When I began exploring the Christian faith I’d inherited from my parents, I felt as though I’d rediscovered an antique toy in a corner of the attic. How have I never seen this before? I thought, amazed that I’d grown up with this treasure and was only just now experiencing its allure. Bible reading, prayer, and church suddenly seemed compelling. Listening to sermons and going to Sunday school no longer seemed like eavesdropping on boring grown-up conversation but more like talking shop with peers about a hobby. Above all, I was hungry for instruction—for guidance in how to go about deepening and enriching my faith. I wanted to grow, to change: shopworn and misused, these words nonetheless really described me.
It didn’t take long to find resources that promised the change I wanted. I read books and attended seminars that promised things like “seven steps to freedom”: freedom from lust, anger, worry, and resentment. I followed these steps. I tried to confess all known failures and surrender self-will, hoping that my devotion might catapult me to some higher plane of spiritual existence, like a gamer seeking to conquer lower levels to unlock the higher ones. I memorized Romans 6, flush with excitement that what Paul described there—the condition of being “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11)—could be experienced. That’s what I wanted: to know and feel myself to be as unresponsive to temptation as a corpse is to the prick of a needle.
Predictably, my zeal foundered on the shoals of my adolescent grudges and crushes. After lashing out at my parents, I later wondered, Why wasn’t I able to avoid getting so angry? Aren’t I filled with ...1