I heard a lot of dragged-from-the-brink-of-hell testimonies growing up. You know the kind – forty minutes of money, drugs, and sex, about five minutes of “Hallelujah, Christ saved me,” and then an altar call to the tune of something sentimental like “Just As I Am.”
My own story isn’t that glamorous. My sins weren’t particularly notorious. But God chose to save me anyway, and for that, I will be forever grateful.
Salvation from Hell
While I was still young, my parents left the mainstream church we attended in search of something deeper. They wanted to find Christians who were committed to Christ, a church where God was at the center. They found that at a conservative non-denominational church in southeastern Ohio.
I grew up in that church. I was a good church kid: I got good grades (in homeschool), I didn’t get into trouble (at least, a lot less than my siblings did), and I went to church with my family.
I was also a budding computer scientist. Dad would sometimes bring home old computers from his workplace, and I’d take them apart, put them back together again, and make them work. That was all well and good, except for one thing:
We were never allowed to have a game console. Video games were a waste of time. But I became adept at smuggling games into the house and hiding them so I could play them in secret. Harmless, you say? Not to me. I was disobeying my parents, and I knew it.
So when we went to revival meetings one year and heard the usual fire-and-brimstone revival messages and the fate of those who lived in rebellion against God, I was scared.
I knew God said “Children, obey your parents.” I also knew I’d disobeyed Him. In some ways, the fact that I’d broken His commandment over such a trivial thing as video games made it worse.
So I waited until we were home (because I was shy, and would never have walked to the front of the tent past all those people) and while Dad was putting the kids to bed, I told Mom I was scared to die.
We waited until Dad came downstairs, and then they walked through the Roman Road (a summary of salvation from the book of Romans) with me and we prayed. I felt better. A few weeks later I was baptized, and I knew I’d go to heaven when I died.
That is, until I sinned again.
Salvation from Sin
I don’t remember what it was. Maybe I got in a fight with one of my siblings. I don’t know. After I got over it, I was scared all over again. What if I’d lost my salvation?
You see, we were taught that if you weren’t careful to live a holy life, you’d lose your salvation. Eternal security, the belief that true Christians would make it to heaven no matter how badly they sinned, was branded as a doctrine of devils.
From that time on my life was a vicious cycle. I’d be “clean” for a while, and then I’d do something wrong and lose all confidence that I was actually saved. My inability to lead a sinless life made me sure something was wrong… Christians were supposed to be holy, right?
By this point, my dad had been elected as one of the two elders of the church. I couldn’t look to “the pastor’s kids” as an example; we were the pastor’s kids, and we were about all the example our church had. As far as I could tell, no one else had the same problem I did. So I buried my worries as best I could.
The other elder started an evangelism class. Most of the young people were involved, and for the first time I started spending time with my peers at church doing something other than Monopoly. We learned about presenting the Gospel, and how to give a defense for our faith if we were challenged.
I always had something of an intellectual streak, and the opportunity for debate meant that apologetics struck a special chord in my heart. I started listening to debates between Christians and unbelievers on my own time, learning all the arguments and counter-arguments.
Then one Wednesday evening, after Bible study, a friend challenged me with a simple question:
“If Christ took the punishment for all of our sins on the cross, then for what are unbelievers punished?”
Our back-and-forth on that question opened me up to a whole new world of theology. I turned to the Scriptures to prove him wrong, and in the process, learned a lot about Calvinism, the Gospel, and myself.
I spent months listening to and reading everything I could find on the relevant Scriptural passages. I fought, I argued, and eventually I was forced to admit I was wrong. But in the process, God did more than change my mind – He changed my heart.
You see, one of the fundamental principles of Calvinism is that everything (and everyone) has one primary purpose: to glorify God.
I began to see that as I read through the Psalms. I saw it in His creation, and I saw it unfolded in the plan of salvation in Romans. As I started to understand His magnificence and grace for the first time, I did the only thing I could do. I fell to my knees and offered Him my life to glorify Him however He saw fit.
Salvation from Guilt
From that point forward my life changed. Slowly, in some cases, but surely.
I still hated my sin, but I was freed of the burden of it. My salvation no longer depended on how well I was able to keep God’s law. Christ had taken care of my guilt, and the Holy Spirit was conforming me to His image.
The Law itself took on a new aspect in my eyes. Before, it was a set of rules I had to live by. Now, I recognized it for what it was: The very holiness of Christ that the Holy Spirit had determined to shape me into. It wasn’t something I had to achieve; it was something that was being given to me.
Because I no longer had to live up to God’s expectations to experience His love, my relationship with Him changed. I didn’t have the uneasy peace of a man waiting to fall again, but the calm assurance that He held me in His hand.
Now that I knew who I was in Christ, I didn’t have to hide my true self. I could open up and connect with my fellow Christians on a deeper, more honest level. My shyness retreated from the confidence I now discovered in Him.
As my walls of self-righteousness were broken down, the grace that poured in started to flow right back out again. The way I treated others changed in light of how God had treated me. If God could forgive my sins against Him, how could I not forgive when others offended me?
Ideas have consequences. I’ve experienced firsthand the difference that correct theology can make in one’s relationship with God. I want others to experience the same difference. That’s why I write these articles: to be an instrument of God’s grace in your life.