When I first decided to surrender my life to Jesus, I treated Him like my insurance policy. The person who was preaching the gospel to me was so good at painting a picture of hell—the extremely painful heat that goes on for eternity; the torment and regret over decisions that can never be taken back. Who would want that?

And why would I say no, when all I needed to do was to pray, acknowledge that I was a sinner, believe in what Jesus Christ did on the cross, and give my life to Him? Then, I’ll be sure to spend eternity with God in heaven when I die. At the time, I thought “surrender my life” was just a pretty phrase to say while raising my hands.

I did not understand how this decision would affect my life. As long as I’m guaranteed entry into heaven when I died, I figured that I could still live as I did—be a good daughter, study well, pick nice friends, be kind to others, and live a successful life.

Where was Jesus Christ in the picture? Well, He had already died for me on the cross, He’s praying on my behalf in heaven, and someday, He’s going to return, but probably not in my lifetime. So, I can just live my life the way I want to, right?

I even had verses that I thought supported what I believed:

 

“The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” 

John 10:10 (NLT)

 

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

 

Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

Romans 8:32 (NLT)

 

“Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” 

Joshua 1:8 (NLT)

 

All these verses seemed to guarantee success in my life, just as I had imagined. I just need to read the Bible and follow the commandments—easy. I was good at following instructions. Until I realized I wasn’t. I failed over and over again. And even when I followed what the Bible seemed to say, my plans didn’t always succeed. I realized that “being good” was not enough.

Then along came my Philosophy professor, an atheist, who promoted that life is meaningless and that even the Bible says so in Ecclesiastes. My faith took a beating that semester.

If Jesus promised that I would live a rich and satisfying life, why does it look like it’s falling apart?

If the Bible promises that when I meditate on God’s Word then I’ll be successful, why are my plans not working?

If life has purpose and meaning, why does the Bible say it is meaningless?

I struggled for months. I seriously considered that God might be a myth and that atheism may be the best option.

Alarmed at the gravity of my struggle, my leader asked me to read and discuss with her R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. As I read the book, I realized how I had reduced God to Someone who simply exists, who created the world, who made the law to promote “being a nice and moral person,” and yet who keeps Himself distant and uninvolved in my personal affairs. It would be a couple of years later when this would be given a name by a group of researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Christian Smith and his colleagues in their book Soul Searching identified the phenomenon as “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

Smith described so accurately how I saw God: “a combination of Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: always on call, takes care of any problems that rise up, helps people feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process.”

This meant that I would have “a moralistic approach to life. It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person. That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.”

Because I had this view of God and the life I thought He wanted me to lead, when things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, I naturally doubted God and His goodness and sovereignty.

But God does not exist to make me feel better about myself and to fix my life the way I wanted Him to. He is not calling me to simply be a nice person and just live a good life. He is holy. He is King. He is calling me to a life of truth, repentance, and faith. Jesus Christ Himself described the kind of life He expects us to live:

 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Matthew 16:24 (NLT)

1. Give up your own way. We are to surrender our definition of who we are and the kind of life we should live, and be aligned to the identity and purpose God set for us. Pursuing His plans usually means we are shaken out of our comfort zone, because left to ourselves, we will simply live for our own pleasure.

2. Take up your cross. Suffering, sacrifice, persecution, and challenges of faith are part of life. Life with Christ will not mean that we will take an easier road than everyone else in the world, but He promises that His grace is enough and that He will always be with us (2 Corinthians 12:6–10; Hebrews 13:5).

3. Follow Jesus. We are to live like Jesus did. Now this sounds like it’s awfully hard to do because He lived without sin in this sinful world. But here’s how He lived His life: He was fully surrendered to God’s will, trusting in His bigger plan and doing His par to bring heaven here on earth. This is possible through the Holy Spirit that is in us who guides us and reminds us of the Word of God. Because of Him, we can reflect the image of God, serve Him with humility, and love others. But this can only happen when we know Him more and when we develop an intimate relationship with Him so that we can know and listen to His voice (John 10:1–18).

Social media has fed us with much expectation of the successful life. We feel like other people’s lives are way better than ours, and we try to figure out how we can achieve that kind of life. And even if we have decided to follow Jesus, it is tempting to pursue happiness, comfort, and pleasure on our own terms. But the Bible says that kind of life pursuit is meaningless. When we finally “get there,” we find that the reality is so far from our ideal and we’re back to square one.

Instead, the Bible exhorts us to a life that fears God and obeys Him (Ecclesiastes 12:13). We can trust Him even when our circumstances are not ideal because He knows what is best for us and He has gone to great lengths, to the point of sacrificing His own life, so that we can live the meaningful life He planned for us (Romans 8:28–39).

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