A genuine relationship with God! It seemed so foreign to think of knowing God in a personal way. All I had ever known was a “Christian” religion that offered a stale and impersonal God. Despite my protests and desire to sleep in,my parents had done their best to get me to church each Sunday. I now appreciate that guidance in developing my own values, but by my early teens, I no longer saw any reason to go to a church that didn’t seem to benefit me or most of the others who attended.
During those teen years, I mixed typical red-blooded American pursuits (sports, academics, money, and, of course, girls) with a spiritual quest to discover how and why I should live. I saturated my mind with books which would help develop those values, including classics by Herman Hesse, John Steinbeck and Kahil Gibran. This spiritual pursuit protected me from many of the overt sins in which my friends indulged, but left me wide open to be snared by one of the most deadly sins of all.
That sin became evident to me in the summer of 1972. One evening, while perusing my bookshelf, I noticed a copy of the New Testament. I considered myself to be a Christian, but realized I had never read the New Testament for myself. Assuming I had heard all it had to say, I had turned to other books for spiritual guidance. But I was a fiercely competitive person and my older brother had read the entire Bible. I wasn’t going to let him beat me in anything, so I determined to read it myself.
Within minutes, I reached three significant conclusions
- What I was reading was not what I had been hearing in church. It was alive and relevant, not dead and boring like the church sermons had been.
- The Bible was unlike anything I had read before. It possessed a unique authority. Other books raised questions; the Bible provided answers! Deep in my heart, I knew I was reading more than the words of mere men — this was God’s message to me.
- I decided that night that I would live the way Jesus taught.
But that wasn’t all I discovered. Several days later, I read the 23rd chapter of Matthew. It was here that Jesus cried out against the sin of religious hypocrisy. He disclosed that many are like “whitewashed tombs.” Outwardly they appear beautiful, but inwardly they are full of dead men’s bones. Even so, Jesus said, “Outwardly you appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. ” This condemnation pierced my heart and conscience; the words of Jesus Christ revealed to me that outward goodness was not enough. My very nature was evil in the sight of God. Others might have seen me as a “good person, ” but God saw my heart and He knew better. The Almighty Judge had declared me guilty and I stood condemned.
That was the first time in my life I became genuinely convinced I was a sinner. Not that I had thought I was perfect or without human flaws, but I certainly hadn’t felt worthy of the “woe ” Jesus pronounced on those religious hypocrites. Now I knew that if I were to die, I would go to hell.
For the next several weeks my spiritual search intensified. I would lie awake at night asking God to forgive me for every sin I could think of. I felt alienated from God and knew that life would be empty if I could not experience Him personally.
The answer to those prayers came as I discovered how the barrier could be removed and my sins be forgiven. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him might never perish but have eternal life ” (John 3:16). The answer was found in Jesus! Not a new philosophy or outlook, but a person. God had sent Jesus Christ so that I might not perish but have eternal life! When Jesus died on the cross, He bore the punishment for sins I had committed and for which I should rightfully be punished. He suffered in my place. He was my substitute. Now, through turning from my sin and putting my faith in Jesus Christ, the barrier between God and me was completely removed. I now how a genuine relationship with God!
I had always had a “head belief ” in Christ (i.e. an intellectual acknowledgment of the facts), but had never really trusted Him from my heart. But when I realized I was spiritually lost in my sin, I relied on Him to be my Savior. For me, this was not a highly emotional issue, but nevertheless, it was very real. I had invited Jesus into my life and He didn’t let me down.
Nor has He let me down throughout the 20 plus years I have followed Him. He has kept His promises to me and proven Himself to be very real and personal.
It is my hope and prayer that you, too, will come to Jesus Christ in such a way as to experience the love, forgiveness and life He has in store for you.