First, just let me tell you how much I have learned from your site alone! I have had so many questions, and found so many answers to many of them here. My thanks to you for answering them, as well as those brave enough to ask them.
I don't know how to articulate my thoughts very well, so bear with me. I have several things on my mind. I come from a church of Christ background. My mom, dad, brother, and myself attended worship (almost) every Sunday morning. I got pregnant in high school, and stopped attending worship not long after my son was born. My husband and I only just started attending worship at another location just a short time ago. My then boyfriend and now husband are still married today for over five years. The particular church we attended was nice, and I know that all the members were only trying to do their Christian duties, but my family and I felt a bit judged at times. Not that it was the church's fault we stopped going; it was mine and my husband's. And it was my parents' fault that they stopped. I picked a bad time in life (my teen years) to be reckless and have sex before marriage, and it resulted in a child. Our son is wonderful and truly a gift! We are thankful he is happy and healthy. With the regular pressures we experienced every week at worship, combined with my new found pressures of being a mother, and wife who still lived at home with her parents, I guess I thought I just needed a break from the "church life." When I went to worship service, I was physically there, but not "there." I know that wasn't the right decision, and I hope I don't sound as if I try to justify it.
Not long ago, I started recalling certain sins I committed in the past. They literally became all I thought about every day! It drove me crazy! I had to know how would I achieve forgiveness from God and what I needed to do. But I must say, I wasn't happy about it. I was sad at the thought of knowing that if I died there and then, I'd most definitely go to Hell and all that was required of me seemed to be really hard work. I was really down and sad for weeks off and on because I knew I could be forgiven, it was just the matter of what God required me to do in order to receive forgiveness and make restitution. My mother has always used the scenario of a bank robber who has to return the money he stole after repentance and baptism - even if it meant going to prison. Now after months, through your site, and talking with my mother (whom I truly trust to give me a real biblical response) I'm pretty sure I will be able to acquire God's forgiveness after I repent and am baptized. I want to know if what I experienced was something sinners are supposed to experience at the start of the road to God? I'm not sure if my constant thinking and worrying about going to Hell and being forgiven was "godly sorrow," but I hope it was some, for a lack of better term, 'magical' point of the start of wishing to do right by our Father. Honestly, I am not real sure as to whether we'd be going to worship service every week and just trying to figure more of it all out, if I hadn't started worrying about my past sins all of a sudden. What do you think?
While I'm a bit scared to go through the initial process to forgiveness, I know it isn't enough to just want forgiveness or even pray for it. I know I have to give something back to God besides just being sorry and being baptized. That's why I talked my husband into going to worship after five years of not. It was difficult as my husband isn't familiar with any particular religious background at all, let alone, the Bible. I feel you have to get a good grasp on the Bible and God, know what is expected of you, then repent and be baptized. I also know not to forsake the assembly. From there it's an all-new hard life. My next worry is 'Is turning my life around to avoid Hell enough for God?' I assume probably not, so I'll think "OK, I want to feel however I am supposed to feel and love however I am supposed to love to get to Heaven," but how does anyone do this? Love can't just jump into you, can it? Whatever it is that God wants of me, I want to do as well as I can so that I don't go to Hell. But even after all that, is that still not enough? I want to feel how He means for me to. I have often had a problem of 'going through the motions' of things in life and never truly 'living' and experiencing them. This isn't something you do half-way so I know it needs to be done the right way or not.
My last topic I want advice on is controlling thoughts. How do we do that? I don't just mean sexual thoughts, but the teeniest little inklings that we normally wouldn't give any thought to. Are we meant to dissect and over-analyze every thing we think, along with our actions and why we thought those thoughts we had? After baptism, are you truly expected to never sin again? Growing up I was taught no, that God made us and he knows our imperfect natures all too well, but some of my family members have led me to question this a tiny bit. My mom told me once that after baptism, you join God. I know this. But if you slip-up, it's OK as long as you are sorry and ask for forgiveness right then, and never slip up again. Is this correct? How do you never slip up again?
I'm trying to 'practice' these days by preparing myself for how I need to be after baptism. I'm trying to change somewhat beforehand so that it won't be such a drastic change in lifestyle. I also worry if my husband will become annoyed with me after baptism, that I'll be so different to him after a while that I might drive him away. I catch myself thinking something negative about someone, or laughing at something I shouldn't laugh at I think, "Oh! I shouldn't have done that, God didn't like that." What if I didn't mean it. What if you take a thought back just to be able to say you did, so that God wouldn't hold that against you? Is this enough, or are we all, as Christians, bound to wholeheartedly to have wonderful beautiful thoughts about everyone and everything around us every day? And if we don't, and ask for forgiveness, our reasoning behind asking for forgiveness must be completely pure as well, correct; not just because we don't want God to hold that thought against us as well? I have to be honest and say, my reasoning would probably be just so God wouldn't punish me for that thought.
