Growing up, I was a part of a certain tribe within the Church. Within that tribe, decisions to follow Jesus were more dramatic and obvious than the typical church you’d walk in. People would down walk aisles, get on their knees at the “altar” to pray (the altar was either a kneeler or the steps leading up to a sanctuary’s stage . . . for those who don’t talk my old tribe’s language), and change their lives completely–seemingly appearing to go from one style of person to a nearly opposite style of person.
There, people would be told, “There’s only one way to become a Christian: It’s everything or nothing.” I remember in those old, familiar days, churches would offer an entire slate of new things to do to counter-act the old lives of their new converts: “You used to party…now you sing in the choir. You used to sit at home and watch TV…now you go to Bible study and prayer meeting. You used to listen to the rock-‘n-roll…now you sing the hymns.”
The basic message was this: “If you’re going to ‘Come to Jesus,’ you’re not going to do it reclining on on the deck chairs of life or danglin’ your toes in the shallow end of the pool of faith.” You jump in at the deep end. So, a person would be directed to climb out of their full immersion in the lifestyle and ways of the world they formerly knew and to jump into a starkly brand new pool. To fully immerse their behaviors in the lifestyle and calendar and musical style and dress code of that church.
That approach to “making disciples” of Jesus has a certain sort of dramatic appeal to it, I suppose. All or nothing. Like an addict leaving their addiction behind. One day you decide enough is enough.
Of course, being in that world, it didn’t take long to figure out that when people “came to Jesus” like that, the effects were almost certain to wear off fairly quickly. As the last notes from the old invitational “Just As I Am” would fade, so, too, would the real intensity of whatever decision they thought they were making. The reason it faded, obviously, is that a human soul never truly changes from the outside–in. Changing a person’s church attendance patterns never makes them a real follower of Jesus. It just jams up their schedule a little more. Altering somebody’s hair styles, skirt lengths, music styles, or anything else for that matter only changes the packaging of a soul-deep issue, doesn’t it? Yeah. You’ve got to get to the heart of the matter…and that usually takes a lot of consideration. And time.
Well, what was Jesus’ way to change a heart? (If anybody has a worthy strategy, His would be best.) The Creator of humanity summed it up the means and purpose of transformation this way: “Love the Lord your God with your entire being. And love your neighbor in the way you love your own life.” To be exact, love God with “all of your heart and soul and strength and mind” (Luke 10). Jesus says that redemptive and long-lasting, transformed living comes from the inside–out. So, whether you walk an aisle or stay ratcheted down in your pew, the point isn’t as much about how it happens inside the building, as much as how it happens OUTSIDE of it. Love starts from the inside–and it works its way out in selfless love for our neighbor.
May that be Just As I Am. Even thought I’m not yet.