The Ace of Spades: “Before I Was a Christian”

People say, “The older I get the less I know”.

I have come to realize that this is more of a true statement then I would like to admit.

I grew up in a “typical Christian home” where most things seemed black and white. I knew what was right and wrong. At least that is how I describe it in my ‘testimony’. In many ways I am incredibly thankful for the home that I was raised in by my parents and the hard work the put in to raise me. But sometimes I envy those who’s lives were a wreck in some way and then had a visible, dramatic transformation when they found God.  

Or should I say, when God found them.

Either way, I sometimes wish their story was my own. A story in which I would be able to look back on my life and proclaim, “See, this is what God did in my life. I was ‘this’ and did ‘that’, but then God dramatically transformed me”.

Maybe that is why I like Paul so much in the Bible; I love how his story is dramatic and compelling. There is a clear distinction from what he was to who he is. There is no fogginess in his ‘testimony’. He killed Christians and then dramatically turned into one.

And me?

I grew up in the church.

Fortunately, I haven’t killed anyone. I haven’t been in jail. I wasn’t even a rebellious wild child. The closest thing I ever got to rebellious was hanging out occasionally with the wild ones in high school.

Basically, I don’t have anything different that happened before I became a Christian.

And how was I suppose to? At 7 years old there was only so much wildness and rebellion that I could accomplish before my conversion.

I cringe when I hear people talk about what they did in their youth or sordid past and use the phrase, “Before I was a Christian”, as if that absolves or changes what they are today. Somehow I can’t use that phrase because I was saved at such a young age. So then do I have no excuse? Does being a Christian now change everything?

Does it change your ability to make bad decisions, screw up less and appear better then you were before?

The only thing that changed was that God lives and works through me.

And that death is dead to me thanks to Him.

It does’t negate the sin nature that is in all of us.

I become frustrated even more when I look at my own life and I don’t have the excusebefore I was a Christian”.

It’s as if “before I was a Christian” nullifies everything, and by everything, I mean sin and the nature of it.

Somehow after you become a Christian it changes everything. By everything, your ability to sin and do wrong.

When I turn and look inward at my own sin and struggles I feel shame and helpless to talk to anyone in the church because I don’t have my “before I became a Christian” in my stack of cards. I have the lowly 2 of clubs.

The judgement of, “You were a Christian at the time right?” expression on faces which are usually followed by the thoughts of, “How could he have done that and be a Christian?” Which usually leads to, “He was being disobedient to God” kind of thoughts.  I know these thoughts because I’ve thought myself about other Christians. And these thoughts permeate through conversations as well amongst well-meaning Christians.

For this reason I have often thought on many occasions, “I want that ace of spades card that trumps everything, the holy grail of all lines in the church (love this pun by the way), “That was before I was a Christian.”

It’s almost as if you can’t talk much about anything really bad that you have done as a Christian. Just about the only thing you can ask prayer for in small groups and gatherings after you become a Christian are the light sins. You know the ones I’m talking about, “Please pray for me because I’m really struggling with patience today.” Or maybe, “Please help me love my neighbor well.”

I feel I have to live this fake, sissified, and mostly unauthentic life called the Christian journey, or whatever other cliche term is used.

I want another card to play besides my lousy 2 of clubs. Can I at least get a queen of hearts?

Something? Anything?

Maybe a joker.

Thats the card I play.

The one that says I’m fine.

Everything’s fine.

I’m doing great, I really am.

But I’m really thinking, “I would tell you how I really am if only I had the ace of spades.”

What if there weren’t any cards?

What if this was an even playing field? The christian life isn’t focused on the cards you were dealt but rather a real authentic life. A life that still is affected by sin no matter if you are a Christian or not.

I would rather live an authentic life then hide behind a mask.

Anyone ever feel like this?

“Salvation is not magic. We’re still in a fallen world.” -Francis Schaeffer

  • Christin Slade

    I remember hearing in church some years ago, that when people ask us how we are, do we really tell them? So, Jonathan and I actually started telling people the truth about how we’re doing when they ask.

