Vol: 117 Issue: 10 Friday, June 10, 2011
I cannot recall a time when I ever truly disbelieved in God. Reaching way back into the dim recesses, I thought of God as my “Big Friend” – I remember talking to Him from my earliest memories. As I grew older, I put God away, but I don’t think I ever doubted He was real.
That doesn’t mean that I was saved back then – far from it. I could never convince myself that God wasn’t real, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I just did what human beings have done since the Fall:
“And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8)
Adam and Eve believed in God – heck, they used to walk with Him in the cool of the evening, according to the rabbinical sages. And in a sense, so did I. As a boy pretending to “drive” my little red wagon, I was never alone – I always had him to talk to.
When I would be afraid at night, I would talk with Him until I fell asleep. I didn’t know His Name – to me He was just ‘God’ but in my innocence, I walked with Him and He walked with me.
I don’t know why my earliest memories are so clear; I suspect it is because I lost my mother when I was ten. Because of that, those memories are the ones I most cherish – they are the ones I pull out most often.
But many of them as clear to me today as they ever were. By the time I was ten, I had already followed Adam and Eve’s example of hiding from God, but I remember relying heavily on the knowledge that she was still alive in Heaven forevermore.
I counted on God to take care of her, so it wasn’t as if I didn’t believe He existed. But I wasn’t saved. And by then, I needed saving – I was well past the age of accountability, knowing right from wrong and doing wrong, eyes wide open.
I couldn’t face God anymore, so I learned to put Him out of my mind, except in times of danger, when I might invoke His Name – but I really didn’t know Him – that little boy was all grown up. I put Him on the same mental shelf as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, knowing full well He didn’t belong there.
I’d been educated in a Catholic school and figured that I knew what it took to be saved and it seemed to me to be both way too hard and absolutely no fun.
I had a lot of sinning to do and I really didn’t want Him watching.
By the time I actually heard the Gospel for the first time, I was about twenty-six and about the only part of the Bible that seem to apply to me was Job 20:11-14:
“His bones are full of the sin of his youth, which shall lie down with him in the dust. Though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue; Though he spare it, and forsake it not; but keep it still within his mouth: Yet his meat in his bowels is turned, it is the gall of asps within him.”
There’s more, but you get the idea. As I said, I knew that God is, but I hid from Him because I had a lot of sinning planned and didn’t want Him to get in the way. But sin has a way of taking you further than you want to go and keeping you there longer than you wanted to stay.
It starts out sweetness to the mouth, but “the gall of asps” inside. Full to the brim with asp gall, I heard the Gospel one Wednesday night at a little one room church, but I didn’t go up at the altar call.
I couldn’t – too much asp gall. But I couldn’t put the message out of my mind the way I usually did. That night, the enemy overplayed his hand. I woke up in my bedroom, which was cold as ice.
My breath frosted as I breathed and I sensed a malevolent presence in the room. It was terrifying. Maybe it was a dream. I don’t know. But they had given me a little pocket New Testament that night at church which I had put on the nightstand unopened and unread after coming home.
I reached over and as I touched it, I felt a comforting Presence. I put the New Testament under my pillow and went to sleep. Next morning, when I realized what had happened, I hit my knees and turned my life over to Jesus.
I was right. It was hard. But I had met the Enemy that night, and having met the Enemy, I knew whose side I wanted to be on. Everybody told me about their transformation when they got saved.
I wanted to be transformed, too!
I quit smoking, drinking and swearing. I guarded my thoughts 24 hours a day. I went to church every time the doors were open, hung out only with Christians, studied the Bible and prayed constantly.
It was exhausting! It lasted for three, maybe four months – a period of ongoing, constant battle — me against myself. I wanted to be good, but it was just so hard . . .
I was cleaning my car when I found a cigarette under the seat. I looked at it, was about to toss it, but I lighted it instead.
Next morning, when I woke up, there were my cigarettes on the nightstand and a half-bottle of Jack Daniels in the kitchen, and memories of the night before that still haunt me to this day.
What in the world happened? I was a saved Christian! How could I have let something like this overtake me? I was ashamed.
I was so ashamed I stopped going to church. I was too ashamed to read my Bible. As was my habit, I hid from God and went right back into the lifestyle I lived before I got saved.
I wanted to be transformed — and so I was.
