Perhaps our personal Savior doesn’t feel so personal at times. For years, I knew He was my Savior, I knew the ransom He paid for my soul to be free in Him, but He still seemed quite out of reach. In fact, when I prayed, I was kind of bypassing Jesus subconsciously, thinking, listen, I need the Father, the One in charge here.
It wasn’t until I stopped reading the Bible sporadically and intentionally read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), that I felt like I knew who Jesus was. I thought I did, because of the centrality of His character in the Christian faith, or I knew I should. But in reality, He was not much more than a character in the story to me, not too different from Moses or Joseph or Esther.
A Different Reading Plan
Can I also tell you that I start each year with the best laid Bible-reading plans, only to get discouraged and confused around the end of February or early March? (This year, I started a chronological reading plan, and even today, I am hung up in Numbers.) For the rest of the year, I’d read my Bible to support Bible study and random passages during church—which all added value to my faith journey in their own way—but I always felt like I was failing in my reading.
It wasn’t until my church launched a new reading plan one year. This time it began in the first book of the New Testament, Matthew, rather than in the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis. I planned to ring in the New Year, ready to be a better, more committed “me” in all facets of my life, just one of which was my faith.
Now let’s be clear, we don’t earn our way to salvation. Salvation is a free gift, bestowed upon us the moment we utter, “I believe.” God doesn’t want us to strive for something that is already ours. He isn’t asking us to do more in order to be better. He doesn’t require our checklists to be completed; He does not get the same satisfaction we do from striking through tasks. No, He wants us to walk more closely with Him. I needed to know Him better.
So I started reading each day, about four chapters per day. I was clearing that to-do list each morning: Jesus is born; Jesus has an earthly ministry; Jesus dies; Jesus rises; check. Matthew—check. Jesus is born, earthly ministry, dies, rises—check. Mark—check. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus—look at who Jesus is. He was showing me something else in these pages. He whispered through the words of the Gospel passages, “You are beloved. So are they.”
In Luke chapter 7, we are told a woman who lived a sinful life wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair. I know we are Christians, but that is weird, right? So weird, we aren’t meant to gloss over it. She must’ve lived in an outwardly sinful way to have the reputation of a sinful woman. Yet, she knew Jesus was the Messiah, and all she could do was fall before Him and weep with repentance and try to dry His holy feet.
Simon, a Pharisee, assumed Jesus didn’t know the woman’s reputation and that was why He was allowing her near Him. Jesus beautifully demonstrates that His love is not solely for those living an outwardly holy life. In fact, those of us enslaved by sin—all of us (1 John 1:8-9)—are the ones He is trying to reach. “Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). Whoever has been forgiven much, loves Him that much more.
So my bad choices, my propensity toward recurring sin despite wanting to be better (Romans 7:15), can actually be channeled to a greater love? When I realized that through reading this story, I fell at His feet and wept, too. His love and grace poured like a waterfall off the pages. I’d never seen it before. Living Word.
Then, I wanted to know everything the Bible said about God. I wanted to see all the other hidden gems and mysteries of the Bible. It gave me a hunger for the Word, a hunger for Him. He showed me that treating my faith like just one arbitrary component of my life, only to be addressed in a small window daily, is a limited way to live.
Now, I understand the Savior, the King, and my heart loves Him in a way that is similar to loving family members or a close friend. It’s a unique love I can’t fully articulate, except to call it the love of Jesus. Amazing love. Now, I want all to know this love. I can’t keep my faith compartmentalized. I can’t chameleon my way through life. His grace did not save me to be lukewarm.
Too often, we present a rulebook before an open heart. Too often, we cast our own judgment against a hardened exterior before we see a broken heart in desperate need of someone to say, “I love you just the way you are today,” trusting the Holy Spirit to do the work needed. We forget that we were first loved with all our brokenness and expect others to see Him in our own carefully crafted exteriors. We forget it’s loving Him that leads us to desire to walk in His ways. It’s not first a love of holiness, but of feeling loved, thorns and all, by Him who is holy. We must embrace our neighbors in the lives they are in today, not first labeling them as holy or not, but as His beloved. Beloved, not belittled.
We love because He loved us first (1 John 4:19). But to know He loved me first, I needed to see how He loved the known sinners of these Gospel pages.
This is the foundation for a life in Christ. We don’t need to be able to regurgitate the order of every king of Judah and Israel to please Him. We don’t need to be able to craft the best words in prayer and offer them up. We only need to know the depths of His love and grace for others, for ourselves. Way better than a checklist.