And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shoulds’t die for me?
He left his Father’s throne above (so free, so infinite his grace!)
Emptied himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!
Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
No condemnation now I dread. Jesus, and all in him, is mine.
Alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine;
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ my own.
[Text: Charles Wesley]
Dana and I were asked to write our “God story” this week in our application for membership to a church we’ve been attending now for 2½ years. May God alone receive all the glory in the telling of it.
I was raised in a Christian home by believing parents who taught us the Truth from our earliest ages. Besides teaching and living the Word at home and bringing us to church every week, they often brought us to hear various speakers. When I was a preschooler, I think it was late Fall in 1965, we went to hear Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, speak. He had recently been ransomed from a Communist prison after many years. I recall that Pastor Wurmbrand gave a clear Gospel message and ended with an alter call. Even as a preschooler I felt very drawn to step out and go forward. I did not, however. During the car ride home I talked to my mother about what I had felt and recall saying something to the effect that, “I bet that was the Holy Spirit wasn’t it?”
My parents had taught us enough that even as a preschooler I knew that God worked in us through the Holy Spirit. I had never actually “heard” and personally experienced Him until then.
My memory is not absolutely clear on the chronology, but sometime soon thereafter, possibly that night, as I was going to sleep I prayed and confessed my sin and asked Christ to be my savior. I was filled with the sweetest sense of well being a 3 or 4 year old could imagine. I can’t say that I sky rocketed in growth and maturity. I would say I grew in the Lord in rather quiet, steady manner.
The story of my regeneration is not dramatic in the way of some who live many years outside of Christ before being saved. I didn’t “get into any trouble” and was what most would call a “good Christian boy.” I did, however, fail to integrate in practical ways the truth of my salvation with my life. I knew I was saved and why, but this truth had not yet fully broken into my perception in a way that connected the material world I lived in with the eternal reality of my heavenly home (if that makes sense).
When I was a sophomore in college I acquired my first study Bible and began to read the Word for myself with more regularity. The Fall of that school year I went with Kim (now my wife) to see a Billy Graham movie. I think it was The Prodigal. I recall thinking that it was “OK”, but not being super “wowed” by it. However, after the show Kim and I went for a walk and I began to be struck by how little thought I ever gave God most days. I recall crying and crying and saying that, “I’m so far from him so much of the time.” Some might say that’s when I was born again, but I know that happened when I was a little child. I think that God said, “It’s time to grow up now, Dana, and get to know me and learn to live with me and for me.”
That was probably what a lot of people call “recommitting” their lives to God. For me it just felt like a crushing sorrow over the great ungrateful neglect with which had treated my Savior who so loving called me those years earlier.
Since being saved as a little boy, and more so after my deeper awakening that Fall, I would say that God has steadily grown Himself in me and opened my eyes to see him at work in my life more and more and my ears to hear him more and more. He has kept me from a great many griefs that I know my unsaved nature would have willingly run into had the Spirit not been in me to direct my way. In particular, He has placed in me a love for and joy in His Word. I love to read it, hear it preached, study it with others and help others grow in their comprehension, appropriation, and application of it. In more recent years He has been opening my eyes more and more to apprehend the beauty and magnitude of His grace toward me in the gospel. Instead of growing accustomed to grace, I’m more and more awed and likely to be moved to tears over it.
By God’s unilateral grace, I live in the blessed assurance of seeing Christ face to face and spending eternity in his presence because Jesus paid the penalty for my sin, bearing the full wrath of God until it was completed. I know that God accepted Christ’s death as my substitute for my sin debt because this was validated by Jesus’ resurrection when “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Jesus had no sin of his own, so having fully born the wrath for mine it was not possible that death should hold him. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that my sin has been paid for. Since “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and I am in Christ by faith in his death and resurrection on my behalf and by the grace of His call, there is no basis for keeping me from the promised inheritance.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Cor 4:16-18
I have had a reverence for God and a love for Jesus since my childhood and I knew that Jesus had died for my sins; but in fact, I did not know how to appropriate his death to my sins. The denomination of which I was a part taught that I and all others in the church became members of God’s family upon our baptism as infants in that church. This denomination also taught a works-oriented religion meant to keep us in good standing before God. My hope was in clean, devout living and regular church attendance.
When I was in elementary school, I remember responding to a televised Billy Graham crusade and writing to receive follow-up materials. When I was in high school I received a small New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs from the Gideons. I began to read it on the bus in the mornings on my way to school. That was an exciting time. I did not understand everything I was reading, but the Word of God was giving me a sense of joy and wonder as the light of truth began to peak through the darkness of my understanding of God.
It was in college, however, that I was born again. I had been reading a book entitled Why I am a Lutheran to better understand the denomination my boyfriend (and future husband) belonged to at the time. It was in that book in the Sears break room during my lunch hour that I first read Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And that not of yourself; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
The Holy Spirit used this key Scripture to impress upon me my inability to contribute anything toward my salvation. Just as “something like scales” fell from the apostle Paul’s eyes and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and could see; I, too, experienced scales of darkened understanding falling away. I was filled with the Holy Spirit (not in a charasmatic manner) and only then could I see the gospel clearly. I understood then that my salvation was solely secured by a trust-worthy and able God.
I remember a loop repeating over and over in my mind, “He did it all…God does everything…there’s nothing I can do!” Like those referred to in Hebrews 4:2-3, the good news had come to me in the past as to others, but the message I heard had not benefited me, because I did not combine it with faith. Still striving in the flesh, I was kept from God’s “rest” (Hebrews 4:9-10). Just as the Hebrews in Egypt needed to actually take the blood and apply it to their doorposts to be saved, I finally understood how to apply Jesus’ death to my sins—through faith and faith alone. I understood then that all of the work of my salvation had been done by God himself. “Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe.”
When I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as the only means to rid myself of the eternal punishment that hung over me, the Holy Spirit set his seal on me. I had been justly held responsible for my sins which are an affront to the very nature and character of our holy Creator. However, wonder of wonders, the sinless Jesus became my sin while on the cross and bore the punishment that was to be mine. He bore all the wrath of the Father in my place until it was completely spent, leaving nothing but God’s propitiousness toward me. What’s more, this God who had seemed distant and “other,” came near to me and revealed himself as an intimate, knowable Father.
I have walked as a new creation ever since. I was given a new heart with a fixed allegiance to love and serve God and I was given a new mind to discern God’s Word and his ways. My inner self is being renewed day by day and I believe by faith that I am being conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.