This is the story of how I once was a hopeless enemy of God, but God in his power and grace forgave my sins and delivered me from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
If you are a brother or sister in the Lord reading this, I hope you will rejoice with me in God’s salvation and be encouraged by his mighty works. If you are not a believer, I pray the gospel will come to you with power and conviction from the Holy Spirit as you read my testimony and that you too will be saved.
It all began before the creation of the world. Before anything existed, God chose me and all those who have faith in Christ to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace. (Eph. 1:4-6)
Not only did he choose us for this purpose, but he plotted out the details of how we would all get there, determining what point in history we would be born in and where in the world we would live so that we would seek him and find him (Acts 17:26-27). All of my days were written in his book before a single one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). This whole story was already written before the creation of the world.
What God determined for me was that I would be born in 1996 in Plantation, FL to a pastor’s family. My parents were both Christians and were faithful in bringing us up in the training and instruction of the Lord and sharing the gospel with us. God also gave me two older brothers who have their own stories to tell of how God saved them.
Chapter One of My Life in God’s Book: Born Dead
I was not born a saint. I was not born holy and blameless. I was not born a child of God. Far from it, I was born in sin, conceived in sin, enslaved in sin (Psalm 51:5; John 8:34). Even from the womb I went astray (Ps. 58:3), and in my early life, every intention of the thoughts of my heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). As a baby, of course, I was ignorant and unable to understand any of this. I did not know what I was doing, but this was my condition nonetheless—one of fallenness that would develop into willing rebellion as I matured.
If you knew me as a child, you would have called me a “good kid.” Many did. I was well-behaved for the most part by God’s mercy and had a well-oiled conscience thanks to my parents. I didn’t cuss, wasn’t violent, and was full of good works. I knew all the answers to the questions in Sunday School. My dad was a pastor after all. Growing up, my brothers and I were often pointed to as examples of what godly children look like.
In what way was I born a sinner, then? In many ways. For one thing, my inner life was corrupt. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). While on the outside, I may have seemed a good kid, I was an enemy of God in my mind and did not know it (Col. 1:21). Looking back on my inner life, the secret thoughts I had as a child and the heart motivations I barely had the cognition to scrutinize, I can remember how corrupt I was inside. I will spare you the details, but make no mistake, even as a child (perhaps seven or eight-years-old if memory serves) my mind was saturated with pride and impurity and evil desires. I was not a sheltered kid but my parents were watchful enough about the friends I hung out with and the media I consumed that you would be hard-pressed to find an external influence putting all that evil in my heart. No, the evil was already there inside me and merely needed some time and experience to work itself out.
My outer life was not spotless either. In my outward behavior, I often transgressed God’s commands, whether by lying (Ex. 20:16), disobeying my parents (Ex. 20:12), or having an outburst of anger (Gal. 5:20).
These may seem like trivial sins, but you must understand the nature of sin. What makes sin so terrible most of all is not how often you do it or how much it hurts another person but simply that it goes against God. “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight,” David cried to the Lord after his lies, murder, and adultery (Ps. 51:4). There is no greater crime than to sin against God, and I have committed this crime every day of my life. The LORD, the LORD is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, and he does not leave the wicked unpunished (Ex. 34:6-7). He is perfect and holy and the highest authority. To go against even one commandment of a God as great and holy as he is worthy of an eternal punishment. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
As for all my good behavior and good works, these were like filthy rags before God because my corrupt inner life made it impossible for me to do anything with absolutely pure motives and worse than that I had no faith in Christ in my earliest years (Isa. 64:6). “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). God commands us to believe in Christ; it is not optional (1 John 3:23; Acts 4:12), and if I had led a spotless life in every other way, this alone would condemn me.
How is it that I was born so sinful? I inherited this condition from Adam, the first man, who trespassed God’s commandment by eating the fruit about which God commanded him not to eat. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1). Because of Adam’s sin, I was born dead in my sins and so were you too. My memories of my childhood are not my basis for saying this. With or without such memories, the Bible tells us so, and we ought to believe it; it is part of our story.
I was a little child, rightly adored and cared for by my parents, living a blessed and happy life, yet thoroughly wicked inside and no stranger to sin on the outside. Whatever goodness people saw in me back then, I attribute only to God’s mercy in restraining my sin through my conscience and upbringing.
