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As soon as the phone rang I knew it was her, and I knew I’d have to make some sort of excuse. “I can’t make it to your party tonight,” I apologized weakly, “I’m just . . . just . . . not up to it.” There was silence on the other end for a few seconds. Then Katie responded, “Melissa, you haven’t been yourself for weeks. Please tell me what’s wrong. What’s going on?”

“I don’t know,” I stammered. “I’m just not OK. I feel lifeless, empty,” I admitted through my tears. “I can’t get out of bed. I don’t want to eat. The thought of leaving the house and facing a room full of people makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. I know I’m usually the life of the party, but trust me—you don’t want to be around me right now. I’m so sorry.”

And I was sorry—sorry that she knew the truth, sorry that anybody had to put up with me at all. Even from the depths of my prepartum depression, I knew I was a burden. That’s why Katie’s response couldn’t have been more shocking to me. “Oh, Melissa,” she said, “I don’t love you just when you’re happy and fun! I love you all the time—even when you’re like this. Our friendship doesn’t end when you’re at your worst—our friendship is for those times.”

I was speechless. This was a completely new thought to me. Previously, I had assumed that people loved me for my energetic personality, my friendly warmth, and my spontaneous sense of adventure. It had never occurred to me that people could find me lovable when all these attributes were gone. When that happened, I expected my friends to steer clear of me until I got myself back together. But Katie affirmed that true friendship doesn’t end with our shortcomings.

My Friend Jesus

My friendship with Jesus is the same. It doesn’t end in the bad times. It is for those times. Because I am His, I don’t have to worry about every little bump in the road destroying our relationship. A lot of Christians today live in fear of somehow offending God and losing their salvation. They worry that when they sin, make mistakes, or struggle deeply with temptations, that they are lost. One person I know calls this “beanbag theology”—as if we are as helpless as a small beanbag, being tossed from God’s hands to Satan’s, from salvation to damnation and back to salvation again, with every right or wrong choice. But the biblical description of salvation doesn’t look anything like this.

First of all, we learn that nobody—that’s nobody—can earn salvation by being good enough. “There is no one righteous,” the apostle Paul states, “not even one” (Romans 3:10). This may sound discouraging, but it isn’t. The Bible assures us that salvation comes through faith rather than our unpredictable actions. “For by grace you have been saved by faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9, ESV).*

Salvation after sin

So far this sounds like a relief, but what happens when we sin again after we’re saved? The Bible assures us that we don’t immediately become lost again: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV). Our willingness to seek Jesus and confess our sins keeps us in a secure relationship with God, even throughout our most significant struggles. We don’t have to live in fear. “If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1, NKJV).

When I accepted Jesus as my Savior and invited Him into my life, we began a journey together. And that journey doesn’t end when I’m at my worst. In fact, He loves me in spite of my worst. If I lose my temper big-time, tell a whopping lie, or covet my friend’s big house (or husband), it doesn’t mean I lose my salvation. I’m not saved only when I’m acting like the model Christian. I’m also saved when I’m shameful and sin-soaked. I wouldn’t become unmarried to my husband after a huge fight, any more than I become insecure in Jesus after a huge fall. And just as my husband’s forgiveness makes me love him more and want to be a better wife, it’s also true that when Jesus forgives me, I grow to love him more. I actually want to stop lying and losing my temper and all the rest, because His love compels me to be a better person.

But how does having the assurance of salvation work in real life?

A few months ago, my seven-year-old son Caleb went out in the garage and started playing with his daddy’s tools. We had told him at least a dozen times that “you are not allowed to play in the garage alone!” Although he knew he shouldn’t be there, I guess the magnetic pull of the hammers and nails and screws and saws was just too much for a curious young boy to resist. Once inside my husband’s workshop, treasures of all sorts enticed Caleb. He decided he would use a sharp camping knife to cut some pieces of cardboard into sword shapes.

I never did see the swords. What I saw was blood—lots of blood—on the kitchen floor, on rags, and on balled up paper towels all over the place.

When I finally found Caleb, he was hiding in the backyard with about seven bandages twisted around his hand. “Don’t be mad, Mommy!” he begged when I approached him. “I know I wasn’t supposed to play in the garage!”

I quickly reached for his poorly bandaged hand to examine it. The cuts were still bleeding, poorly wrapped, and in need of proper cleaning and care. “Caleb,” I began, “when something like this happens—when you get hurt, or you’re bleeding, or when you’re scared and need help—you don’t hide from me! You come to me. Mommy is a safe place. Even if you did something naughty—when you need help, you come to me. I will always help you, no matter what you’ve done.”

His face relaxed. I could see realization dawning and then relief. Where he had expected punishment, he found comfort instead.

I am just like my son. I go sneaking into places I don’t belong and end up toying with things that have no business in my life. Inevitably, my poor choices end up cutting me to the core, and I find myself in a place where I desperately need help. At these times, it might be tempting to think that I no longer belong to Jesus, that I’m not good enough to come to Him, or that I should hide from Him until I’m patched up a little better. But these are the times I need Him most! Instead of Someone to run from, I know that God is Someone I can run to in times of trouble.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,” Jesus offers, “and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). In my deepest failures or darkest faults, I don’t have to slink away in shame. Those are the exact times I cling to Him with all my might.

The assurance of salvation makes such a difference in my life, because it gives me the freedom to fall on God instead of fearing Him. Even if I’m angry with God, skeptical of His goodness, or struggling with sizable doubts, I know I can take even those things to Him. I don’t avoid Him until I have found some healing. Rather, He’s the exact place where I find the healing.

I can plead, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10, KJV). That’s His job, and that’s His promise. No matter how bruised, broken, or bloody I may become in this life, I have a Friend who is always standing by, ready to help me and heal me.

* Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Come Just as You Are

by Melissa Howell
From the December 2014 Signs