Spiritual amnesia

Helen Bell | Nov 26th, 2010

My grandmother had dementia. At first it was hard to tell that anything was wrong because she covered up her memory lapses. But when she started to forget my mother (her daughter) it became obvious. She forgot grandpa and, towards the end, even forgot basic life skills. It was very sad to watch. Loved ones and life-defining events were forgotten. She had no memory of who she was and what she hoped for. Yet when she first became ill you could hardly tell. It all happened so slowly …

When I was younger I remember meeting people who used to be Christians. They smiled when they heard me speak about Jesus. They nodded and told me that they used to think the same way when they were young. The unspoken implication was that I would grow out of my 'youthful exuberance' for Jesus too. I used to wonder, "How does that happen?" So I asked them. For most there was no particular experience or point at which they thought, "Being a Christian isn't worth it anymore". Rather, they drifted. As other things became more important, Jesus slipped from their memory. Apparently, it all happened so slowly …

It's a sad thing when Christians forget who they are in Christ. In fact, it's more than sad, it's dangerous. At the beginning of his second letter, Peter outlines just how important it is for Christians to remember their identity in Christ (2 Peter 1:1-15). Our past, future, and present are all shaped by knowing Jesus. He has cleansed us from our sin (1:9). He will welcome us into heaven (1:10-11). He transforms us to be like him (1:3-4). Remembering these things leads to godliness and love, a strengthening and growing relationship with Jesus, and the blessings of grace and peace (1:2, 5-7, see also 3:3:14, 18). Forgetting them makes us ineffective and unproductive Christians, and threatens our future with Jesus (1:8-11).

Experience tells me that relationships can die. I have relationships that have become habits more than friendships. They don't benefit either of us. They aren't joyful. They just are. I have friendships that have ended. They got busy, I got busy, and pretty soon our friendship was just a memory.

Relationships need to grow and strengthen in order to last. It takes time and effort to get to know someone and to care for them. Further, the better you know someone the better you can care for them and they for you. A history of relating to each other with love and care builds trust and strengthens the relationship.

In some ways, knowing Jesus isn't that different. My relationship with Jesus sometimes borders on being a habit. I go to church, pray, and read the Bible, without actually relating to him. I don't seek to honour him, I don't experience the blessings of being close to him, and I’m not the blessing to others that I could be. To use Peter's words, I become ineffective and unproductive in my relationship with him (1:8).

If I kept this up long enough, knowing Jesus would be a part of my past, not my present. I would have memories of spiritual experiences but not the present reality. I would remember being close to Jesus, but wouldn’t actually be close now. Effectively, I would have forgotten who I am in Christ. It would all have happened so slowly …

Peter encourages us to protect our relationship with Jesus by relating to him now. We need to remember our past and future with Jesus and ensure that it shapes our present. We need to spend time with Jesus learning about him and how to please him. We need to act on that knowledge in obedience and love. As we do so we will experience his faithfulness and goodness, which will, in turn, strengthen our relationship with him.

How you are going with Jesus right now? What are you learning about him? What aspects of godliness are you working on? If I asked you "Why are you a Christian?" (not "How did you become a Christian?") what would you say? If Peter is right, remembering who we are in Christ requires trust and obedience today. That's how God will keep us Christians tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.

Forgetting who we are in Christ is not just sad, it's fatal. And it happens so slowly …

This article first appeared in the Spring 2009 edition of SALT magazine.