The following is a guest post from a friend and former atheist.
I was raised going to a Greek Orthodox church all through my childhood, and even began to attend Sunday services by myself when I was able to drive. When I got to college, I stopped going to church and slowly turned away from God over the course of about three years. I began to adopt an agnostic worldview–thinking God may or may not exist, but either way I needed to live my own life and look out for myself. Through my senior year of college, my weak agnostic stance turned into a firm atheistic stance on life. I was certain that God did not exist, and that Christianity was simply just one more religion in the world that was formed on stolen ideas and stories from ancient myths.
In the meantime, I was seeing much success in school and in my career. I was making much more money than anyone in my class and landed a great job out of college. Life was good. I bought my first car and paid my own bills and it seemed to all be clicking. Except, little by little, I began to have this eerie feeling about what would happen to me if I were to lose this job. If I were to lose my job, I realized I would lose everything. All my success in life was tied to how well I had done for myself in terms of monetary gain–and it was a sad realization.
Then I met a Christian girl at work and shared with her my issues with the Bible and the church, and I quite clearly offended her. She was a nice girl, so I laid off the subject a little bit, and we developed a friendship. This girl and I grew very close, spending each day together at work and there was just something different about her that I could not describe. She shared with me her own testimony and I was shocked to find out what this sweet adorable girl had been like prior to giving her life to Jesus. While it was certainly an inspiring story of redemption, I still felt like she was operating under some false sense of hope in life.
But as she and I grew closer, I became more and more curious about her faith and started investigating Christianity myself. I met with some other Christian friends of mine and shared with them my feelings toward the religion, specifically how I could absolutely not trust a two to three thousand year old book to be the accurate word of God by which I would set the standards of my life. We talked through some Christian apologetics material on Old and New Testament textual criticisms and original manuscripts still around today from which the Bible can be reconstructed. These conversations sparked enough intrigue in me to start reading other books in defense of the faith.
Thanks to these conversations and readings. I had reached the point where I was over my qualms about the legitimacy of the Bible and was convinced of my need for Jesus Christ in my life. I met with a young adult pastor at a local church to discuss my desire for God, but expressed my hesitation due to the fact that I had completely turned away for about five years. I felt like there was something I would have to do in order to be back in good standing with God so I could get to a place where I was acceptable to Him. The pastor talked about God’s grace and how it is a gift that is not earned, but is freely given. He explained how all punishment I deserved for my rebellion against God was paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross and that all I needed to do in order to gain salvation was to ask God for forgiveness and profess my faith in Jesus. In tears, I did just that. I will always recognize that moment as the greatest decision I ever made in my life.
Jesus has done everything for me, and I see now that living life for the glory of myself only led me to a place of darkness and fear. Since turning to Christ I am able to live freely as a follower of Him and trust that God has complete control over my life.
And no matter what happens, good or bad, all my faith and hope rests in Him alone and not on my own efforts.
[Image via Gilberto Agostinho – Creative Commons]
Thanks for the great reminder. It does all depend upon Christ and not our own efforts. Lord bless you!
So the Lard picks favorites? If it’s not our own efforts, then Jesus is like an annoying Facebook girl who only befriends certain people who already live within a Christian culture. I wonder why he shuns the overwhelming majority of people in Saudi Arabia? May God B. Less.
That’s a fair concern Carmelita. I’ve wondered about that one myself. Jesus said in Luke 13:29-30 that people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast of the kingdom of God. So, I think there will be people from Saudi Arabia, and from all over the world, who will be part of God’s kingdom.
On the flip side, you might find the next verse interesting too. In it Jesus says, “Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” So I think many people who identify themselves as Christians will find themselves to be last, or even not included, because of their hypocrisy. Consider what Jesus said In Matthew chapter 7: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you.” So many who appear to be Christians, and even believe themselves to be Christians, won’t enter into God’s kingdom, and yet people from places like Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world will be included.
Some Christians, C.S. Lewis for example, even say people who don’t know Jesus, may still be saved through Jesus. To Lewis’s point, if you think about it, all the saints who lived and died before Jesus Christ came to earth couldn’t have known him before their death, but they’re included in the kingdom of heaven. And infants who die go to heaven. So if someone doesn’t know Jesus it could be they’re saved through Jesus on the other side of death.
Carmelita, I appreciate your concern for the people in Saudi Arabia, but I hope you don’t fall into the trap of focusing on what God wants for other people. I think a focus on what God wants for you is what’s most helpful. I hope you seek after Him with all your heart. Thanks for your comment. “…you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
I understand that thought process, but it’s very important to understand that it is humanity that has shunned Christ, and not the other way around. Humanity has sinned and rebelled against God and God is perfectly just so he must punish sin. If God were to overlook sin he would not be perfect in character. The problem, however, is that God does not want to punish us so he sent his son Jesus Christ to live a sinless life as a human. Since Christ was blameless before God, he did not deserve any punishment, God then poured out all his wrath for the past, present, and future sins of mankind onto Jesus on the cross. In doing this, God has shifted the decision of receiving eternal life back to us. Now when we die, God no longer has to judge us because the punishment has been taken on by Christ on our behalf. Salvation is simply a matter of faith in what Christ did on our behalf. This is why human efforts to achieve salvation are futile and it is Christ alone who can justify. To not receive eternal salvation is a result of a person shunning Christ, not Christ shunning a person.
As for Saudi Arabia (and other parts of the world), it’s important not to view these areas with an American mentality of what it means to be blessed. In America we like to count blessings around our wealth and good fortune. Just reading the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5) will make it clear that the way Americans view blessings is not the way that Christ views blessings. It’s also important to think with an eternal perspective in these matters. The 80 – 90 years we live (generally speaking) is such a small slice of eternity. We view certain things as a huge deal while we live on Earth, when in reality we need to adopt the philosophy of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 where he refereed to his suffering in the following manner: “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.” People experience awful things in this life, but it is incorrect to view the wealthy as in God’s favor and the suffering as being shunned by God.
*which goes the other way… rather
Here’s my story which is a goes the other way.. http://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/part-i-on-how-i-became-a-christian/