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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Vallejo

What does it mean to be a Christian?

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27 ESV

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become righteousness of God." Colossians 3:12 ESV

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God," Ephesians 2:8 ESV

I grew up in a Christian home. My salvation story begins as a little girl who put her faith in Jesus at the age of nine and prayed to God in bed late at night to "please let Jesus be in me." I remember putting my head and body under the covers, folding my hands and asking God to give me the Jesus I heard so much about. The next morning I popped out of bed and ran to my parents' room to tell them about my prayer. They were excited and happy, all smiles. I was baptized a few weeks later.

Accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior - check. Baptized/Dunked in water - double check (I get a double check because the water was COLD!).

I do not question the faith of the child I was, I remember being sure of my conviction. The child-me could not fully grasp my need for God or understand why God's son Jesus chose to willingly die on a cross in exceptionally painful circumstances so that I may be saved. I wanted Jesus - I was sure of THAT. Anything beyond knowing God loves me and Jesus saves me was not yet within my comprehension. And that's okay. I thought like a child because I WAS a child.

I also remember in vivid detail the first moment child-me got an inkling there was more to my relationship with God than one prayer and one baptism. It was a few weeks after I was baptized. My family was often at church, and all of us kids would play and learn in one area of the building while the adults spent time in worship and learning in the sanctuary. Sometimes the grownups watched movies. The night my bubble burst was movie night.

Playing that night was a movie about a man named Christian who is weighed down by a bag of rocks he must carry on his journey to the Celestial City. Christian meets all kinds of characters; Evangelist, Mr. Legality, Civility, and Morality, as well as Faithful and Hopeful. At one point Christian's friend Faithful is tried and executed by burning at the stake. Yes, as you may have guessed - the movie version of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress was the beginning of the end of my childhood naïveté.

I snuck into the back of the church to take a peak at the movie the grownups were watching, and it happened to be right during the moment of Faithful's trial. I remember laying under a pew and watching the man called Faithful burn on screen. I'm sure the special effects were terrible compared to current movie standards, but it was unlike anything I had ever seen. My heart pounded and I covered my ears as I heard the screaming.

I crawled out from under the pew, ran out of the sanctuary and never told anyone what I saw. For days afterward I suffered through nightmares in silence because I knew if I admitted why I was petrified to go to sleep it would demonstrate my disobedience. Child-me definitely felt suffering with nightmares was better than admitting my mistake. The nightmares became fewer over time, but it was months before they stopped.

So many lessons in this small story of mine. As a parent I look back at child-me and realize she missed out on so much by not admitting her sin and her need for others. My parents would have comforted me, loved me and held me when I cried. I would have endured a consequence for disobedience I'm sure, but allowing my mother to comfort me would have been worth it. But that is not the choice child-me made. Guilt drives a hard bargain and silence is often required.

There's a reason the kids were not watching The Pilgrim's Progress with the grownups that night. The material is meant to stir the senses and move the hearts and minds of Christians stuck under the misapprehension their journey with Jesus ought to look like a turn around the block when God asks us to climb a mountain. In other words, more is required of a Christian than merely existing. Definitely appropriate depth for an adult mind but not a child's. My stubbornness and independence caused me pain because I didn't believe my parents knew what was best for me.

There are important truths about life as a believer that child-me could not comprehend: 1) Repentance - Admitting my sin and my need for God, and 2) the relief of Forgiveness - Sharing the burden of my choices with my Savior and experiencing his grace.

I didn't know enough to mention my brush with movie night to God. I don't blame child-me but I am sad for her. Repentance and forgiveness lessen the fear and anxiety caused by isolation and processing alone. God knows my faults and loves me anyway. He comforts me as I bear the consequences of my poor decisions. While my nightmares may not have disappeared, sharing my fear with God and my parents would have provided an avenue for processing what happened and given my mom and dad an opportunity to demonstrate love and grace.

In addition - discussing my experience would give my nightmares context. Sometimes what we think is real is not reality. I spent a long time time wrestling with fear of what it means when I mess up, but also struggling with fear of what others do to Christians. I didn't know enough in my walk with God to fully work through that anxiety, so I ignored the fear hoping it would just go away. Eventually my knowledge caught up with that piece of my story, I no longer suffer from those particular nightmares (now my nightmares are altogether different - lol!) However, part of no longer living like a baby Christian is learning from my mistakes when I WAS a baby Christian.

All of us have little and big stories to process in our life-history. The Christian perspective provides the knowledge that we are LOVED by God our Creator, we are FORGIVEN for our sins/poor choices, and Jesus SAVES us with deep GRACE and provides a Comforter. We are not alone and that is HUGE! I'm so glad I do not have to continue in guilt and shame when I mess up, and I have a Savior to walk with me as I learn from my mistakes.

Today's podcast is a discussion of what it means to be a Christian, a Believer in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. There is so much richness in a walk with God, we cannot possibly cover everything in one podcast, or even hundreds. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions - we will be happy to discuss them with you!

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:16-17

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