Chapter Two of My Life in God’s Book: The Good News
Does this mean God failed? He predestined me to be holy and I came out sinful. So did God’s word fail? Not at all! It was no surprise to him (Rom. 11:32-36). Let me tell you how he saved me.
When I was very young—five-years-old, I think—I was sitting in children’s church in a room that no longer exists with all the other five-year-olds. The teacher, John, told us the good news: God, so full of love, sent his son Jesus Christ to die for our sins on the cross, and whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
There it is! The good news! There is a Savior! Your sin must be paid for. You can pay for it yourself for all eternity in hell or you can let the death of Christ count as payment for you by putting your faith in him. That is the only way out—through faith alone, by God’s grace alone, through Christ alone.
John told us the gospel that day and had us close our eyes and bow our heads as he walked us through a prayer to receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It was a “sinner’s prayer,” much like these.
My mother treasured that moment and has the date recorded somewhere in an old journal. In light of how the story ends, it was indeed a sweet moment. The gospel was proclaimed and a seed was planted in me that the Lord would eventually bring to fruition. Nevertheless, I am doubtful the Lord saved me that day. I think I walked out of church with a fertile heart but just as condemned and enslaved in my sins as I was before.
Chapter Three of My Life in God’s Book: A False Convert
How could that be? Did I not just say that God sent us a Savior who sacrificed himself as an atonement for sin? Did I not pray the prayer as a five-year-old saying that I believe in Jesus and asking him to forgive me? How could I still be condemned after all that?
Well, for one thing, I recall saying the sinner’s prayer multiple times after that, week after week at church, and thinking rather flippantly about it as if it were a game, showing that I probably did not understand what I was doing and lacked genuine faith.
Salvation is not something that we need to renew like a subscription service, through repeated sinner’s prayers or communion services. We are not saved by anything we do in the first place and certainly not in the second place either, but only by the singular work Christ already did on the cross.
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when [Jesus Christ] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. . . . And where [their sins] have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”Hebrews 9:11-18
So it seems I had a lack of understanding and no real faith in the atonement of Christ. My words were mere words when I prayed.
A few years later my family moved to Massachusetts where my dad took a position as the senior pastor of a church. I was then eight-years-old and had never moved before. I remember crying at first when I heard that we would be leaving, but I quickly forgot my tears and enjoyed the trip. The tender heart of a child does not always outpace its curiosity and attention deficit.
Shortly after settling into our new house in Massachusetts, I began having serious doubts about my faith. I was scared all of a sudden that I and my family might be wrong about our faith and fast on our way to hell. “How do we know that we’re following the right religion?” I asked my parents. “How do we know that Islam isn’t the right way or some other religion? How do we know we’re not going to hell when we die?”
My dad was gentle with me and answered my questions by walking me through the prophecies in the Bible and explaining how they have been fulfilled in history, including a great many prophecies from the Old Testament that were fulfilled in minute detail in Jesus Christ. Whether my dad said anything else I don’t remember, but that is what stands out in my memory. The word of God assuaged my doubts and settled my fears.
Some months later, I was heading up from the basement when my mom stopped me to ask me a question. I turned and sat on the stairs, and she knelt there and said, “Do you know for sure that you’re going to be with God in heaven when you die?”
I had heard this question before. This was one of the two diagnostic questions from the Evangelism Explosion program, which equips Christians to share the gospel, but I had never been asked these questions myself before. I realized my mom must be concerned for my salvation. Maybe it was because of my doubting a few months earlier.
In that moment, I felt no fear or doubt or compulsion to lie. I gave her an honest answer. “Yes, I know for sure I will be with God in heaven when I die.”
Then came the second question. “If you were to stand before God on the day of judgment, and he were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you tell him?”
Again, I answered honestly, “Because Jesus Christ died for my sins, and I believe in him. I’m not saved by my works. Only by the grace of God.”
She seemed happy to hear that, and it was a watershed moment for me too because I think that was the first time I had ever explained the gospel to anyone. It was a moment that forced me to self-examine and find out what I truly believed.
Had the Lord saved me then at eight-years-old? I have doubts about that too, and here’s why.
When God saves a sinner, he does not only forgive his sin. God does not open the jail door only to let the prisoners run right back to their crimes. No, when God saves a sinner, he comes to dwell within him and gives him a new heart. His children are forever changed:
- An unbeliever is in darkness, but a saved sinner has been brought into God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
- An unbeliever is dead in his sins, but a saved sinner has been made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-10).
