As a child, I believed Jesus was real and good. I had no reason to doubt my loving church family. However, my beliefs and understanding were disjointed and shallow. My childhood faith could be summed up as this: God is real, and I need to be a good person. I need to make Jesus proud and not be like the people who killed him.
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! James 2:19
Not until I was 15 did I enter into a true, saving relationship with Jesus. At a very small Christian camp on the beach, I sat on a log by the campfire. It was nighttime and we had heard the last speaker for the day. Everyone dispersed, and I sat gazing into the fire. That night I was struck like never before with the weight of my sin. I had always seen myself as “good” – I did well in school, tried to be nice to others, and did not have what some might consider major rebellious tendencies. But I was slapped across the face with the reality that these little attempts at goodness, often motivated by pride, would never be enough to make me right with God. I could never live up to his perfect standards, and in fact, my lifetime of seemingly innocent obedience was marked by selfishness and hidden wickedness rather than sincere surrender to God. At the same time, I was equally struck with the goodness and magnitude of God. He was not a distant deity who created me and checked up on me every now and then. He was personal and passionate, fully aware of every sin I had ever committed. And yet, he sent his Son to die for me. This sacrifice was not made lightly, but in radical love and with purpose. I did not have the vocabulary to tell anyone, “hey last night I turned my life over to Jesus as my Savior,” but I knew that weekend marked the beginning of a faith unlike anything I had ever known before.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Psalm 16:2
My life was marked by a greater hunger to know God, but I was very intimidated by the Bible. By the time I got to college, my faith became overshadowed with frustration. I began to resort back to my childhood faith, angry that God was not responding to my obedience by giving me the desires of my heart. I began to intentionally pursue sin and refused to go to church or a campus ministry (even though a sweet girl in my hall invited me multiple times). After a year of rebelling, it’s like a light switch was flipped. God pulled me back into his loving arms so quickly that I’m not sure how to explain it. My eyes were opened again to my sin and his grace and mercy. My hunger was revived and I began pursuing God’s word and community with other believers. I started reading and studying the Bible for the first time and was sharpened by other Christians in a local church and on campus. God re-aligned my desires with his and brought me such joy and comfort in knowing and following Jesus. My prayer life became more personal and my faith became more public as all areas of my life began to come under God’s lordship.
A year later, he plopped me down in the Philippines for two months to share the gospel. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew that Jesus’ instructions to his disciples were for us as well: “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few…Go your way, behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:2-3). It was not until this trip that the meaning behind Jesus’ sacrificial death clicked for me, and when I returned home I was baptized. In evangelism training, I read Romans 3:23 and 6:23. Like a child being told 1+1=2, I had unknowingly accepted Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as being connected to my forgiveness without knowing why. I find it a bit humorous that not until I was halfway around the world as a missionary did I finally understand: Jesus is God, perfect and undeserving of death. He died because that is our punishment. From the beginning of time, the choice of separating ourselves from God through sin brings eternal separation in the form of death and hell. All people sin, and rightfully earn this consequence. However, Jesus died in our place, absorbing this punishment and making us right with God. He did not remain dead, but rose so that we might rise too. We have died with Christ, and will live forever with him in the perfect goodness God originally created. God has responded to our rebellion with compassion, providing salvation to all who have faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord of their life.
God does not save us so that we can live cushy lives, but has prepared good works for us to walk in. We are to love God and love others, sharing the good news of Jesus to every nation. As I continue to learn and know God better, I stumble and sin and turn inward – but his mercies are new every morning and he continues to draw me back and strengthen my faith! I will never understand or know everything, but I am confident that God is my Creator, Father, Savior, Lord, Refuge and Guide. His goodness is unwavering and his word is true, lighting my path as I go through life as his child.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 3:23, 6:23
For further exploration
* Leviticus 20:26, Isaiah 53, John 3:16-18, Acts 10:34-43, Ephesians 2:1-10, Hebrews 1:1-12 & 7:23-27, Revelation 1:17-18 & 5:11-14 & 7:9-12 & 21:1-8
* Video testimonies of celebrities ("I am Second")