When I was about six years old, my parents decided to start going to church because my mom wanted what Peggy had. Peggy was my mom’s best friend. Peggy was Catholic. I was not sure what Peggy had except that it was something my mom didn’t have and going to church was the way to get it. So we all went to church; my father, my mother, my two older brothers, my younger sister and me. We all joined the church so that we could all have what Peggy had. Except we didn’t become Catholic because my dad had been raised Baptist and well, everybody knows the “pope is the anti-christ”. Somehow Peggy had managed to have this precious something that Mom wanted and it came from a church that we couldn’t join because, um, Catholics worship Mary and pray to the Saints and go to confession. I don’t know how Peggy managed it! Sifting through all that heresy and coming out shining so bright.
So we became Baptists with the threat of hell fire hanging over every move we made. It was confusing though because we believed in eternal security. And what I mean by “the threat of hell fire hanging over every move we made” is a constant feeling of guilt because I might be doing the wrong thing and therefore, sinning. And what I mean by eternal security is the belief that you can’t lose your salvation, particularly your salvation from hell. As the saying goes, once saved always saved. The confusion comes with sin being the thing that damns you to hell and, dang it, I’m always sinning. So how could I be sure of my salvation?
I worried that Jesus might come while I was at a high school dance. This voice was in my head, every dance I attended, “what if Jesus came while you are at this dance?” I never let my brain follow that train of thought. If I would have, it would have taken me straight to hell. I only got as far as embarrassment, like I’d be really embarrassed if Jesus came while I was at this dance right now, because obviously I’m sinning, right? Right? Am I sinning here at this dance, dancing? Oh, that’s right, I forgot, I’m dancing with boys! Actually touching them in an embrace.That’s probably a bad enough sin to cause me to lose my salvation, but wait! I believe in eternal security. Dang, this is so confusing, and scary.
My relationship with Jesus was born through fear of hell fire and damnation. That first year at church an itinerant preacher came through town preaching the good news. Repent of your sins, ask Jesus into your heart and when you die, you’ll go to heaven. Sounded like a deal I wanted to make. So when we got home, I told my dad that I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart. He was thrilled. My father was one of the most Christ-like humans I’ve ever known, so tender and loving. He guided me in prayer and I opened up the door of my heart and said to Jesus, “you can come in”. Back in those days I actually had a door on my heart with a tiny little door knob that only I could grasp and open. It was a sweet and beautiful moment.
Unfortunately I was never sure if it took. That is, I had to do it over and over again after every altar call. And each time my fear increased. I wasn’t sure I was saved from hell. I felt guilty, but I could never point to the exact sin that I was committing, it was a general sense that something was inherently wrong with me. The altar call for repentance amplified that feeling every time. I didn’t know why Jesus would vacate my heart, I was just scared that he had, or that he never came in the first time I had asked. I couldn’t be sure of my salvation and that was usually part of the invitation to come forward; the preacher would say, “If you’re not sure…”. I didn’t know where I would spend eternity; heaven or hell. And besides that heaven was just as scary as hell. They both start by dying.