- An unbeliever has a heart of stone, but to a saved sinner God gives a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).
- An unbeliever is a slave to sin, but a saved sinner has been set free from sin and become a slave of God (Romans 6:22).
- An unbeliever is in the realm of the flesh, governed by his flesh, but a saved sinner is in the realm of the Spirit, governed by the Spirit of God living within him (Romans 8:9).
- An unbeliever is a child of the devil, but a saved sinner is a child of God (John 8:44; 1:12-13).
- “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone; the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Moral reform without forgiveness is no salvation at all, and neither is forgiveness without a change of heart. The Lord not only reforms the sinner but he forgives him, and when he reforms him, he reforms his heart, not just his outer life. This is a superior salvation. The whole person is transformed from the inside out as the Spirit of God comes to live in you who have been forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ.
I am doubtful the Lord saved me at eight-years-old because as best as my memory serves I find that the evidence of the Holy Spirit living in me was lacking. Here are some of the specific evidences that I do not see in my life looking back on that time:
- I had biblical knowledge but no love of the Bible. First Peter 2:2-3 says, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” Therefore, it is only those who have tasted the kindness of the Lord and have a salvation to grow in that will long for the word like that. Unbelievers can have an interest in the Bible. They can search it for wisdom. They can quote it as an emotional balm. They can study it and memorize it (John 5:39-40). I did this. I diligently memorized the whole first chapter of James as a kid as “homework” for my family devotions. But only true believers love the Bible as the very words of God, longing for it like newborn babies long for pure milk, longing for it innately, longing for it as their life and sustenance, longing for it to grow by it in the salvation the Lord has given them. As for me, I had no such longing. My interest in the Bible was for the purpose of pride and boasting. I loved being the smart pastor’s kid who got called on in Sunday School and knew all the answers, and that was my chief interest in the Scriptures. That is not what the heart of a believer looks like.
- I was consumed with pride. According to Romans 1, those who reject God and have been given over to a depraved mind are “insolent, arrogant, boastful” (Rom. 1:30). On the other hand, those who have been blessed with the kingdom of heaven are “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3). Unbelievers, therefore, are characterized by pride, while believers are characterized by a poverty of spirit. Believers are broken and contrite before the Lord. Only the Holy Spirit can produce a humility like this. As for me, I was very prideful toward my friends, always thinking of myself as comprehensively better than them and often seeking to put others down in subtle ways so as to exalt myself. My relationship to God was also characterized by pride, as demonstrated by my lack of true repentance.
- Repentance is something God himself grants a sinner when he saves him and so it is not something you will find in an unbeliever (2 Timothy 2:25). True repentance is not mere remorse. Esau shed tears of remorse but was not repentant (Hebrews 12:15-17). Judas hung himself on a tree out of remorse for betraying Christ but was not repentant (John 17:12). To truly repent is to be grieved over your sin, not only because of its consequences or the guilty feelings it brings but above all because of what an offense it is to the Lord (Ps. 51:4; 2 Cor. 7:8-13). To repent truly is to reject the idols you served and the sin you were enslaved to, turning away from your old life and committing yourself to follow the Lord (Isaiah 55:7). As for me, I hated the guilty feelings my sin brought but aside from that I didn’t care that I was sinful as long as nobody else knew. I had no love of God fueling a hatred of sin, but only a love of self fueling guilty feelings and a fear of being found out by my friends. That is not what the heart of a believer looks like. My heart was proud before God and lacked true repentance from the Holy Spirit.
- I had outbursts of anger at times, toward one of my brothers mainly and was again unrepentant. I was convinced in my mind that I was always justified in my anger and never confessed it to the Lord. According to Galatians 5:21, those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Ironically, according to James 1:20-21, which I had memorized, the solution to man’s anger is found in humility before the word. As I just said, I had no humility and no love of the word. No wonder I wasn’t repenting of my anger! Therefore, I am doubtful that I was a believer.
- I had no power over sin. Unbelievers may attempt to reform themselves by their own strength, but they cannot escape their slavery to sin. Only a believer has true power to overcome sin because only a believer can set aside all confidence in the flesh and trust in the power of the Spirit of Christ alone to deliver (Philippians 3:2-7). Only believers have been set free from sin and become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6; 8; Ephesians 4; 2 Timothy 2—3). There was not much I did to try to reform myself anyway, but wherever I did make attempts, there was no power; there was no victory; there was no change from within. Again, I was a good kid, as many called me, but only insofar as the Lord restrained my sin through my conscience and upbringing. The outside of my cup was quite clean, but inwardly I was full of dead bones and lawlessness (Matthew 23:25ff).
