On January 5, 2003, I showed up to a new church at the long-standing invitation of a Christian friend. He had not been content to let me just not attend church while I maintained a profession of faith in Christ. Occasionally and graciously, but determinedly, he continued to invite me, despite my excuses. Eventually, after a very discouraging year, and resolved to make the new year a happy one, I finally decided to accept the invitation, and I got up on Sunday morning and went.
To say that what began that Sunday was life-changing would be to sell it far short. Of course, I didn’t realize anything like that at the time; in fact, the only thing I can visually remember from that day is coming home to an empty apartment and watching a crazy ending to a crazy 49ers-Giants playoff game.
But that Sunday began for me a practice of hearing God’s word being set forth as the standard of what a Christian was to know and do. Every Sunday morning, and every Sunday night, and even Wednesday night as well, I sat and listened and learned from people who believed and taught that Scripture is inerrant and authoritative, and that we need to know it and to follow it as well as we can. And that the heart of that message of Scripture is the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ for sinners and his resurrection from the dead that grants forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all who call upon his name. Hearing these things taught with conviction and clarity simply rocked my world.
It was only many months later that I began to realize something else, though: that my understanding of what makes someone a Christian had been entirely lacking. It involves faith and repentance, not mere assent to facts and wanting to avoid hell. It results in a life that tries to follow Scripture – not just a claim of knowing Jesus, or a baptismal certificate, or being able to point out the date of a fearful prayer. It is a commitment that is followed by change; a heart and life that grows in godliness because, by God’s saving power, it has been made new and is no longer what it once was.
And so I saw that not only had my life been changed in the most general sense, but that God’s grace had caused me to be born again (1 Peter 1:3) and that I had passed from spiritual darkness into light (Col. 1:13) and from spiritual death into life (John 5:24). I had not just made some life changes; I had been saved from my sins, and actually made a new creature in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Twenty years later, I’m still far from what I ought to be. But I praise God that, because of his abundant kindness revealed to me two decades ago, I have been given more grace than I could ever repay.