MY TESTIMONY: HOW MY EYES WERE OPENED

I was raised going to church every Sunday. One of my parents knelt with me at my bedside each night and said the Lord’s Prayer with me. When I was in junior high my mom started family breakfast devotionals. I witnessed my parents’ Christian love in their marriage and towards others.

 

I believed in God. I’ve always believed in God.

 

But if you had asked me to articulate the Gospel, I couldn’t have done it. I don’t know if it was presented to me clearly. We attended a denomination that doesn’t focus on the Gospel message. But even if it was presented to me then, I wouldn’t have understood it because only the Holy Spirit can open your heart to true understanding. I didn’t know that, so I considered myself a Christian.

 

I had always struggled with issues of right and wrong that didn’t seem to bother my friends. I learned later that they kept things from me when they thought I wouldn’t “approve.” I guess I was a little preachy. But I was sure that you had to live up to God’s standards in order to go to heaven. And I didn’t want anyone to go to hell. One day I looked around and realized that most of my friends had lower standards than me. They had done things, not bad things, but things I believed were sinful. But I loved them. God loved them.

 

Didn’t he?

 

Maybe this heaven thing wasn’t about sin. Maybe it was about love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). I believed. God loves me. I’m going to heaven. It’s not about what I do or don’t do. Whew! (Insert lowering of standards at this point in my life.)  

 

I met my husband. He was amazing and he had great moral standards—so lacking in other guys I dated. He’d been raised in church too. We got married. We were very happy. But deep down I must’ve been missing something. I watched a lot of Oprah and Phil Donahue. I went to psychics. I studied Psychology. I read Shirley Maclaine’s book.

 

I know now that I was trying to find something to fill that God-shaped-hole inside me.

 

I had a friend that kept inviting us to dinner and to church. We went to dinner. We made excuses about church. But then we had a little girl. My friend had four beautiful children that knew the Bible. After our dinners at their house, they would beg to play Bible charades. We were terrible at this game because we didn’t know any of the Bible stories (except the big ones like Noah). I told my husband that I wanted our little girl to know the Bible stories. I wanted her in Sunday School. Of course, we had plenty of time because she wasn’t school age yet.

 

Eventually, and sporadically, we started visiting churches in the two different denominations we had grown up in. It was pretty easy. There was only one of each in our town. One, we visited regularly for a while until I took issue with some of their theology that my husband couldn’t account for. He told me to just ignore it—everyone else did, he said. The other church, it was one and done. We didn’t feel welcome there at all. And we gave up.

 

It wasn’t until our second child came along that we accepted my friend’s invitation to church. Not because we wanted to, but because she had asked so many times we were out of excuses. (Loving persistence pays off, my brothers and sisters!) The people were so warm and welcoming. The service was formal, traditional, which is what we liked. They used a version of the Bible that was modern and it sounded like normal speech. I could understand it without having to work so hard. They sang songs that didn’t sound like dirges. And the kids there? They all knew those Bible stories. We were sold.

 

We even started going to the Wednesday night Bible study and prayer time. We were seeking. We didn’t know we were seeking, but as I look back I realize it’s true. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). That God-shaped-hole still needed filling.

 

It never occurred to me that I wasn’t really a Christian yet. I had found a church. I had my shiny new NIV Bible. I believed. It was all good.

 

The pastor of the church asked if he could visit our home. My husband was out of town, so it was just me and the kids, who were playing. There was small talk I don’t remember, then he asked me, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?”

 

“I think so,” my words slow and unsure.

 

“Why?” he asked.

 

“Because I’m a good person. I try to do what’s right,” I said, a little more confidently.

 

“That’s not how it works,” he said.

 

He proceeded to explain the Gospel to me with words and Scripture. During the following conversation the Holy Spirit entered my heart. I heard the pastor with new ears. I understood things that didn’t make sense before. The veil was torn in two. My eyes were opened. I was changed forever, born again, made new.

 

I was saved.

 

“You can’t be good enough,” he said. “No one can. ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). No one is worthy of heaven. Even just one little sin is enough to keep us out of heaven. God’s standard is perfection. No one is perfect. No one can be because we are born with a sinful nature. And sin isn’t measured on a scale where this sin counts more than that one. To God, it’s all unforgivable. And the punishment is the same: death. Death means no heaven, no eternal life.”

