It occurred to me today that 2014 marks twenty years since I came to Christ at the age of 17. Praise God I had parents who took me to the house of God while I was still in the womb. In fact, if I have the story right, it was not long after the conclusion of a midweek service that my mom went into labor with me. But it wasn’t until 1994, in the summer before my senior year in high school, that Christ and the gospel and salvation became real to me – 20 years ago this summer!
Because of my upbringing, I had understood the basic gospel message since childhood. And in early elementary school I ‘walked the aisle’ and made a ‘public profession of faith’. But time proved that it wasn’t real. I was following through on an outward mechanism for professing faith (and not a biblical outward mechanism, mind you!), but the faith that the mechanism was supposed to symbolize was absent. And I suspect that many who read these lines will identify with that incongruity. We were coaxed to profess our faith before we really ever had it. And in many cases, we were assured that, because we professed it, we surely had it! And so all was well. Except that it wasn’t. Adolescence, high school, and the temptations that came with them began rapidly to prove what was really inside. And, of course, I didn’t even need the temptations. The junk was inside me with or without them!
But then one Sunday evening I sat in church, and something changed. There had been significant turmoil in our congregation – turmoil of which I was mostly unaware, since I wasn’t all that interested in what went on at church (another sign I didn’t yet really know the Lord!). Apparently a number of people were rankled over some church issue or other … and in recent days harsh, ugly words had been spoken, and relationships fractured. And the pastor, on this particular Sunday evening, gently and straightforwardly addressed the sin, and called for confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. In fact, he called for these things to take place that very night! And what an amazing thing it was to see people begin to spontaneously arise, crisscross the church auditorium, and with tears begin asking one another for forgiveness! At least one man stood before the whole congregation and confessed his ugliness. And there I sat, head down and a little unnerved by it all.
I had never seen anything like this before – a church full of people really broken, and taking the implications of the gospel this seriously. And I began to realize, that night, the difference between a real faith, and a merely professed one ... because these people clearly had something I did not have. I’m not even sure if I could have pinpointed what it was … but there was something in them (the Holy Spirit, I now know!) that would not allow them to keep on sinning; something that drove them to real love, and to real confession and repentance, however embarrassing it might have been to make it in public. And I knew I needed what they had. I realized that my prior profession faith was a profession only. And in God's mercy, I came at last to a living faith in Jesus!
And I learned something incredibly important that night. Over the next few weeks, I hope to write about several lessons I have learned in my nearly 20 years as a believer in Jesus. And the very first of those lessons was that Christianity is about the heart! I learned that night that faith is more than just mental agreement with the facts about Jesus, and a desire not to go to hell, and an ability to walk an aisle or sign a ‘decision card.’ Many a lost person can rehearse the facts about Jesus for you. And, as Iain Murray has pointed out, one need not be spiritually awakened to perform the merely physical act of walking an aisle. And I can’t think of many people who actually want to go to hell! But conversion to Christ is something more! Conversion is when the heart – and not just the head, or the feet, or the signature – turns to Christ! And conversion is when the heart truly turns to Christ, not just to a new form of religion (or away from hell)! I don’t know that I could have articulated these things very well on that first night in the kingdom. I don’t know that I’ve articulated them all that well these twenty years later! But this was the very first lesson I learned after (or while!) becoming a Christian – and it was a vital one: Christianity is about the heart!
The rest of the series can be followed here.
The rest of the series can be followed here.