I know that I wrote you an essay! I apologize for my ramblings, and I look forward to any advice you can give me! Thank you for your time.
You certainly managed to take something that is straight forward and simple and turn it into a complex mess. :-)
Let's start with the idea of repentance. We just had a guest speaker talk about Defining Repentance. I would like you to listen to the lesson and read the passages mentioned. In brief repentance is a change of heart (your emotions) that causes you to change your mind about what is right and wrong that then leads you to change your life to match what you now know is true. Restitution is a part of this change because you realize that you don't want to profit from your past sins. See: Do I have to make restitution?
In regards to sin, a Christian doesn't make allowance for sin in his life. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). That is, a Christian is never content with being a sinner or excusing some sin with the idea that God will accept them anyway. Yet, at the same time, reality is that we are weak humans and sin will be an ongoing challenge. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I John 1:8-2:1). Basically, the idea is that you deal with sins as they happen, turning away from them, apologizing to God, and continuing on with your life as a Christian. It doesn't matter if you slip up once or ten times in a row, the response is the same. Too often we give up on ourselves long before God gives up on us (because He never gives up). Being a Christian is not about being perfect, but being forgiven.
Yes, controlling your thoughts is a bit more difficult than controlling your actions, but a Christian realizes that what you think precedes what you do. "And He said, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man"" (Mark 7:20-23). So we head the problem off at the pass. We pull our minds out the gutter of sin and focus on good things. Sure it is hard to break bad habits at the first. Usually it helps to minimize bad input so we don't have bad output. If you have a problem with using profane words, it helps to stop listening to movies and music that contain the words you are trying to stop using.
Temptation is going to happen and Satan can't tempt you without getting you to consider sin. It isn't whether a sinful idea crossed our mind, but what we decide to do about the idea. Do you reject it or give it further consideration? The Christian, on recognizing something as sinful, dismisses the thought as unworthy and finds something else to think about.
What happened in the past is something you are planning to do in the future. You are planning to "do" religion but not live it. When you got yourself into trouble, you had no connections with the rest of God's family. You saw yourself as an outsider to the rest of the church, not as a part of the congregation. You leaned on your physical family for help and support, but because you isolated yourself, you cut yourself off from others who could and were willing to help you as well. It is just an outline, but I want you to go through The Family of God and look up all the verses and think about what God is saying to you.
You are repeating your past mistakes because you are again planning on doing the minimal that you can get by with. Can you imagine you as a mother trying to get by with the minimal interactions with your husband and children? Most would immediately say there is something wrong in the relationship. The same is true with your future spiritual family. It shouldn't be a "do I have to go to church" but a looking forward to the times you can spend with friends and learn a bit more about what God thinks on various matters.
In several ways, you are trying to earn salvation, but salvation can't be earned. Each one of us are saved despite the fact we don't deserve it. That is what grace or mercy is all about. I can't earn my salvation -- God never owes me a thing. But God freely offers a way to be saved, and I, in my appreciation of His gift, can show my thankfulness by returning my love and obedience to the One who first loved me. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome" (I John 5:2-3).
Being a Christian isn't hard, in many ways it makes life easier to live because God teaches us how to avoid doing the things that make life hard. Switching bad habits is hard, but good habits eventually take over.
Thank you for your response. I really appreciate it. I think you are right about my trying to get by with the minimal. I'm going to have to do my best if I want to become a Christian. I will look up the verses and questions you gave me. It is comforting to know that God never gives up on anyone :) and I will always keep that in mind now! I guess that's why I am still here; maybe He sees that I can change. Also, thank you for clearing up the issue on controlling thoughts, I feel better knowing how to handle them in the future.
I read a question someone asked you on the web site in the past, he asked how he could get a love for God. You basically replied that fear is often the initial motivator, but that once you get started, love for God will grow. This is very comforting to me! I hope to have this experience one day soon. I want to be able to truly love Him in return and I know now that I need to stop looking at this as a contest or homework assignment, because as you said, salvation can't be earned. I just really hope the love grows.
The church we've started attending worship service at has been really great! These past few weeks have actually been enjoyable there and I know that I have learned. The preacher is an old friend of mine, and I think I'm seeing going to worship very different than I used to. I have been excited to go, which is new for me. Do you think it is possible, or likely, that I could inspire my husband to change and become a Christian with me? I love him and if the Christian life is easier, like you said, we should live it together. Thanks again for your time! You really helped me see some things differently.
"Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear" (I Peter 3:1-2).
I've seen it happen repeatedly that when a wife puts the Lord first in her life, her husband sees the changes and become curious. I've also seen women who are hit-and-miss in their religion whose husbands have no interest in the teachings of Christ. You have a lot of influence through the example that you give to those around you.