An Evangelical Pilgrim’s Progress

One of our visitors poured out her heart to me in an email, and with her consent, I’m reproducing it here with a few edits:

Having to come back to Manila was painful, not least because I didn’t know any church that didn’t see the gospel as only for unbelievers or where Jesus’ death for our salvation wasn’t used more as a guilt-trip tool to “give back to God.” It was a burden growing up in this kind of church, and I didn’t want to go back.

No, they don’t say you have to work for your salvation like the Roman Catholics do, but they still implicitly teach works righteousness by preaching “how to become better Christians” week in and week out. It was as if the sanctified life has become an end in and of itself. Yes, we were taught about grace but it was defined glibly as an “unmerited gift” or “something undeserved given to you by God.” They say that Jesus loves you in that He died for you when you were yet sinners, but you HAVE TO decide to accept this gift. Since deciding is up to you, well, the assumption is if you don’t then you’re just too depraved and it’s your fault for not wanting to clean up your act! (The result? A lot of church members who feel superior to both unbelievers and believers who are “struggling.”)

We were taught that we don’t lose our salvation and that our sins were forgiven once and for all when we became Christians, but whenever we do we were basically pointed to this verse, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us.” From what I remember, justification was never part of the picture (and it makes a load of difference if it were, don’t you think?). So it became a cycle of sinning and asking for pardon, sinning and asking for pardon. I remember when I was younger I would postpone praying and asking for forgiveness later in the day because I thought, I’m going to sin again anyway. How is this different from Roman Catholicism? Someone pointed out that being forgiven by God means you can go, but being justified means you can come. A subtle difference, but significant! I wish I knew it then.

How could they have not taught justification (among other things)? Sure, I’ve heard of that term here and there, but I only had a fuzzy idea of what it meant. I have heard of Jesus’ righteousness being “given” to us, but there wasn’t any clarity about it being a declaration rather than of us being made righteous. No wonder I was confused about why I still sinned even though I was given Jesus’ righteousness. They sure acknowledged that as believers we still sin, but I was never sure what to do about the guilt I felt when I did. I never understood the gospel fully and its implications until sometime last year (no kidding!). And yet I went to a Christian school from kindergarten to high school, and attended the church associated with it for just as long, and a few years more.

I doubt I’m the only one who has gone through the same experience. Even if “Christian” churches abound (in Metro Manila at least), I know many “Christians” who are, at worst, deceived into thinking they are saved just because they repeated a few words, or at best, confused or misguided (both described me, by the way). I tell my friends about being justified and the concept is foreign to them. I explain that there is a difference between accepting Jesus and being accepted by Him, and they have a hard time digesting that. A friend who attends Victory [Christian Fellowship] has despaired that she would ever amount to anything. She told me once, “Was I saved to be just like this?” (which I took to mean: a Christian who is not daring enough to step out and claim the “abundant life” that God has in store for her). Does the Lord really condemn one for not living one’s dreams? Is this man’s biggest problem—that they’re not living up to their full potential? It seems to me that a lot of them are missing the point and are still under a yoke (if I’m interpreting that verse correctly) just as I was, only by different forms. Considering my family I am also not 100 percent certain that they are saved.

I hope I don’t come off as being too negative or hysterical. I’m not saying these to disparage anyone. I also didn’t know better. It could very well have been me. I see how it is only by God’s grace (now I think I understand that term better!) that I am kept and led out of all that. I cannot even claim it was my love for God that saved me because about ten years ago I lay aside the faith I grew up in and started questioning it.

And it’s not because I have an axe to grind that I want to switch to another church, any church. It was a huge consolation for me to find Pasig Covenant Reformed Church online while still in New York. I will probably sound selfish, but it is important to me after what I’ve been through to go to a church where the Word is faithfully preached. It is important to me that my friends and others will have somewhere to go once they see the light. It is important to me for truth to be proclaimed to those who think they already know the truth.

I admit that my prayer life is practically non-existent after my ten-year or so wandering—just ‘arrow’ prayers for now—but I will be praying for the church as much as I can. May the Lord bless you and be with you and your family, however the new year turns out.

The writer lives in Caloocan City, too far from Pasig, that she can attend only occasionally. If anyone is interested in a new Bible study in this area, please send me a note.

Related Articles:
  • No Related Articles