    It’s kind of funny when you see people trying to inch away as you tell them the truth!! LOL Oh well.

    • JesseHoover

      I think most people ask “how are you” just to be nice. Most people are afraid to tell people how things are (myself included) because either a. it can be messy or b. you don’t want to sound whiney. And most people when they ask that question expect to hear fine or good. But your approach would be a breath of fresh air to the ear the would be well receiving of the answer. Thanks Christin.

    • Lisa G.

      My husband and I feel the same way. I KNOW there are people who know better than to ask us now lol. If we keep it real,, then maybe others won’t feel so isolated in church when they are struggling with whatever their issues are.

  • Katie

    I have found myself using that line even though I was raised a Christian.
    But there is a level of awareness that occurs when you are a Christian.
    During my “rebellion” I never thought a moment of Christ. Either it was that I truly hadn’t met Christ yet or I was trapped by the stupidity of my youth. Not a care. I sinned and never thought of the consequences. I sin still, but now consult with Jesus about it.
    That’s what I consider a true conversion. A moment when you start consulting Jesus on everything in your life. Lord bless you if you’ve been able to do that since 7th grade!!

  • Sarah Z.

    SOOOO TRUE, Jess! I have felt/continue to feel this. So frustrating! For me, it can be a “pride thing”, if people truly knew the sinner I was/am, would they really even believe that I was a Christian? Thankfully, Jesus sees it all and loves me the same. So thankful for the forgiveness at the cross!

    • JesseHoover

      I am thankful as well!

  • Nate McCloskey

    Jesse, this is great. I see so many similarities between us, to be honest (not least of all the love of donuts and coffee). Having grown up a pastor’s son, coming to Christ at an early age, not being rebellious, etc., has often made me feel like I have to keep up a facade, and keep the intimate details of my deepest sins between myself and God. By Scripture says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous person has much power.” (Js. 5:16). I completely understand that longing to be able to live openly without fear of the “While you were a Christian?” judgment. It’s not seeking an excuse for our sins; more like seeking grace for them. So, thanks for this post, which makes me feel a bit more normal. Blessings!

    • JesseHoover

      Nate, I couldn’t have said it better, “It’s not seeking an excuse for our sins; more like seeking grace for them.” This statement is so true.

  • Sarah

    I was one of those people who was given the ‘ace of spades’ – and have used that “before” life to point to Christ as much as possible. I have, however, become aware that as I grow in my faith I may loose that transparency and vulnerability for Christ. I have started to pray for protection from the very thing you talk about…no longer seeing my sin now as big as my sin then, and no longer opening up to people…showing them that although Christ has saved me from so much destruction I still mess up on a daily basis and am no better than anyone else.

    • JesseHoover

      Sarah, great insight you made here when you said, ” I have started to pray for protection from the very thing you talk about…no longer seeing my sin now as big as my sin then, and no longer opening up to people…” thank you for sharing.

  • Kristin Potler

    Being a PK, knowing Jesus all my life, but still being a big time sinner…I think being honest about how we need God’s forgiveness is the way to go. My “conversion” story is really the time in my life when I was fully aware of what His Grace really meant. I had the head knowledge, knew the right words to say… but not the heart knowledge, not until He held up a mirror and showed me the state of that heart.

    • JesseHoover

      Heart knowledge is everything. It is what I struggle with trying to instill in my children.

  • Sarah (theGIRL)

    We all have ugly, pre-conversion pasts no matter how offensive the sins are to society. We also all have ugly, post-conversion sin no matter how clean our living looks to society. Share your sin struggles with those who get this, who care about you, and who love God with their whole heart.

    At least that’s what I’m learning….

    Thanks for sharing this and getting me thinking this morning!

    • JesseHoover

      Well said Sarah, “We also all have ugly, post-conversion sin no matter how clean our living looks to society.”

