically save us.
Often you hear certain Christians calling on people to pray, “Jesus, I repent of my sins. Come in my heart. I believe in you. I want you to be my Lord and Savior.”
I prayed this prayer incisively as a child, yet gained no consolation. All this prayer does is centers it around yourself and your desires, thus becomes works righteousness.
Rather in this reframed thinking, it’s not about us. We have been freely given salvation and forgiveness through faith in Jesus. Nothing more.
We don’t deserve this gift, but it is ours to have, for God always comes down and meets us where we are.
Austin Nelson, of Minneapolis and Crosslake, is a pastor, church historian and Pequot Lakes High School graduate.