By Tamara Ockree
I had the great misfortune as a child of not being raised Lutheran. It wasn’t that I was raised by atheists, wolves, or anything like that. In fact, I was raised by Christian parents. We attended a non-denominational Christian church every Sunday, and I was taught a number of wonderful things about the Bible. I knew very early on that Jesus is our Savior, that He is the only Son of God, and that He died for our sins. I was encouraged to read the Bible on a regular basis and to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
I was, however, taught some incorrect things by my church. I was taught that, although Jesus’ death was sufficient for my salvation, I needed to be sufficiently thankful for His death. The best way to show Jesus how thankful I was for Him dying on the cross was to sin less and be baptized.
I was taught that in order to be baptized, I had to make a decision to follow Jesus and that this decision was only to be made for the right reasons. When I was 9 years old I made this decision, and I am being honest with you when I tell you that it wasn’t exactly for the “right” reasons that my church believed it to be. I decided to get baptized because I wanted to have communion and my church wouldn’t let you commune until you were baptized. My church didn’t use wine at communion because, like good evangelicals, we knew that drinking alcohol of any kind automatically called into question your Christianity. Instead, we had delicious grape juice and my 9-year-old self wanted in on the action.
As I got older it seemed more evident to me that my baptism must somehow be invalid. After all, as a 9-year-old I had promised to become an obedient child of God, and yet here I was as an adult still sinning. It seemed like sin was everywhere in my life. My sinning wasn’t decreasing at all and I certainly wasn’t getting better. I started to wonder if I was even saved at all. Could Jesus really forgive me for my sins when I had so obviously broken my promise to Him that I made in my baptism? I contemplated asking the pastor to baptize me again…maybe if I meant it this time I would do better and sin less.
I began to just go through the motions of being a Christian. I went to church, helped out where I could, smiled, laughed, and never let on that I was worried that I wasn’t even a Christian. I lived in constant terror of the end times. I was certain that Jesus would find me lacking and banish me to the fires of hell. I was in deep spiritual trouble and I had no idea to whom I could turn for help.
In 2003, I married Ben. He was raised Lutheran and understood that he was a sinner, freely forgiven in the gospel of Christ. In jealousy I scoffed at his beliefs. I told him that if he was really a Christian then he would certainly try harder to act like one. He drank beer, for crying out loud! How could someone think they were a Christian, yet place themselves in the peril that alcohol would surely lead to. Ben didn’t continue to carry the burden of his sins the way I did. He repented of his sins and let them go. He had assurance in his baptism and he truly believed that he had no reason to fear Judgment Day.
A couple of years after Ben and I were married, I took a confirmation class at his Lutheran church. In this confirmation class I learned that I had a lot of misinformation regarding what the Bible said about faith, sin, forgiveness and eternal life. I learned that baptism wasn’t some act of obedience that I had given to God, but was instead the free gift of salvation that He had given to me. I learned that we can never be perfect and that is why we need Jesus Christ. If somehow I could stop sinning, then there would be no need for a savior. I found out that I am simultaneously a saint and a sinner and it is only in death and the life to come that I will truly be made perfect. God knows that our flesh is weak, He knows that we are sinful, and He knows that we need Jesus. Through my Lutheran catechesis I learned these things were true and I was given a sense of peace and calm that I had never experienced. No longer did I fear the grave—no longer did I worry that on that last day Jesus would say to me “I did not know you”.
I am a little jealous of those of you who were raised Lutheran. You have been taught God’s true word and have taken comfort in the assurance the gospel gives, that Jesus died for your sins—all of them. You have been taught that there is nothing required of you for salvation, that the Holy Spirit was given to you in your baptism, and that there are no struggles that you endure that Christ does not endure with you. I am jealous because you’ve had this knowledge all along and I had to wait so long for it. Yes, I am jealous, but I take solace that this sin, too, has been forgiven because of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Now that I am a Lutheran, I can say with all certainty, “Come Lord Jesus!”
Tamara Ockree is the wife of Benjamin Ockree, who is a 2nd year seminary student at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She is the mother of two little baptized children of God and works at Walther Library on the campus of the seminary. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.