- I was a hypocrite in worship. The central point of worshiping God through music is not the emotional experience of it. In worship, we take the truth that God has revealed to us in Scripture (particularly those truths that speak of God’s excellencies in some way as all the psalms do), we trust in those truths with the faith the Spirit has given us, and we sing those truths back to God as well as to one another, extolling the Lord in that way and edifying each other (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:18-20; John 4:23). That is the heart of worship: faith not feelings. Should the Lord grant you strong feelings of happiness or graveness or stinging conviction as you sing the truth back to him, that is glorious and welcome. If you lack a particular emotional response, this does not make you a hypocrite in worship, as long as you have faith in the truths you are singing and a willingness to offer them to the Lord as worship. As for me, unbeliever that I likely was, I moved my lips so mechanically during times of worship that I barely knew the words to any of the songs, even songs that we sang frequently for years. My mind would be entirely elsewhere as we sang. Again, the issue here is not a lack of emotion or attentiveness either. The issue is that I had no desire to worship the Lord and because of that I had no faith in what I was singing but was just pronouncing words when it was time to do so. I was close to the Lord with my lips but far from him in my heart (Isaiah 29:13). This was no different from my five-year-old prayers. True believers glory in Christ and worship in the Spirit of God (Phil. 3:3). I did not because I did not have the Spirit of God.
- I had no desire to be baptized. Aside from my lack of repentance, this is the most telling. What is baptism? In baptism, you go down beneath the waters, symbolizing that you have died with Christ, and then you come up out of the waters symbolizing that you have been raised to life with Christ to live a new life through the glory of the Father (Romans 6:3-4). Baptism is something you do after you have already been saved as a way of publicly identifying with Christ and testifying visibly to the invisible work Christ has done in you. Baptizing believers is also something Christ commands the church to do (Matthew 28:19). I think I understood all of that back then. So why did I not want to get baptized if for years I had been professing to be a Christian? Well, I’m not really sure to be honest. I had some silly excuses in my mind that I would repeat to myself, and hoped no one would ask about it. Ultimately, I think I just wasn’t saved. The whole idea of sharing my testimony and publicly identifying with Christ made me uncomfortable because I was not in Christ and had no testimony.
So for all of these reasons, I doubt that the Lord saved me at eight-years-old. There was no clear evidence of the Holy Spirit working in me.
I think I spent my entire time in Massachusetts as a false convert, self-deceived, full of pride. I thought I was smart. I thought I was funny. A lot of people liked me, but inwardly I was perishing. I felt empty inside and tried very hard to ignore it.
A few years later, we moved back to South Florida. Moving back was harder for me than the first move. I was twelve-years-old, going on thirteen, and had a deeper attachment to people and places at that age than I did at eight. There were friends I was going to miss and places too. Those were foundational years for me in terms of my personality. It was in Massachusetts that I first began writing novels, composing music, playing the drums, becoming interested in film production and audio-visual, etc. Closing that era of my life so abruptly was a big shock. In regard to sin, it was shocking for a different reason: My faithless heart clung to the earthly comforts of a settled life, and the decision to move shook up those comforts forcing me to face my sin.
Or so you would think. Instead of facing it, I just tried to cover it up again. I tried to make the best of things in Florida by recapturing the earthly comforts of my life in Massachusetts. “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). Just as before, I tried to be smart. I tried to be funny. I tried to be a good kid, and I tried to get people to like me. Underneath, it was all driven by pride and lust and the fear of man and a refusal to acknowledge my sin. I succeeded in winning over some friends, but it was not fulfilling. I was still the same lonely, perishing sinner that I was before.
Chapter Four of My Life in God’s Book: Born Again
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”John 3:1-8
Salvation from sin is a supernatural work of God. Our flesh bars us from repenting and believing in the gospel. God himself must grant us repentance (2 Timothy 2:25; 2 Chronicles 30:12), and through Christ he supplies our faith (1 Peter 1:21). It was not by our own efforts that our mothers gave birth to us, and neither is it by our own efforts that we are born again as God’s children. Just as the wind blows where it wishes, invisibly, unpredictably, so the Spirit works as he wills and makes sinners alive at the times and places that he chooses.
