Now I don’t know about you, but when I was a child, to a certain extent, I believed the things that the people I knew and trusted told me. I’ve grown up in a Christian household, with incredible parents who I love deeply and who raised me to know and to love God, surrounded by a church that did the same. I took what they said at face value - I listened, I understood, I processed and I filed it all away in a big “God” drawer in my mind. There’s a God who loves me, I do stuff wrong, that’s a problem, Jesus came to solve it - all filed away to be applied like multiplication and division, in the right situations.
Now as far as I can tell, there comes a time in life when people stop living off of the faith of others and discover things for themselves. I don’t know whether that day really came. I was blessed with many inspiring Christians in my life - teachers, family, friends - helping me to understand what it meant to follow Jesus, but still I engaged superficially. Christianity was great - I could talk about it and what I believed, but was my faith in God my own? I certainly thought so.
Going into year 11, I started to realise that I was wrong. I had the knowledge, the cultural experience, the lingo, even memories of times when I had felt truly close to God, but did I really know him? No. Did I trust him? No. Was I living my life for him? No. Strangely, I believed in him, but I’d spent my life living off of others’ relationships with him, never finding my own - acting like a Christian while distant from the one I claimed to follow.
In those years, towards the end of school, I realised something that scared me: it’s easy to pretend to be a Christian. I was scared of being found out, of people knowing I was a hypocrite, of what people would have thought of me because of it. I was lying to myself: “you’ve gone too far to turn back!” And as I felt further and further from God, “myself” unravelled, things I was sure of becoming fleeting, and things I once loved, a chore, then a pain. I changed, gripped by my sin and my lies. Looking at myself and my behaviour made it worse; I was changing, it was my fault, and the more I tried to stop, the more my strength failed me. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe that I that I could ever believe or be the person I’d thought I was, again.
But even in my darkest time, when I felt far from God, he was there, especially in the actions of amazing Christians in my life who, though they didn’t know, were blessing me so greatly. The gap between me knowing about God and the way they knew God made me desperate for a faith like theirs. Tension between my despair and the hope they gave me remained.
Something changed when I came to Oxford. It should have been a relief: there was no need to maintain the act far from home. But seeing so many people around me who knew and loved God turned up the heat. To see such community from people who barely knew one another, united by love for God and each other, trusting in him and each other, challenged me. God revealing himself through his people. So I discussed, debated and read, and things started to click into place that never had. I prayed that God would change me and I found his strength in my weakness. The standout moment though, was not seeing a change in myself, nor in learning something new, but one in which I realised the meaning of something I already knew.
I’ve heard about the cross more times than I can count - never before had it meant so much to me. In a moment of clarity, I realised that Jesus died for the sins not just in the world’s past, or my past, but for the sins in my future too.
Someone once pointed out to me that we go through life being loved and not known because we're afraid of being known but not loved. God knows me completely and loves me completely. He loves me with a perfect love expressed perfectly through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for the sins he didn’t commit, to conquer forever that same sin and death that used to bind me and keep me from relationship with him. And all that I need to do, or even can do, is to trust in him. And I do.
God knows (and has always known) everything that I will ever do and have ever done. Before the cross, he knew my every thought, my every fear, my every joy. He knew me in my unbelief and in my anger, in my despair and in my sin. He knew how far I would turn from him. And yet he loves me still, and always has. One love, one act, one salvation from the death I deserve for my sin. This is my faith: in he who died so I might live.