I really like the blog Christianity 201. It makes me think, and pray, and study my Bible. A recent post entitled “Spiritual Relapse” pushed my buttons. The blogger was discussing what sorts of things might lead us to relapse into sinful behaviors we had abandoned when we came to faith. He used the model of recidivism among prisoners who have served their time and been released.
It is a model worth thinking about, if we agree that sin imprisons us and Christ sets us free. The author listed things that might lead us into sin, and one option was to hang around with the same people who were part of our sinful life in the old days. This is the issue that prompts parole officers to tell their clients that they ought not to spend time with their old associates in crime. It makes sense. Those old associates are almost certainly still doing whatever they used to be doing. They will want their old friend to join them in the same activities they all shared before.
I am forced to agree with the writer that it is dangerous to go back to old associations after you have reformed. A criminal who may have sworn off the life of crime while safely locked up may find his new resolve hard to maintain in the face of old friends and old habits. A new Christian may likewise find it hard to maintain his commitment to a life of faith when surrounded with dear old friends who think, and feel free to say, that Christianity is a crock.
Yet isn’t this exactly what Jesus told the Gadarene demoniac to do? Jesus delivered him of all his demons. The man cleaned up his act and got dressed and started behaving like a normal person. The people of the town who knew what a mess his old life was were astonished. Still, the man could certainly remember what they used to think of him, and might justifiably wonder if it were even possible for him to be assimilated into the town again. Yet Jesus told him to go home to the people who knew who he used to be and tell them who he is now, thanks to Jesus. He didn’t even have to tell the Samaritan woman to go tell people. She left her jug at the well and ran to tell them.
The issue for Christians, then, is that every Christian is not only saved by grace, but also commissioned to tell the good news. Who better to tell than people who know what you used to be? Then I think about what it would be like to attempt to speak to people who knew me when I was not serious about my faith, who saw me in some of my worst moments of betrayal. Would they even believe I had done any more than “get religion’” a condition from which I was likely to stray at any moment?
It is a good question, and it brings up one more. If I want my testimony to be true to my faith, how and where will I spend my time? I recently read City of Joy in which a young man chose to live in a Calcutta slum with the poorest of the poor. He lived a testimony of his faith and was recognized for his faith. He managed to retain his testimony, despite mingling with people of many religions and no religion. He lived his testimony, and that is a good thing.
Yet, when I think of Paul’s comments about trying very hard to do the right thing, only to be defeated by the sin working in him, I know I am not stronger than Paul. I might very well go back into the midst of people with whom I knew a life not anchored in Christ, and it could be extremely difficult for me to live and speak a faithful testimony. Those people know the real me, or the real past me. They know that people seldom really change, and even more seldom for the good. If I went back to past settings and associations, would my testimony ultimately be stronger or weaker?
I am not sure it is something I need to dwell on. God leads us where we need to go, and so far, he has not led me back to my past. Maybe that is the thing we need to remember most. When we turn to Christ, we stop needing to stress over our “calling.” We need simply to obey Christ each day and concentrate on living our testimony wherever he leads us. A Bible teacher once told our class, “Don’t spend a lot of time asking God what he wants you to do in the future. Better to ask what he is doing with you now.” I don’t plan to worry too much about how I would behave if exposed to old associates, because I don’t plan to worry about where Christ will lead me. I simply plan to go there.