I cannot say that the Lord cheated me by withholding salvation all those years. I can only trust that the Spirit of God blew over me when he willed and made me alive when the time was right in God’s book.
The stage was set. The seed was planted. I knew the gospel accurately. The difficult circumstances the Lord had put me in through moving me back to Florida were wearing me down and softening my heart. I needed only to be born again by the Spirit so I could repent and believe.
In the summer of 2010, I was thirteen-years-old, and we were going to a church in Wellington called Northstar Community Church. I went on a beach retreat with their youth group, and on the first night of the retreat, we had a time of worship. That night, something changed in me as if a switch had been flipped in my heart. Suddenly, I was weighed upon by a deep and sobering conviction of four things: that God was real, that he was glorious, that I was a sinner, and that I needed to worship him. I bowed down on the floor, and I think I worshiped God truly that night for the first time. I believe God saved me that night, and I was finally born again.
Now make no mistake, my reason for saying this is not because it was an emotional experience. Yes, it was very emotional, and again, feelings are good and welcome. But that is not my basis for believing I was saved that night. An unbeliever can have emotional experiences just like that without being saved (Mark 4:16; Heb. 12:17), and one believer will not necessarily have the same emotional experience as another believer at the time of his conversion. We are saved through faith in Christ alone not through emotional experiences. What counts is a new creation (Gal. 6:15).
Here is how I know that I am saved now and why I suspect that was the night it happened: I have repented of my sins and I trust in Jesus Christ alone to save me from them, and the genuineness of my faith has been proven over time by evidence in my life of being a new creation, evidence that was lacking before.
That night, I did not realize what had happened to me. I had no idea that I had just been saved or that I hadn’t been before. It wasn’t until years later that I looked back and saw drastic changes in my heart following that night and began to understand what had happened. Here are some of the changes I noticed:
- Whereas before I had no love of God’s word, now I longed for it like a newborn baby (1 Peter 2:2-3). Whereas before the Bible was a source of wisdom that I used to stoke my pride, now I saw it as the very words of God, and it was sweeter to my lips than honey because of Who wrote it (Psalm 19:10). I devoured the word, reading, studying, memorizing, meditating on it. I could not get enough of it because I loved it so much and longed to grow more like Christ by it. There were times when I would get bored with the Scriptures and my intake would slow to a halt. There were times when I would get lazy and neglectful and hardly think of it. There were times when circumstances kept me from reading it. But the longing never died away completely. Whenever I got bored, I would pray, “Lord, open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things in your Law” (Ps. 119:18). Whenever I got lazy, my longing for the word would inevitably reassert itself (often after falling into sin and remembering my need of it), and I would repent of my laziness and turn again to the Scriptures for deliverance. Whenever circumstances kept me from reading the word as much as I would have liked, I longed for things to change so that I could. An unbeliever can know the Bible and have a great interest in it, but only the Spirit can produce a longing for the word like that of a newborn baby for pure milk to feed it.
- Whereas before I was prideful toward people, seeing them as a means to entertain myself and exalt myself, I no longer regarded anyone according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16). I saw people as souls now and was burdened for lost souls to be saved and for saved souls to grow. I was grieved when I saw Christians neglectful of the Scriptures and laden with sins, and I was grieved when I saw the hard hearts of unbelievers. I spent much time praying for all of them, always considering what I might do to serve them. Under the authority of my pastors, I pushed beyond my introverted comfort zone in finding ways to serve believers and evangelize the lost, motivated by the love that God put in my heart (Romans 5:5). Only the Spirit can produce a burden for souls like that and a love for God’s people (1 John 3:10). Trust me, I know my flesh. That did not come from my flesh.
- Whereas before I was prideful before God, now I had true repentance. I was not motivated to kill my sin merely to be rid of guilty feelings (which is selfish) or to earn favor and forgiveness from God (which is prideful since that only comes through Jesus). There were a great many sins in my inner life that nobody knew about that I hated intensely simply because they went against the commands of my precious Lord Jesus Christ who died to set me free from such things.
