Confessions of a Church Brat

I’m a church brat. I’ve grown up haunting the halls of my Bible church, attending summer VBS, racking up the gold stars in Sunday School. It’s never been tough for me to talk the church talk. I know what the little old church ladies approve of, and I know what they frown at. It’s not overly difficult for me to please them. I know the church lingo and I know all the Bible verses…or, at least, the ones in the AWANA handbook that earn you badges.

And today, I realized that my affinity with churches in general and mine in particular lands me square in a potential category that I never associated myself with: the Pharisees and hyper-religious Jews in Romans 2-3.

Like the Jews, I have the Word of God in my possession. I don’t even know how many Bibles are in my home, in English, Spanish, and even Greek, leather-bound and hardbound, hefty commentaries and little pocket New Testaments. I’ve been taught in God’s ways since before I can remember. I’ve read through the Bible several times. I knew all the books of the Old and New Testaments from a young age. This isn’t boasting…it doesn’t have anything to do with me or my choices. It’s just how I was raised. Like the circumcised Pharisees, my upbringing and teaching was chosen for me. The blessing of knowing God’s Word was not one I sought out, but God was gracious enough to give it to me freely.

So what am I doing with this great gift? It’s not enough just to have the Word of God in my head and hands. Does it affect the way I live? Has it transformed my heart?

There aren’t a lot of young people in my small congregation. In fact, most of my friends had very different upbringings than me. Some have alcoholic or drug-growing parents, others had virtually no mothers or fathers influencing their young lives. They grew up making their own decisions, independent when they still needed guidance. A lot of them took this free reign for all it was worth and made some pretty bad choices. They wouldn’t be able to tell you if “Hezekiah” was a king or a book of the Bible, and could probably list about three of the Ten Commandments, even though they’ve doubtless broken a good number of them. So should I, the little church girl, sit in judgment of them? Because I grew up getting trucked to AWANAS, does that make me better than them? Because I have a head full of knowledge, does that make me more acceptable before God?

It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. Romans 2:13

I know the truth about God. But unless that truth is a reality in my life…unless I am living and practicing under the influence of that truth…then my knowledge means nothing. Unless Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and I am a disciple of His, then whether or not I read my Bible signifies nothing. And I can go to church every single Sunday of my life, singing every hymn and sitting in that pew through every sermon, and it will be absolutely meaningless unless the truth found in the Word of God has penetrated my pride and transformed my sinful heart.

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth–you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?

Romans 2:17-21

Unless this redemptive work has happened in my life, then I’m no better off than my pot-smoking, beer-drinking classmates. In fact, the Bible says that I am in a worse situation, because I have no excuse. know the truth, but I’m not living it out. I know the Bible and I know God’s standards, but I am choosing to ignore them. My friends are ignorant of God’s Word, but I am not. I know what He commands, and so if I willfully disobey, I am the greater sinner.

But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. Romans 2:29

Do we choose to follow God’s Word or do we go along with it in appearance without ever truly following God from the heart? Many kids who were raised in a church reject God in high school or college, ignore everything they know, and live without any concern or regard for His commands. Maybe you have not rebelled to this extreme (or maybe you have), but perhaps you are rebelling in a different way; in the quietness of your heart as you sit in that Sunday pew. You walk the walk and talk the talk but you’ve never truly surrendered your life to Christ. You judge others and pride yourself on the good things you do, and the bad things you don’t do, rather than understanding your position as a sinner deserving death and in need of the grace of God. You want all the glory for yourself, not for Him. You want to be the star of your own show, rather than being passionate for God’s glory.

Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. Romans 2:27

 If this is you, you’re on the same boat with your unsaved, unchurched friends. You’re a sinner and you need a Savior. What will it take for you to turn to Him?

Maybe you’re not sure of where you stand. You sure don’t enjoy being called a Pharisee, but you realize that your life could be called hypocritical. You’re more afraid about what people think than about what God thinks, and the good opinion of man means more to you than the approval of God. You are concerned that the way you act in church is only skin-deep and your heart has not experienced any real change. It is good to examine yourself to ensure that you are in the faith. Ask God to show you the true state of your heart before Him. Pray that He will make your sin real to you, and your need of a Savior.

There are good kids and church kids and there are bad kids and rebels. But apart from Christ, we’re all equally condemned before God. When we turn to Jesus and ask Him for forgiveness, then there aren’t any church kids and bad kids anymore; we’re all just saved sinners, undeserving recipients of the matchless grace of God, standing holy before Him not on our own merit, but because of the righteousness of Christ.

Church kid, you have the truth. What are you doing with it? Are you living by it and finding life and life abundant, or are you eating and drinking judgment on yourself? The choice is yours. Don’t be lulled into passivity because you’ve been baptized and do all the right things. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Are you living for the approval of men, or is your heart focused on pleasing God? These are the kinds of questions we church kids need to be faithful to ask ourselves.


3 Responses

  1. There’s a great book on the American church that has transformed my life. It’s called So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore. Thank you Keely

  2. Hi Keely,
    My name is Kim and I work at Awana headquarters as the Web copywriter. I appreciated this recent post and noticed you mentioned Awana. When and where did you attend Awana? I hope it was a positive experience in your life–it sounds like it grounded your faith. I’d love to hear more of your story so feel free to contact me anytime at

  3. Hi Kim,
    I did attend AWANA when I was a little girl at a nearby church (not my church). It was a really good experience, I remember many of the verses I memorized even today. I don’t remember how long I went but it wasn’t too long. My younger brothers and sisters love going to AWANAS during the school year now, and I think they’re much more involved then I was. It’s been great to see what an influence it has in their lives. I asked my littlest sister, who graduated from Cubbies last year, what she wanted to be when she grew up, and she told me, “A Cubbies leader.” It was so cute! So yeah I wasn’t as involved in the club as they are but it’s obvious they enjoy it and I know I did, too.

    No problem…if you have any other questions let me know.

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