  • Mandy

    I appreciate this post so much. I have dealt with this myself! I also “grew up in the church”, and have felt slighted that I wasn’t given that time to do whatever I wanted, and magically have those things washed away when I became a Christian, like so many others that I’ve known. Like a get-out-of-jail-free card that everyone has the chance to have, but I missed out on because my parents cashed theirs in first.

    Despite being a “Christian” for most of my life now, I still did those stupid things as a young person, only I knew better. I knew God’s desires for my behavior and my actions, and I threw those desires in His face and did what I wanted anyway. I lived in regret for a long time once I came back to God, but I’ve since learned of God’s grace. The same grace that He extends to the people who didn’t know better is the grace that He gives me. Wow! What loves He shows to give me a second chance (and third, and fourth, and fifth…), the same way He does for the people who didn’t know any better and didn’t deliberately go against Him.

    Of course this doesn’t negate the thoughts/judgments of other people when you tell them the sins you committed while a Christian. I still struggle with how much to share with people, and typically don’t until our relationship has reached the point of being able to trust them with that sort of thing. Perhaps I am wrong in not sharing my struggles and my sinful past…I am still working on that one.

  • JesseHoover

    Grace is wonderful, isn’t it?

  • Kate Craig

    For a long time I thought my testimony wasn’t worth sharing because it was boring. Then I started really listening to those other people and their pain. And I finally said THANK YOU GOD for sparing me. And then I started working with teenagers, and I thanked God again that I could show them that it’s possible to not rebel and not have regrets with boys.

    • Kate Craig

      (not to sound like I didn’t sin and make mistakes, but God kept me from a lot of the big haunting ones)

  • grace calling

    Good stuff here, as always. I wish we’d have more grace for one another. I suspect we don’t have grace to give away because we don’t fully understand the level of grace God has given to us. Only when I received the grace and love from God was I able to begin giving it out to others.

    Janelle Marie

    “The judgement of, “You were a Christian at the time right?” expression on faces which are usually followed by the thoughts of, “How could he have done that and be a Christian?” Which usually leads to, “He was being disobedient to God” kind of thoughts. “

    • JesseHoover

      Janelle, I have grown in the last year in the area of really understanding grace. John Lynch co-wrote a book called, “The Cure” which has had such a huge impact on me and knowing what it means to receive grace as well as give it. It has slowly changed my heart towards others and look not out of judgement towards them but with graciousness. More info on the book is found here, check it out:

  • Lisa G.

    I’ve been a Jesus follower for 10 years. I have a “before and after”. But I have messed up alot in the last decade. The Lord is teaching me through that; to forgive myself and to have grace to others. I know that I put unrealistic expectations on how I thought Christians should behave, as if being a Christian meant you were perfect. No, we still sin, but the difference is we grieve when we do. And we repent. I guess the grass is greener, I look at the Christian friends I have who were raised in the church, and wish I had that! I wish I didn’t waste 18+ years going through what I went through. But I know that God uses that for good.

  • Jennifer Lambert

    I was just discussing this with Aaron the other day. He grew up in the church and he often doesn’t appreciate so many things that I do because he was “always” a Christian and never strayed. I came to Christ as an adult and I truly know the value of salvation since I was so lost. Luke 7:47

  • Sara

    The Cure! What great read to jar your paradigm loose from hopelessness or curmudgeon-hood ;) this whole mindset and drive to compare ourselves is a lie and a trap.

  • JesseHoover

    Lori, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond. I especially liked this, “Christians still judge me and can be the meanest people I know.” Because it is so true. One of the things I had worried about when writing this, was coming off like I don’t appreciate where I come from and what God has done in my life. However I also find it eye opening how you and I come from polar opposite sides and still feel relatively the same things, the need to be authentic with each other. Live an authentic Christian life, and giving grace to each other. Thanks again Lori!

    Side question, do you write at all? Either on your own site or for someone else?