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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Almost Persuaded

 Once there was a missionary. His name was Paul. He had been spreading the Gospel all over what is now western Asia and into eastern Europe. For his outspoken faith and bold preaching of the truth about Jesus, Paul endured many hardships. He often was turned in to the civil authorities for his radical beliefs. On one such occasion, he stood before a powerful Roman leader named Agrippa. Agrippa's only reason to care about hearing what this missionary had to say was the disgruntled Jews who brought Paul in to him. As a Roman leader, his job was to pacify and keep the peace of the empire among the Jews. So it was only fair that he give Paul a hearing and let him explain himself to the authorities. 
In Acts 26, Paul's lengthy speech before Agrippa is recorded for posterity and, as he comes to the climax of his remarks, Agrippa says to him, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian" (Acts 26:28). 
 This question has been on my mind for several days now as I've recently begun reading a book called The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel. The premise of the book is that, for many professing believers, they can talk a good talk; they can adamantly hold that they "believe in God" but they live as if He doesn't exist. They do not show forth their so-called "faith" by their actions and feel as though they can suspend their disbelief each time they enter through a church door. They can praise but never truly worship. They can know of Jesus but never know Jesus and never be known by Jesus. They are, quite frankly, "almost persuaded." 
 I see many in the modern church and society today who live by these standards and maintain that they sincerely do believe in Jesus, so I agree with Craig's analysis. If we're honestly looking at the truth, we might recognize a simple fact: if the heart remains unchanged, do these "professors" really believe in God as they claim to? 
 Turning inward, I also look at my own life, and I see areas of my life and seasons of the heart where I've been "almost persuaded" on more than one occasion. I want to believe but I can't quite seem to accept what God is asking from me. I want to follow Jesus, but I don't want to give up certain things in order to do it. I want to live for God, but even when the truth hits me dead in the face, I resist it. I am a holdout. Like Agrippa, I comprehend, but I don't let it sink deep. I understand, but I don't accept it. 
 In my better moments of honesty, I do see though that if I'm to love without fear, follow Christ wherever He leads, embrace whatever He gives or takes away, then I need to become fully persuaded and not just "almost." God cannot use half-hearted followers. Because half-hearted followers aren't really followers at all. Because they're not truly committed. They're not all-in! 
 I ask myself as I ponder this question first posed by Agrippa: are you truly all-in?! Or are you "almost persuaded?" It's a question that I must return to time and again if I'm to remind myself of what this journey of Grace-living is all about. I must come back to the profound yet simple truth that God wants sincerity more than show. God wants commitment more than talk. God wants my heart more than my than my professing of belief. He doesn't want me to call myself a Christian and then go do my own thing. 
 As I move forward in this daily progressing toward genuine and authentic faith, I want to believe without doubts. I want to be "fully persuaded." I don't want to be an almost-Christian. I want to be a follower of Jesus. I don't want to be a half-way believer who suspends her disbelief when the truth becomes inconvenient and when the God of the Bible doesn't match up with her own definition of truth. I want to be confident beyond any shadow of doubt that I serve a risen Lord and that He's alive and at work in the world today. I want to know fully that my life is in the hands of the One who created the world and all that's in it and that He is completely interested and involved in the day-to-day battles that I face. Many times, I may claim all this is true and still not fully believe it. 
 Perhaps the true prayer against this "almost persuaded" trend is what a man said to Jesus himself while seeking healing for his sick child: "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." If that's the case, I want that to become my constant request of God. Just maybe such a request might change me. Might change the way I believe.