If you've never been to a private Christian school, you might not understand what I mean when I say this: while some groups have their holy wars, we had a holiness war.
I don't know if the teachers saw it, but we all knew - there were three classes of people at our school.
There were the "spiritual kids" (the ones who checked all the boxes on the holiness list - who raised their hands in chapel, or if they were really spiritual, jumped up and down, the ones who prayed out loud in class, etc.).
There were the "decent kids" (the ones that didn't rock the boat, but weren't particularly "spiritual," either).
And there were the "bad kids" (the kids that actually got in trouble, at least once a week).
We faced constant pressure to "be more spiritual," according to the made-up list of super-spiritual things we were supposed to do.
I remember doing some of those things, but my heart really wasn't in it. I didn't really want to do them. I thought, "Maybe if I just raise my hands in chapel, the desire to raise my hands will follow. Maybe if I just join the service organization, the desire to serve others without recognition will follow."
The thing was, it never did.
I did a lot of spiritual things when people were looking, but in the everyday things, Christ was often completely absent. For example, when my mind was on boys (which was most of the time), Christ wasn't in the picture. Who I wanted to date, who liked me, who didn't like me...it was all about me, and how being liked made me feel. I never thought about how God said, "You shall have no other gods before me."
Or how about the kinds of things I said behind people's backs? Girls who trusted me...the way I would scoff at them in my journal or in front of my siblings. As long as those girls never heard what I said, I could still look "spiritual" at school, all day long. It was all about appearances. Who cared about my heart attitude?
I thought that my little list of proper, "Christian" actions would change my heart into a "more spiritual" and "more Christian" person. I think most of us did. The very heart of Christianity was lost on us.
What do I mean, you ask?
Let me first say this - I have often wondered, if I had one chance to go back to my school and speak to the students in chapel, what would I say? I've made up the speech in my head many times. Now I finally know the gist of what I would tell them:
Are you working really hard to be good? You are? Bad news - your works do not...cannot...change the state of your heart.
Do you see those people who are genuinely spiritual? The ones that actually want to read their Bibles, actually pray outside of school, and actually pursue holy lives? The ONLY reason they're like that is because God changed their hearts FIRST. Those actions that you want to imitate...those are only there as evidence of their salvation. Merely doing those actions can't save you. Only repentance - acknowledging you're a sinner who is hopeless to make yourself better - and calling on Jesus Christ can save.
Someone else has said it better than me, though, so let's look at how Jerry Bridges puts it:
"A person cannot be justified [absolved from guilt and declared righteous] without being regenerated [made a new person]."
"...I am concerned that there are thousands of professing Christians who think they have been justified, who think their sins are forgiven and that they are on their way to Heaven, who show no evidence of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. I fear for them that they will one day hear those awful words from the lips of Christ, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:23)"
Stop asking yourself how "spiritual" you can be in comparison to someone else. This is not between you and them - it's between you and God. So if you don't see evidence of real heart change in your life, maybe the question you should be asking yourself is, "Am I really saved?"
I am not being mean nor judgmental. I'm being biblical. Paul exhorts members of the early church to do the same. I'm not saying that Christians will never make mistakes, have "dry spells," or struggle with sin. But if your whole Christian walk is characterized by a dry spell in which you engage in unrepentant sin all over the place, you would do well to remember that "not everyone who says to [God], 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Can't argue with that - Jesus said it.)
To close, the reason I am telling you this is because I don't want you to leave here believing a lie. I want to see you in Heaven, someday, where we can rejoice together! I don't want you to be deceived until your life ends, and it's too late to change your mind. Think about what I said. Read your Bibles - see if it lines up. Be mad at me and call me a hater, if you must, but know that I love you, and only hope and pray that these words grow in your heart until they become reality.