This is my own personal testimony. God led me in a way that was quite contrary to what most people would consider to be a 'normal' conversion experience.
I was recently shaken by the sudden death of a Bible professor I had known. The thought struck me that all the knowledge he had gained in his life of Bible study could no longer be shared with us. He loved to teach. I learned some important lessons from him. I would have loved to have learned more from him, but it is too late. The best way for valuable knowledge gained by spiritual experience to be preserved is through writing. I have greatly benefited through the writings of Christians from the past who shared their spiritual experiences in print. When Martin Luther was spiritually distressed, he found solace in the Confessions of Augustine. When John Bunyan was struggling, he found comfort in reading Luther’s Commentary on Galatians. When Charles Spurgeon was striving to understand his spiritual battles, he read Bunyan’s Grace Abounding. Shortly after I was saved, my pastor gave me a copy of Spurgeon’s account of his conversion. I devoured it and went out and bought Grace Abounding. From there I was led to Luther’s commentary. I have benefited greatly from the spiritual experiences of all these men. Where would I be, humanly speaking, if Luther or Bunyan or Spurgeon had not written? What if they had reasoned, “Who am I to write about my experiences?” Or, what if for fear of pride, they decided not to write? Myself and countless others would not have been helped.
It is with this in mind that I have decided to attempt to write the account of my conversion. Perhaps it will be a help to other souls who are struggling in similar ways. Perhaps years of doubt and fear will be avoided as they see how God has dealt with my soul.
I grew up in a Christian home and was taken to church from the time I was a baby. Some of my earliest memories were of visiting my grandparents at their rescue mission in Alaska. My grandfather had been a Baptist pastor for many years. I was reared with the understanding that I had a Christian heritage. A Christian heritage is a great blessing, but it gives no guarantees of salvation. My parents told me that when I was 4 years old, I prayed to ask the Lord to save me. Though I had no real memory of that experience, throughout my early childhood I assumed that I must be a Christian.
In early childhood, I attended a Baptist church that gave emotional altar calls practically every Sunday. I had a sense that to get to heaven, I must be converted. When I was about 8 years old, I began to wonder if I was a Christian or not. As the altar calls were given in church, I would secretly pray to ask Jesus to save me over and over again. There was rarely a service when I did not try to make sure I was saved by saying the “sinner’s prayer”. One Sunday, I finally decided that perhaps my spiritual struggles were due to the fact that I had never been baptized. In tears I went down the aisle to surrender to be baptized. Unfortunately the ordinance did not relieve my doubts. During this time I remember tempting God on many occasions. I would ask God to give me a sign that I was truly saved. On one of these occasions, I was doing my math homework and put the test to God that if I got my problem correct it would mean that I was saved. After getting the problem correct, I still doubted. During those years, my play was almost always mixed with fear about my soul.
After years of saying the “sinner’s prayer” and getting no relief, I decided that maybe it was not working because I had not done it publicly. One night as my parents were out at the store and my brother and I were at home, I was looking through our family Bible. Inside there were pictures of Medieval paintings of different Bible scenes. I remember being especially concerned as I saw the painting of the crucifixion because my heart was not moved with love for Christ as I thought it should be. I tried to pretend that I loved Christ, but knew deep down inside that I did not. When my parents came home, I went to them in tears and told them that I wanted to make sure that I was saved. They explained the gospel to me and told me to ask Jesus to save me. I did that and recorded that date as the day of my conversion. I would like to say that I had peace after publicly saying the “sinner’s prayer” before my parents, but I did not. A couple of years later, at age 14, I once again was baptized. Again I thought that my doubts were due to a lack of obedience in following the Lord in baptism. Again I found that it did not help.
During these years, I had quite a fear of dying and going to hell. Probably my worst fear was concerning Christ’s coming. I was afraid that I would be left behind at the Rapture. If at any time the house got too quiet, I would check to see if my parents were still there. I knew they were saved and that they would go when Christ came. I used to wonder what I would do if I was left behind. How would I survive? But, then it would not matter if I survived the 7 year Tribulation anyway, because then I would go to hell. One time the house got too quiet and I looked for my parents. They were nowhere to be found. I went outside to look for them in the yard and still did not find them. I was filled with anxiety sure that I was lost for good. Then, my parents came walking back from the neighbor’s house. I was temporarily relieved, but my soul was still in turmoil.
All the way up through my high school years, I would try to ask Jesus to save me at every altar call, hoping that one of these days it would work. During my high school years, my desires for salvation started to cool a bit, and I became more indifferent to spiritual things. I got into some of the normal sins of high school kids, though thankfully I was too afraid to do anything that would have severe consequences. One of the good things that happened during these years was that I met Pastor Ross Hodsdon. I used to go to his house for youth meetings, and I saw in him real Christianity. There were moments when I would feel the guilt of my sin and would try to ask God for forgiveness. I still doubted my salvation whenever I happened to think about it though.
