From Good to God, a New Beginning
Up until my senior year in high school, I had grown up with little if any religious instruction, though I did believe in God. I remember attending church a few times when I was about 5 years old, hearing my parents say a rote prayer of thanks before dinner, and as a child, saying my prayers in rote fashion before bed. When the subject of the Bible would come up in a family conversation, my parents would often emphasize that the Bible was an important historical and cultural book, and that my siblings and I should learn about it. By default, I considered myself to be a ‘Christian’, and if anyone had asked me how one goes to heaven after one dies, I would have said, “by being a good person.”
When I was a senior in high school, I took an elective English course called, “The Bible as Literature.” This course exposed me to the Bible in broad terms: its content, literary forms, Judeo-Christian history and traditions, etc. As a result, I got my first personal copy of the Bible, “The Living Bible,” a popular, paraphrased version of the scriptures, learned how to use a concordance to look up passages in the Bible, and even attended a local production of the musical Godspell. I also came into contact with several classmates who invited me to attend Young Life, a Christian outreach that tries to introduce Christianity to high school students in a non-threatening way. I attended several Young Life meetings and heard messages about Jesus and Christianity, but these had essentially no impact on my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian and how one goes to heaven. I was a straight-A student, an athlete, and by all external measures, a good kid.
After graduating from high school in June of 1976, I attended the University of California, Davis. During my senior year in high school, I had arranged to room in one of the university dormitories with a friend from high school named Erv, who unbeknownst to me had become a Christian through the ministry of Young Life earlier that year. During Orientation Week before classes began, I tagged along with him to several social events put on by one of the local churches in Davis.
After one of these events, a group of us went to the apartment of one of the college ministry leaders. Mike, one of the leaders, invited me to come upstairs with him to talk. I did not know it at the time, but as I went upstairs the rest of the group began to pray together and ask God to help me become a Christian. Mike asked me about my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian and proceeded to help me understand what the New Testament scriptures in the Bible had to say about coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. One of these passages was from the gospel of John, chapter 3. In this section, Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader, had come in secret to talk to Jesus. Jesus tells Nicodemus that a man cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (that is, enter into the presence and reign of God) unless he experiences a new beginning, and that this new beginning is brought about by God’s spirit in one’s innermost being. Jesus makes clear later in the conversation that the way into God’s kingdom and eternal life comes by believing in Him. (The sense of the verb “to believe in” used by Jesus implies not mere credence, rather reliance upon, trust, or confidence in.)
Well, why isn’t it enough just to be a good person, or do the best we can? Won’t God credit our sincerity or our good deeds? No, the Bible clearly explains that mankind has become sinful or corrupt. There is no amount of good deeds man can do to justify himself before God. All of us fall short of God’s standard of righteousness. And the penalty of sin is separation from God. This is why we need a new beginning. During our conversation, Mike explained to me through several other verses that believing in Jesus meant believing in who Jesus claimed to be (the Savior) and asking for God’s forgiveness of my sins through Jesus’ substitutionary death on a cross. Jesus’ death is the means by which the holy God of the universe bridged the chasm of sin to enable man come back into an intimate relationship with Himself. Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of mankind.
It began to dawn on me while talking with Mike and reading these verses that what I thought it meant to be a Christian and how one went to heaven was different than the what the Bible says. Mike asked if I would like to experience this “new beginning” by asking for God’s forgiveness of my sins and putting my trust in Jesus. I started to feel a little panicky, wondering if Mike was leading me into some kind of religious cult, which I had heard stories about. But I was steadied in my thinking just then by the idea that God, as such, must be good and righteous, and that everything that Mike and I had been talking about for the last hour had come straight out of the Bible, supposedly God’s holy book. If God was good and righteous, and therefore not out to lead me astray, and if I was not a Christian as the Bible explained a Christian to be (and therefore not heaven bound), then I certainly wanted to go to heaven. So I wanted to become a Christian!
I followed Mike in praying a prayer that went something like: “God, please forgive my sins. I believe that Jesus died for my sins. Please come into my life and be my Lord. Thank you.” Mike then showed me a few more verses in the Bible that spoke about assurance of the new beginning that I had just entered into.
We went downstairs, and Mike excitedly announced to the group that had been praying that, “Buff just became a Christian!” I was quite surprised when the group erupted in cheers for such a tangible and immediate answer to their prayers. My roommate Erv was literally in tears of joy, overwhelmed that I would have ever taken such a step in faith. I didn’t feel much different from when I had walked upstairs an hour or so earlier, but obviously something big had happened!
The few years following were ones of tremendous growth in faith and understanding through study of the Bible, prayer, reading, and listening to sound Biblical teaching. Little did I know what God would do through my feeble prayer to receive Jesus!
Being a Christian has given me a sure foundation, for life now, and for life after death. I have confidence and peace in spite of uncertainty, pressures, and difficulties that come in this life. I have unspeakable joy and freedom in an intimate relationship with the almighty God of the universe!
Life in God’s kingdom has been an amazing adventure ever since I became a Christian. The Bible makes clear that this amazing adventure will continue after I die. It is my sincere hope and prayer that you might experience this same eternal life in God’s kingdom. Jesus' offer stands the same for every person:
“For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:40