Three Pleas to My Formerly Christian Friends

Many of my friends who once professed to be Christians have walked away from the faith. If you are one of those people, I want you to know that I still love you and deeply appreciate our friendship. But I also grieve for you and pray for you. I know we don’t have the opportunity to go chat at a coffee shop, and perhaps we never will, but as my friend I hope you will take 10 minutes to read what I have to say. I want to make three pleas to you; one to your mind, one to your will, and one your emotions.

A Plea to Your Mind

One of the most common reasons I hear for why friends have walked away from the faith is their experience with hypocritical Christians. Perhaps your parents were considered exemplary Christians in their church, but you knew what really went on at home. Or you listened to preaching or attended a church that was ruthlesslly legalistic. Maybe you experienced a nasty church split or suffered as the church people shredded your dad, their pastor, to pieces. I don’t know what you have experienced, and I don’t downplay it in the least. One person once told me as I walked through deep ministry waters, “God is good, but sometimes his people are bad.”

Hang on to that thought, because we’ll come back to it in a minute. For now, though, would you please consider this simple plea? Please do not measure the worth of Jesus by his worst representatives. I get it, if that’s what Christianity is like, then you want nothing to do with it. But don’t stop there. Find the best imitators of Jesus you can, and then make your value judgment.

If I wanted to persuade you that soccer is an amazing sport (and I think it is), I would be foolish to take you to my 6-year old daughter’s Saturday soccer “game.” It looks more like a tornado of todders than a soccer match. No, I would take you to Spain to watch FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi work his wizardry live. Why? Because he’s the best of the best. And beautiful soccer is a delight to watch.

My plea with you is, even in spite of your experience, to consider there may be brighter fields of Christianity. Seek them out. I say this with sincerity, because I know there are brighter fields. And we have to ask ourselves, “How can people claim to be Christians, but live as hypocrites?” This leads me to my second plea.

A Plea to Your Will

Earlier I mentioned the quote, “God is good, but sometimes his people are bad.” I think that statement is partially true. As born sinners, all of us do bad things, but God’s children have been given new hearts, and their heavenly Father lovingly disciplines them when they do wrong. So if we think God’s people are bad without any repentance or spiritual growth, then we are wrong.

Which leads me to ask this question: when you walked away from the faith, did you really choose to walk away? Or did you simply confirm externally what had always been true internally? God says that when people walk away from the faith, it shows they never really believed it in the first place.

“They went out from us, but they were not of us;
for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.
But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

1 John 2:19

In other words, your will was never enamored with Jesus Christ, at least not in a persevering, saving way. It had always been captured by a different love. More than that, your former experience with Christians may have been no experience with Christians at all, for they too may have never believed. The hypocrisy you witnessed was no true faith at all, but actually a “different gospel” (see Galatians 1:6-9).

So I make this plea to your will. Repent and believe in the gospel, not on the basis of former experiences, baptisms, or altar calls. Believe it on the basis of the finished work of Jesus Christ. Believe in his death as a substitute for your sin and in his resurrection as power for your new life. If you do, I can promise you will experience a radically different kind of Christianity than the one you walked away from. This promise leads me to my third and final plea.

A Plea to Your Emotions

As someone who has never actually believed the gospel in a life-transforming way, I plead with you—come, “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8)! You have never truly feasted on him. You don’t know what he is like. You have never known the God who formed the cosmos with his word, wound the clock of time, called and created a nation out of a barren couple, judged nations who sacrificed their children to false gods, raised the dead at funeral processions, granted eternal life by the death of his immortal Son, turned the world upside down with a handful of stubborn disciples, and now waits to commence the end of this age.

This same God is full of compassion for you. He wants you to know him, delight in him, and be satisfied in him. As Psalm 36:7-9 says,

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light.

I have hope some of you who read this will come to know the delight found only in Jesus Christ. This gospel which you already know so well is still offered to you freely. And I am always open to talk more. I will always count you as my friend, and I will always pray you hear my pleas to turn to Christ.

~CP

“I Didn’t Know God”

At first when he answered the phone I thought it was a joke. I had reconnected with a friend I hadn’t talked to in ten years. But he sounded nothing like the friend I used to know. I even told him it didn’t sound like him. Of course, that made things awkward for a bit. As we did small talk I went back over my phone and reviewed how we had reconnected. Same phone number. Same Facebook page. Same guy. And yet, totally different.     

I slowly was starting to accept the reality that I really was talking to my old friend when he clarified, “You know Cameron, we really haven’t talked in a long time. A lot has happened since then.” He continued, “I think I got saved 4 years ago.” I was shocked.

This is the guy I went to Bible college with. This is the guy who had wanted to preach his whole life. This is the guy who traveled on evangelistic teams to churches and spent his summers sharing the gospel with young people.      

He went on to describe for me his frustration at repeatedly trying to preach, but never being satisfied with it. He came to the point where he gave up on preaching entirely. But that bitterly low point of frustration caused him to realize something incredible. “I didn’t know God,” he confessed to me. “I knew about God. I knew about the Bible. I was drawn to the experience of preaching and the feeling that came with it. I think that is the same reason I was drawn to evangelism. But I didn’t have a real relationship with God.” 

He went on to describe for me how he started sincerely praying to and seeking God. And God changed him. Radically. So much so, he was a different person. Other people in his life began to take notice. “My wife asked me what had changed,” he said. “I hadn’t said anything about it at first because I didn’t know what to make of it.” 

Our unexpectedly awkaward conversation had changed into a mutually encouraging moment as he began to share with me the lessons God had taught him since his conversion. I apologized for being rude, and he accepted the apology, and we had a great time catching up for a bit.

When I got off the phone, I sat on our couch and stared out a window for several minutes. It was so stunning, yet so refreshing and glorious to see God radically transform one man’s life. This is, in fact, how the Scripture describes salvation.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Many people in this world gravitate towards religion for the experience. They confuse the emotional fervor of a thrilling worship service or shared moments of religious experience with a genuine relationship with the living God. Unfortunately, many church leaders today are guilty of encouraging this kind of behavior. It is a spiritually draining, inadequate substitute for your soul’s satisfaction. If you are in one of those categories, or find yourself in one of those kinds of churches, you can be free from the emptiness that comes with religion apart from Christ. Look to him. He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).  Only he can satisfy the desire in your soul for something better, because he is the “something better” you are thirsting for. 

~CP