 

That didn’t seem right. A loving God couldn’t count my white lie the same as some evil person’s murder. “Then how does anyone go to heaven?” A certainty landed in me: I’m not good enough. I’ll never be good enough to enter the presence of God. If murder is counted the same as a lie, I was definitely going to hell.

 

“Someone had to take the punishment for us. You know how in the Old Testament the Israelites had to offer sacrifices of animals on an altar in order for God to forgive them?”

 

I nodded, although I really didn’t know much about the Old Testament at that time.

 

“The animal’s death was the price for forgiveness. But they had to do it over and over. It wasn’t enough. It was just a temporary fix until the promised redeemer came. God sent Jesus to live a perfect life, without sin, so that his death could be an acceptable—once-for-all-people-for-all-time—punishment for us. He paid the price for our sins.”

 

At this point my eyes filled with tears. “All of my sins?” I pictured my sweet Savior on the torturous cross. The pain he suffered was for me. Because of me. For sins I’d already committed and the ones I had yet to commit.

 

“Every single sin. He died so that we can live on in heaven if we repent and believe.” I guess I had a look of anguish on my face because he said. “That pain you’re feeling, that regret? That’s the Holy Spirit convicting you.”

 

We prayed then, and I confessed my sinful heart and told God that I wasn’t worthy to receive him, but if he was willing, I would be his forever.

 

“Now that joy you’re feeling?” the pastor asked when the tears had ended and the understanding had truly landed in my heart. “That’s what happens when you realize that you’ve been convicted and sentenced to death, but pardoned and given a brand new life here on earth and then an eternal life in heaven. Mercy is not getting what you deserve (hell). Grace is getting what you don’t deserve (salvation).

 

I believed. I repented. I was born again. I was renamed: Christian.

 

What did I believe? That God exists? That Jesus is His Son? Even the demons believe that. That I’m sinful? I’ve known that all my life. Though at some point I started thinking that sin was measured on a scale and if the good you did outweighed the bad, you could still earn your way into heaven. Sadly, that’s what a lot of people believe.

 

That’s not how it works, my beloved.

 

I believe that I am wholly, completely, unworthy to go to heaven. God can’t even bear to look at me because I’m so sinful. But he chose me as one of his people and because of his great mercy he sent his Son who was fully God—but kept that part of himself at bay—and fully human—so that he could truly experience humanity and so that he would be capable of experiencing death—to live a perfect, sinless life. The Lamb of God—without blemish. So that he could be the perfect sacrifice to eliminate Satan’s only weapon—death—and pay the price for my sin.

 

I believe that God is just. There will be judgment for sin. The punishment for sin is death. Because he loved us, he didn’t want us to have to pay the price for sin. So Jesus paid it for us. He died on the cross. He experienced complete separation from God which is, by definition, hell.

I believe that on the third day Jesus rose again in a brand new body that could eat, and drink, and still had scars, but no pain, and wasn’t bound by gravity or walls or locks. The kind of body I’m going to have some day when he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead and to establish the new heaven and the new earth when his kingdom will have no end. (When he judges me, he will say, “Redeemed!”)

 

I believe Jesus, the Son, ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God, the Father, where he intercedes for me. When God looks on me, he doesn’t see me. He sees Jesus’ sacrifice, Jesus’ blood, which washes me clean from all my sin. 

 

I believe that as far as the east is from the west that’s how far my sins have been removed from me. They are forgiven and forgotten. But I am sinful and need to regularly confess my sin, privately, and corporately so that I am forgiven for all of my new sins and reminded that the standard is perfection and the price was steep.

 

I believe that I am commanded to go and share the Good News every chance I get—to be his feet and his hands in this world. I am to be salt and light, exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit and turning from the acts of my sinful nature. Not because I fear judgment—I’m no longer condemned by the law—but because my heart is so full of the Spirit. I can’t do this on my own because I’m lazy, and spoiled, and selfish, and impatient. But the Spirit is transforming me to be less of those things and more Christ-like—that’s called sanctification, and it started the first day I believed.

 

Some of you still don’t get it. That’s okay. If you’ve read this much it means you’re seeking and the Holy Spirit is working on you. Maybe you question how a loving God could allow such horrible things to happen in the world. It’s because he wanted us to have free will to choose him. Sinful people are going to behave sinfully. It breaks his heart because he is loving. He is also just. There will be judgment for the evil in this world. But faith based on what happens to us and not on our understanding of what Christ did for us is not a true faith.

 

With love in Christ,

 

Stephanie 

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