Months turned into years and I never cracked a Bible, spent any time in prayer . . . I made new friends, I lived more or less the same life I had always lived before Christ. I felt an emptiness, but with a little effort, I could work around the void.
People who knew me peripherally said I was backslidden; those that knew me well concluded that I had never been saved at all. I sometimes wondered, myself.
“Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1st Corinthians 1:8)
If turning one’s life and will over to Christ, asking Him to save me from my sins and trusting that He is able to preserve me blameless isn’t enough, then maybe they were right.
One thing I was sure of, though. If trusting in Jesus wasn’t enough, I was done for. So why even try?
Hebrews 6:6 seems to concur, saying that having been once saved and then fallen away, it is impossible to renew me to repentance. There seems no way to get to anywhere from here.
I was saved, but fell right back into sin and stayed there for years before the Lord picked me back up and restored me to fellowship.
Let’s recap. But open up a Bible to Romans Chapter seven and follow along as we do. I was guiltless, once. Then I learned the difference between right and wrong and knew I was a sinner. (Romans 7:9)
Then I heard the Gospel given to men that they might have life and have it more abundantly. I eagerly embraced it, but found it impossible to live up to. Soon, that which I expected to bring me life, seemed to serve primarily as confirmation of my doom (Romans 7:10)
What happened? I expected to be transformed into a sinless Christian. My expectations let me down, I felt deceived and it practically killed my Christian witness. (Romans 7:11)
Was that the reason why I suddenly (and seemingly permanently) bolted from the faith? Was it because Jesus expected me to be transformed into someone holy and righteous and good? (Romans 7:12)
Was what is good to others all around me in church made into death for me? All around me were other happy, fresh-faced Christians – but the harder I tried to be like them, the more miserable it made me until I just threw up my hands in despair. (Romans 7:13)
I know the Bible says I was transformed spiritually, but I felt just as carnal as I ever was. (Romans 7:14)
For awhile, I just ignored it, because I wanted to be good, but no matter what, I just kept going back to the same old habits. (Romans 7:15)
It isn’t that I didn’t know I was a sinner before – that’s why I turned my life over to Christ in the first place. But the sinner part didn’t go away – I knew what I thought I should do, but I just couldn’t find it in myself to do it.
The harder I tried, the bigger I fell. (Romans 7:18-22)
I was in a constant state of war with myself, like the cartoon of the guy with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other – my mind wanting to go one way, with my body going the other.
I was in a truly wretched state! (Romans 19-24) I was trusting in my ability, not in His faithfulness.
All of us Christians find ourselves in similarly wretched states at one time or another. Not everybody’s “wretched state” is the same – some of us are bigger gluttons for punishment than others – but we’ve all struggled with our worthiness and the efficacy of our salvation.
If you followed along in Romans you saw that there was nothing about my own Christian struggles that are unique – the Apostle Paul outlined them point by point some twenty centuries before I had them.
I had a totally different column in mind when I sat down this morning, so I can only assume that there is someone in our fellowship that is really struggling with this issue.
The Lord is a real Person, and as a unique and real Person, His relationship with each of us is unique and personal. WE are unique – our struggles are not. It is important to understand the difference.
You may be where I am now, or you may be where I was where I started, or somewhere in the middle. No matter where you are, you probably feel that you have let God down. I know that is how I felt.
But one day, I “got” it. I really was saved by grace through faith, and that not of myself. It was a gift from God. The harder I tried to make it of myself, the worse it got — until I had been practically convinced by well-meaning friends that I had lost my salvation.
And based on where I was at that moment, that’s exactly how it looked to me, too.
What is the point to all this? We’re living in the last days. The world isn’t what it seems and the enemy is moving among us, doing what he can to dis-empower us as preachers of the gospel and thereby prolong his time.
The first place he goes for is a head shot –– if the enemy can convince us we’re lost, then in terms of our military effectiveness in battle, we might as well be. That’s why Paul advises that we wear the ‘helmet of salvation’ before going into battle.
There are trials and tribulations and struggles in this life – and as the hours count down, the enemy attacks are only intensifying. You may suffer a few setbacks, you may even get knocked out of the battle for a bit.
You may think you’re worthless, but that is only because you can’t see the whole battlefield. Know this. The Lord Jesus saved you for a reason. He isn’t through with you yet.
The battle rages on. Stand strong.