I have spent the past 18 years living as a Christian. Prior to that, I was a loud and proud atheist.
I have not changed.
My values have changed, but my personality has not. I am still the same impetuous, occasionally impatient, outspoken, laugh-out-loud, fearless person I always was. I did my own thing as an atheist, and I do my own thing now.
Being a Christian doesn’t prevent you from doing your own thing. It just changes what that “thing” is.
If your personality changes when you “find God” (for instance, if you go from being an introvert to being an extrovert), you’re not born again. Spiritual rebirth doesn’t change your personality – it magnifies it by aligning your values with God’s. God working through you actually makes you more “you” than you were before. In fact, God wants you to be as much “you” as you can be: He made you that way.
So, God doesn’t try to curb my impetuousness. He doesn’t chide me for being occasionally impatient. He doesn’t silence my outspokenness. He doesn’t hush my laughter, and he certainly doesn’t warn me to be afraid of life.
How I was then, as an atheist, is the same as I am now, as a born-again believer: Same personality; different values.
Way different values.
I mean, we’re talking 180 degrees in the opposite direction. From one split second to the next, I knew that everything I’d been taught about life was a lie, and that what the world had dismissed as lies was in fact truth. That’s what happens when demonic spirits are exorcised from you and God’s spirit moves in. Everything clicks into place, and you see things as they really are.
I remember loathing all things Christian when I was an atheist. I was never able to put my finger on it, the revulsion I felt whenever someone somehow identified as a believer. It made my skin crawl. But Jesus tells us that those who persecute and abuse his followers don’t actually hate them – they hate God’s spirit that rests with believers. And they hate God’s spirit because in God’s presence they are reminded of their sin.
I also remember hating and mocking even the concept of sin when I was an atheist. I thought it was ridiculous and I felt only contempt for those who believed such nonsense. The few believers I knew at that time would lower their eyes whenever I railed at them about the stupidity of their beliefs. I misread their silence as weakness when in fact their silence was their unspoken understanding of the source of my intense and irrational dislike of them. They knew what was going on, but they also knew that it would serve no purpose to try to enlighten me.
Pearls before swine, and all that.
Now it is my turn to be silent in the face of unbelievers. Maybe they perceive my silence as weakness, but I don’t care. I don’t mind when people abuse me verbally, because it raises the red “pray-for-me” flag. When they out themselves as sinners in pain, it gives me a clear signal of who to pray for.
Never be offended by anything anyone says to you, however cruel or unusual. NEVER BE OFFENDED. Jesus told us to pray for the offenders instead. When someone hates and abuses you for no reason other than your faith in God, take that as a cue to get to work. Be especially kind to that person, the way you would to someone who has just been diagnosed with end-stage cancer. Because that’s what sin is – terminal spiritual cancer. Don’t argue about God, don’t try to preach: just be kind. Get God to help you with this, because without God’s help, kindness will not come easily to you, if at all.
These are the things that God is teaching us to do while there is still time. These are our learning years, and after we learn, we are tested. If we fall short on our test, we go back and keep learning until we get it right. Scripture gives us a whole list of attributes and characteristics that aren’t welcome in Heaven, and life’s big and little lessons are a way of burning off whatever needs to go.
Be kind to those who are unkind to you. That is the biggest and hardest lesson of all, but without that firmly under your belt, you will never make it home.