Whitewashed Tombs

“I really hope I go to heaven,” Luther told me recently in the center. We were having a conversation about “doing Christian things” versus actually following Jesus. Leading up to that question, he brought up the fact that people try to judge others’ salvation based on what they’re doing, and he wondered aloud as to whether or not people go to heaven if they’re still doing unholy things.

That conversation was incredibly engaging for me because it brought up a lot of really important questions that many people who grew up in the church and consider themselves to be solid Christians have never thought of. The verse that immediately popped into my mind was John 17:3 which says, “This is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth” (NLT). To me, that means that if you know God the Father and his son, Jesus, then you are a Christian and are going to heaven.

Grace is such a difficult concept to understand. I took me a very long time to get it, and I’m still working on it. Jesus speaks about it all the time in the Gospels. He repeatedly called out the Pharisees for having great outward signs of religion, when in fact they were like whitewashed tombs (looking good on the outside, but being dirty and rotten on the inside). The most important thing is the focus of the heart, and I hope that hearing that message will alleviate some of the guilt and shame that the men of Emmaus live with constantly.

Having an assurance of faith is difficult when you’re carrying around a lot of baggage from the past. I struggled with this a lot, wondering how God could choose me despite all the things that I had done wrong. Then I realized that Christ is renewing my mind daily and he doesn’t expect me to be perfect in everything right now. One indication that someone is living in the Spirit is the “fruit of the Spirit” described in Ephesians 6. But it isn’t really our business to judge the state of someone’s heart. My deepest desire for the men is to see them be assured of God’s love for them and start to act out of that assurance to help themselves and others.

I love listening to the questions the men ask about Jesus, and Luther is especially good at asking them. I’m looking forward to talking with him more and learning more about it myself. Those reciprocal relationships are the most amazing things about the Ministry Center; they bring us together as one body of Christ.

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