- Not only that, but my repentance was costly. Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his riches and come follow him, but the rich man preferred to keep his riches than follow the Lord (Luke 18:22). He had cleaned up his outer life in many ways, obeying many of God’s commands (Luke 18:20-21), but his repentance was proven false because he was not willing to part with his most darling sin, his love of riches. True repentance is costly. How can anyone hope to repent like that? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Only the Holy Spirit can produce a costly repentance that holds nothing dear but Christ. For me, one of my most darling sins was taking pride in my knowledge, including of matters biblical and theological. I loved to nurture a boastful attitude in myself. Like Diotrephes, I loved to be first (3 John 9). But after God saved me, I hated my boasting and laid it down, adopting a quieter disposition at church and giving preference to others when opportunities came to speak up, such as in discussion in Sunday School classes. I think my whole “personality” even shifted into something more quiet and unassuming, which has not changed ten years later. My repentance cost me my dearest sins for the long haul. The costliness of my repentance proved that it came from God and not my flesh. Yes, I was far from perfect in my humility and often fell back into pride and other sins. I sinned daily and at times egregiously. But the orientation of my heart was entirely different. Whenever I fell into sin, the cry of my heart was, “Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!” (Psalm 119:5). I loved the Lord and longed to obey no matter the cost (John 14:15). Only the Spirit can produce a repentance like that.
- My anger went away. Just like that. The Lord was so kind. Can flesh do that? All other sins I have had to struggle and labor against with all the power of Christ within me, but God gave me immediate deliverance from this one for some reason. Again, I do not mean that I have been perfect in this or have never gotten angry since becoming a Christian. But the outbursts stopped immediately and patterns of anger dissipated without a fight. Whenever I do get angry now, repentance is always quick and old patterns of anger have never returned.
- I have power over sin now. Though I battle sin daily and am tempted to be discouraged sometimes, yet looking back, I see genuine progress in areas where I was deeply enslaved in sin before. Praise God! It is all of him. According to 2 Peter 1:5-8, what to look for when making our calling and election sure is not that we are perfect in goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love, but that we possess these qualities in increasing measure. That has been my experience—not perfection but increasing measure.
- My worship and prayers were no longer characterized by hypocrisy. Yes, there were (and still are) times when I do not worship and pray as I ought, but I am no longer apathetic about these shortcomings. I eagerly desire to worship the Lord and pray to him the way he desires me to. One of the lowest moments of my life was an extremely irreverent prayer I said to the Lord as a believer in a flash of anger a few years ago because of a certain trial I was going through. I cursed at him. How wicked! The Lord should have struck me dead on the spot. He showed me mercy only on account of Jesus. Grieved that I had offended my Lord, I repented immediately of what I said and asked God to forgive me knowing that “he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). I asked him to deliver me from my anger and give me the grace to not speak to him in that way ever again. That is what the heart of a believer looks like. Thank God for producing that response in me and giving me a longing to worship and pray rightly. I have never again spoken to him as I did that morning because of his deliverance.
- I desired eagerly to be baptized. I did not fully understand what had happened to me and how I had lived for years as a false convert. All I knew was that I was saved and I wanted everyone to know what Christ had done for me. At the first chance I could get, I signed up for the next baptism service at Northstar Community Church, and my dad baptized me at the beach before the whole assembly.
I know that I am saved now because my profession of faith has been backed up by years of evidence of the Holy Spirit working in my life. There are many aspects of the Christian life that unbelievers can imitate, but there are some things that are unmistakably from the Spirit of God because the Bible describes them that way. God wants his children to rest assured that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13), and so I rest my heart assuredly on those evidences that the Bible points us to.
Now to be sure, it is possible that was not the exact moment God saved me. Perhaps that night was just another experience God used to soften me and draw me to Christ and he actually saved me later on. Or perhaps I was saved before then. A believer can sabotage his own assurance by being stubborn or lazy in his sanctification, concealing the evidence of the Spirit’s work. This is why Peter exhorts his readers to be diligent about their spiritual growth and about making certain about God’s calling and election (2 Peter 1:5-11). God offers us assurance, and we ought to take it. We ought not quench the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19). Perhaps God saved me when I was eight-years-old after all, and it simply didn’t look like it because I was damaging my own assurance through my stubborn sins.
As best as I can tell from my memories and my understanding of the Scriptures, God saved me at thirteen on the night of that retreat for all the reasons I already explained. But knowing the exact date is not essential. What matters is that I know I am saved now. Praise the Lord; I have been born again!
