Third year Economics and Economic History. From Coventry in the Midlands (a very real geographical area). Fanatic for Football, FIFA and Fantasy Premier League. Support Coventry and Arsenal (I know, two teams, sorry).
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
I’ve called myself a Christian for basically as long as I can remember. At school I was always the one who would argue for Christianity in playground or RE debates. I went to church every Sunday, bible study every Tuesday and youth group every Friday. I even read my bible every night and made notes. Many will find it odd, therefore, to learn that as I look back on this period of my life, before I was 16, I have serious doubts as to whether I was really a Christian at all.
Although in my head I agreed with the principle Christian claim (that Jesus died and was raised from the dead to save me from my rejection of God), my heart was ruled by other things. Two things in particular spring to mind: romantic relationships, and a desire to be well thought of by others. Such things were the driving forces of my life; I placed all my internal validation and feelings of self-worth in them.
In hindsight, being a Christian was just one of many ways for me to feed these rulers of my life. I would debate the Christian viewpoint at school because I knew people respected me both for my debating ability and my willingness to argue in favour of unpopular opinions. I would go to church, bible study and youth group, not to get to know God better and to support fellow Christians, but to acquire knowledge to feed my ego and show it off to others.
Similarly, my decision-making and my motives were shaped by how I could extract the most validation from romantic relationships. Though I’m not naturally disposed to extreme emotions, my life between the ages of 13 and 16 was internally pretty volatile because it depended on how my relationship with whatever girl was at any given moment, and how much affirmation I was getting from her.
In Year 10 I threw myself into a particularly intense relationship. To be honest you can probably imagine me based on your own experience: I was the guy who suddenly started ditching his friends all the time to be with his girlfriend, and even when I was with my friends I was distracted and always on my phone. In fact, I threw an enormous amount of my self-worth into this relationship. It would be the first and the last thing I thought about in the day, and my day was structured around it. My motives were always: “How can I make this person pleased with me? How can I get this person to affirm me and make me feel loved?” When I failed in my attempts to do this, which was regularly, it could be pretty painful. Yet still I persisted in trying to validate myself and my identity in this way. To be honest, it was the only way of living that I knew.
When the relationship broke down I was crushed. Without a shadow of a doubt the first few months of Year 11 were the most miserable of my life to date. I’m wary of exaggerating here, as I know many people who have experienced far more horrific periods of suffering. Truthfully, though, it was still really hard. To have your main source of meaning and purpose disappear is a pretty tough experience, and to continue to see them around was tougher still.
However, I also feel immense joy when l look back at this time, because it is in that time that God worked most powerfully in my life - the time in which I think I became a Christian.
It is quite difficult for me to explain exactly what happened during this period. I remember being really impacted by the Bible verses from Romans 8 (quoted above) that, “ALL things work together for good” for those who love God, who are also called according to his purpose.
The force of this phrase is easy to miss, but I realised that, “God works all things together for good” doesn’t just mean God works all “good things” for good, but also means that God works “bad things” for good as well. This gave me great and joyful assurance in a hard situation, assurance that my break up with my girlfriend would work out for my good! I cannot begin to express how precious that truth was for me then and how precious it remains for me today. Indeed, God really did use this bad situation for my good.
Additionally, and maybe even more amazingly, this Bible passage also helped me to get a new motivation for my life: loving God. If you look back at the verses you’ll see that the promise of “all things working for good” only comes to those who love God. This changed my desires away from loving the praise and validation of others to simply loving God.
I say it helped only because I don’t think these verses alone were what freed my heart from its slavery of having to seek validation, praise and affirmation from other people, and changed it so that it desired God and sought his glory instead. It is difficult to explain exactly what did happen. The best explanation I can give is that someone called the Holy Spirit worked in me through these verses and many other things to change me so that Jesus, and not the admiration of other people, became the ruler of my heart and life.
There is a passage in the Bible where a religious leader comes to Jesus to ask him about who he is, and Jesus respond by telling him that in order to see and enter God’s kingdom he must be born again, but not a physical birth, but a spiritual birth. According to Jesus this birth is brought about by the Holy Spirit, who changes people’s hearts, enabling them to see God’s kingdom for all its beauty, and also enabling them to enter it (John 3). I think this is by far and away the best explanation for the change that happened in my heart when I was 16. No human explanation is sufficient.
Given all this, I can now joyfully and assuredly say that I am a Christian. Funnily enough, however, in some respects I am still very similar to how I was before I became a Christian. I still love to debate and persuade people of the truth of Christianity, I still meet with my church family three times a week, and I still read my Bible every day. However, my motivations and desires in all of these things have been completely and radically changed. My life is no longer ruled by the approval of others. I debate about Christianity because I want people to be saved from the penalty of their rejection of God and be in a relationship with him. I attend church because I want to praise God, to grow in my love of him, and to support my Christian family. And I read my Bible every day because through it God speaks to me, helping me to adore him and live for Him more.
On top of this I feel content outside of any romantic relationship. I no longer have my self-worth tied into an “other half”, shown in that I haven’t had a girlfriend for over five years. Thankfully, God has made me content in many circumstances of life: I am content when work is stressful and when exams go badly, content when career plans don’t go to plan, content when people mock me or look down on me for being a Christian. The reason for this, I think, is that my identity and my reasons for living, are not tied to these things, as they are for most, but are instead tied to God, his love for me shown in Jesus Christ, and his plans and desires for me. I have found that the love of God is an incredible place to put your identity, an unshakable place to put your self-worth, the ultimate and most satisfying place to find true validation. Indeed, it is the place where we were made to satisfy all these desires in the first place, the place in which we were made to really live.
If anyone has any questions or objections to anything I have said, particularly if you want to know more about how to find your identity in Jesus, then please do ask.