Becoming a Christian
The Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ, did not come to the world in order to bring a doctrine; he never lectured. Since he did not bring a doctrine, he did not try by way of reasons to prevail upon anyone to accept the doctrine, nor did he try to authenticate it by proofs. His teaching was really his life, his existence. If someone wanted to be his follower, his approach, as seen in the Gospel, was different from lecturing. To such a person he said something like this: "Venture a decisive act; then we can begin."
What does that mean? It means that one does not become a Christian by hearing something about Christianity, by reading something about it, by thinking about it, or while Christ was living, by seeing him once in a while or by doing and staring at him all day long. No, a setting, is required- "Venture a decisive act;" the proof does not precede but follows, is in and with the imitation that follows Christ. That is, "when you have ventured the decisive act, you become heterogeneous with the life of this world, cannot have your life in it, and come into collision with it. Then you will gradually be brought into such tension that you will be able to become aware of what I am talking about. The tension will be also having the effect upon you that you understand that you cannot endure it without recourse to me -- and then we can begin." Could one expect anything else from the truth?
-- S. Kierkegaard, excerpt from the book 'For Self-Examination'
The distinction Kierkegaard makes between false and true Christianity is sharp. Terms like lecturing, reasons, proofs, and doctrine are on the one side, life and existence on the other. Also, Kierkegaard’s' characterization of how Christ brought people into Christianity is a good one. "Venture a decisive act; then we can begin". Jesus required a death to immediacy, and that death was to start by 'venturing a decisive act'. This decisive act causes the tension between our selves and immediacy, making Jesus needed for recourse, for salvation.
For many people, this decisive act requires a sacrifice of worldly things. Jesus told the young rich man to sell all of his possessions (which he loved having). He told the disciples to give up their way of life and follow him, a fellow Jewish peasant. He told a man who wanted to bury his father to let the dead bury the dead, give up all that you have, and follow me. Most importantly, He told every human being to abase themselves and live the life of a lowly man. In today’s age a lot of these sacrifices are still relevant. Riches and money are still prized very highly, honour and respect is something everybody craves. Nobody wants to live a life of servitude and abasement, even if it is for Jesus. Point is a sacrifice is required, and it always ends up being something very precious to us. Personally, my 'decisive act' has been very different and non-materialistic in nature.
I was born a 'Christian'. Religion was ingrained into me from the earliest possible age. There was no choice in the matter to where I stand on certain issues; faith was never needed to be a Christian, because it came very naturally to me. Not only did I go through the motions, but I honestly believed that I was a good Christians and things were going well. Needless to say, my 'old man' (to borrow a term from Paul) expressed itself fully in how I related to God and fellow Christians. The flesh, immediacy, and temporality had a hold on me more than it normally would have had. I am not talking here of 'sins of the flesh' or living a superficial Christian life, I am saying that my entire religion, philosophy, and worldview was unChristian in nature (but of course I thought it was Christian).
(NOTE: If anyone is confused as to why I think the Christianity of my youth was not the Christianity of Jesus, alot of what I write in this blog is a reaction against the Christianity of my youth.)
Once I gained an intellectual independence, and gained the ability to start thinking for myself, I started to doubt and question everything that I previously held so dear. As Kierkegaard once said (my paraphrase), "to doubt Christianity means to not know what Christianity actually is" (Which is indeed very true for this stage in my life). After a prolonged period of gradually slipping into a more independent and less dogmatic frame of mind, things started to get difficult. Giving up my set-in-stone theology and black-and-white worldview was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. God was the most important thing to me, and to give up not only the comfort in the fact that I am "100% right and the rest of the world is wrong" but also the idea that getting on God's good side is achieved by simply 'getting saved' was terrifying for me.
After my entire spiritual existence was cast into doubt, the anxiety started to rush in. Whenever I read a 'heretical' author and found myself agreeing with him, I would get an anxiety attack that made me honestly think that I will be doomed to hell for eternity because of what I am currently doing. It was soul-destroying to go through (perhaps when hearing about it, it may not seem like a big thing, but trust me it felt like a spiritual suicide). My childhood had made me feel spiritually and intellectually sheltered, and even when I broke free of that shelter and realized there was a world outside, the shelter would still torment me constantly.
Now, I view that ghastly period as my 'baptism of fire' so to speak. Although the anxiety attacks and 'emotional imprints' still come back from time to time, I feel spiritually reborn (I would even say 'born again'!). What was actually keeping me from discipleship with Christ was my Christianity. Christ has become more to me than simply a metaphysical atonement for my sins (which I used to think weren't that bad, I was a good kid), or an object of worship. Christ has become my Lord and Saviour, and it pains me to have Christians think that I am a heretic or backslider.
Disclaimer: I mean no disrespect to those on the more conservative side of Christianity; I do not intend to make judgments. All that I know for sure is what it did to me.