Chapter Five of My Life in God’s Book: To the End of the Age
And what now? What is in store for me as a born again Christian? God alone knows all the details of the future. All I know is what he has revealed in the Bible.
What I know is that I am waiting for his Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come (1 Thes. 1:10). God has set a day when he will judge the world through Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31). On that day, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. But only his children will be rescued from his wrath and will live forever with him in a new heavens and a new earth where righteousness dwells. The devil and his angels and all those who have not believed in Jesus Christ by that time will be cast into the lake of fire into eternal punishment (Rev. 20:15). The reason that day has not come yet is because the Lord is patient in holding off his judgment so that more unbelievers will come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). As for those who die before Jesus comes, they will face judgment sooner: “It is appointed for men to die once and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
As for me, having faith in Jesus Christ and having assurance that my faith is genuine, I also know for sure that God chose me before the creation of the world to be adopted as his son and to be holy and blameless in his sight (Eph. 1:4ff). Since I know that God chose me, I know that I will never fall away from him again as I did in the womb.
No purpose of the Lord can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Not one promise of his will go unfulfilled (Joshua 21:45). He is able to keep me from stumbling and make me stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy (Jude 24). Nothing can separate me from his love (Rom. 8:38-39). Though I stacked the odds against him from the womb with sin upon sin, God’s purpose prevails through grace upon grace. I have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to because of what my God has done.
There are many more chapters of my life I could write about, more episodes of struggling with sin and enduring trials as a believer. For now suffice to say, until Christ appears I will not be perfect in him and my life will be full of trouble, but through the Spirit I strive to put to death the misdeeds of the body and have faith in his word that he is faithful through it all. He is with me always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).
A Final Word to Those Who Do Not Believe
If you are not a Christian, I want to be abundantly clear about this, so please bear with me. You are not acceptable to God right now and you cannot make yourself acceptable to him. The Lord God declares in Jeremiah 2:22, “Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me.” A leopard cannot change its spots because it is in its nature to have spots, and neither can a sinner change his ways because it is in his nature to be sinful (Jeremiah 13:23). We can clean the outside of the cup enough to fool each other, but the Lord sees how dirty the inside is and every microscopic spot we missed on the outside. Those microscopic spots are detestable and worthy of hell because of Who they are against.
Only Jesus lived a perfect life, and only Jesus offered an acceptable sacrifice to atone for sins. God will only accept you and forgive you and cleanse you through faith in Jesus Christ, “for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
So please do not harden your heart against his voice. Please do not presume that he will give you much more time to consider, since none of us deserves any time. But while his patience remains, heed the command of Jesus, “Repent and believe, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” You have no greater need in your life right now than to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
A Final Word to Those Who Say They Believe
If you profess to be a Christian, then please heed this instruction from the Apostle Paul, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
I was a false convert for years and didn’t know it. I was self-deceived. You might be self-deceived too. How will you know, unless you examine yourself? If you are not in the faith, God does not want you to think that you are. He does not want you to have a false assurance of salvation, but rather he says to the self-deceived unbeliever, “Wake up, O sleeper! Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you!” (Eph. 5:14).
But if you truly are in the faith, then God wants you to have assurance. “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). So get busy about being sure! Be diligent in your sanctification and in examining yourself. Do not test yourself by whatever measure seems best to you, but test yourself by the measures given to you in the Scriptures so that your assurance may rest on the unchanging word of God.
How sweet it is to know that you belong to Christ, to read Psalm 32:1-2 and know that these verses apply to you: “Blessed is the man whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
If you are my brother or sister in Christ, then rejoice with me in the salvation of our God and tell others what the Lord has done for you, especially at your local church:
I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.Psalm 40:9-10
Some resources that helped me in studying the Scriptures, examining my life, and writing out my testimony:
- “A Beginner’s Guide to Sharing Your Testimony” sermon by Daron Roberts
- “What Only the Spirit Can Produce” sermon series by Daron Roberts
- “Spirit-Filled or Self-Deceived?” teaching outline by Daron Roberts
- “Why Do We…” sermon series by Ray Fowler
- “The Greatest Chapter in the Bible” sermon series by Ray Fowler
- “Turning Your Attitudes Upside Down, Part 1” sermon by Ray Fowler
- “Returning to God” sermon by Ray Fowler
- “The Christian and Repentance” article by Sam Storms
- “What is Biblical Repentance?” article by John MacArthur
- “Not Quenching the Spirit” sermon by John MacArthur