After graduating from high school, I wondered what I should do with my life. I thought that I should go to at least one year of Bible school. I attended Word of Life Bible Institute in 1990-91. While there, I was involved in the Open Air Campainers ministry. Our team traveled to Boston and Philadelphia preaching the gospel on the street. I preached and led people to Christ during those weeks, though I myself was still struggling with doubts. I guess I thought at that time that my doubts were due to not serving God enough. If I could just serve God more then my doubts would stop. They did not. That summer I was a counselor at Living Waters Bible camp in Maine. Through all these experiences, I began to think more about spiritual things. I began to try to read the Bible on my own. I began to listen to Christian Contemporary Music instead of secular rock ‘n roll. One particular album by Steve Camp really got my attention. The songs were convicting and started causing me to wonder if I was really saved after all.
Through the influence of that album, I discovered John MacArthur’s book The Gospel According to Jesus. That led me to A. W. Pink’s book Practical Christianity. Through those books I began think that the reason why the “sinner’s prayer” never worked for me was because it was not mixed with a real commitment on my part. I had not submitted to Jesus as Lord. This got me started on a quest of trying to make Jesus Lord of my life. Just as fervently as I had tried to say the “sinner’s prayer”, I now tried to submit to Christ’s lordship. I still did not find peace with God. In fact, the more I tried to submit to Jesus as Lord, the more sinful I found myself to be. Instead of getting better, I seemed to be getting worse. During this time, my friends and I started a Bible study on our own. We would discuss these things. I would disparage the whole idea of children getting saved since I thought they would never be able to understand the work that was necessary to submit to Jesus’ lordship. I became proud that I was at least on the quest to accept Jesus as Lord, even though deep down inside I knew I had not.
During this time, Pastor Ron Bean was doing a series of evangelistic messages hoping that the church people would invite their unsaved loved ones. For one month he preached the gospel in a very convicting, Spirit-led manner. Few people brought visitors, and it seemed that those evangelistic services were a failure. But, each message was like a hammer breaking up my hard, proud heart. I went to the pastor about my struggles, and he dealt with me as best as he could. In one of his messages, he said that we do wrong in dealing with people who are doubting to try to point them back to a prayer they prayed. Instead, we should point them to Christ. He also talked about the “Baptist sacrament” of walking an aisle and praying the “sinner’s prayer”. By this he meant that too often people relied on their prayer rather than on Christ. Little by little, I realized that this is exactly what I was doing.
I will attempt to share the reasoning that was going on in my mind at this time. Perhaps it will be helpful to others. God used 2 Co. 5:17 to cause me to wonder if I had ever truly become a new creature. Deep down inside, if I was to be honest with myself, I had to admit that I had never been changed. In realizing this, I reasoned that the only solution was to try to become a new creature. So, I tried to manufacture this in my life. I tried to feel what a Christian should feel and do what a Christian should do. Then I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I could never truthfully act like a new creature without first being one. My perplexity was to find out how to become a new creature. I had tried the “sinner’s prayer” but it did not work. I had tried to submit to Jesus’ lordship, but I could not. I knew that the Bible said that for a person to be saved, he must believe. I had been trying for so long to believe, so I wondered what it even meant to have faith. At this point, I found that deep inside my heart there was a real hatred for God. I felt that it was unfair that God would demand that I be a new creature without ever making me a new creature. I had asked God so many times, but He seemed to refuse to do it. It was not my fault, I had tried to do so many things. I assumed that it was all God’s fault. After all, why would He not want to save me? Then suddenly it hit me that I actually hated the God that I had been trying to love. When I saw that evil hatred of God in my heart, I realized what the Bible meant when it said that we are sinners. I new I was indeed a rebel against the living God. Admitting this was difficult, but there was no other option. If I was honest, I knew that I must admit it. If I hated God, then I did not deserve salvation. I actually deserved hell. If I deserved hell, then it was not God’s fault, it was all my fault. Now I realized that the only way I could be saved was by God’s grace. I read Mt. 11:28 and found that Jesus was actually speaking about me. I was laboring and heavy laden. But, what did it mean to come to Him? How do you come?
It was on a Saturday evening that I went to Pastor Bean’s house looking for answers. I told him what I had been through and asked him what it meant to come to Christ. I was expecting him to tell me something that I must do that I had been overlooking all this time. I was expecting to do this thing and then God would make me a new creature. Instead, he surprised me when he told me that he thought that all this time I had been coming to Christ. He explained that it did not need to be some walking of an aisle or praying of a prayer. Then he told me that faith in Christ was simply looking to Christ for salvation. At that moment my eyes were opened. I saw Jesus with the eyes of my understanding. I saw that He was a perfect Savior. I saw that I could lean on Him for my salvation. I saw that I did not need to do anything except look to Him. He had done it all! At that moment, I experienced the peace which had alluded me for so long. The amazing thing was that I did nothing to get it. I simply stopped looking for something that I must do and instead looked to what Christ had already done. I realized that that was what the Bible meant by believing on Christ. It was not some kind of sacramental act or religious experience that I had to try to manufacture. It was not even some deep commitment and submission to Christ’s lordship. It was simply looking to the Savior. It was all of grace.
That happened on a Saturday evening in May, 1992. On Sunday morning, I went to church and taught my junior high boys Sunday school class for the first time with something to say. That afternoon, a friend came up to me and said, “I heard you made a decision.” My response was a bit shocking to her, but it was sincere. I told her, “No, I didn’t make a decision. It was not about what I did. I simply looked to Christ and what He did.” Since that time, God has given me a desire to help people with similar spiritual struggles. I sincerely hope that this account of my conversion has been helpful.