I was raised Roman Catholic in a culture where your religion was like your nationality with little effect upon your morality. However, having attended Catholic school and coming from a solid middle-class background, I considered myself a good person. When you told a lie or were disobedient to your parents, you went to the priest and confessed, said ten “Hail, Mary” prayers for penance, maybe lit a candle, and your sins were “forgiven.” There was nothing to ever worry about. Or so I thought.
Although I was an honor student in grammar school and tried to do all the right things, I started messing up in high school. I looked for ways to find pleasure with drinking, drugs, partying, and sexual immorality (anything but God!), but I thought I was just a normal teenager having normal teenage problems living a normal teenage life. However, in college I spiraled out of control. More drugs, drinking, and promiscuity, and always looking for that something in my life that seemed to be missing. I craved for a love I never got. I would wake up in the mornings knowing that what I was doing wasn’t working, but I didn’t have the power or the will to stop it. I was dead in my sins.
I tried New Age philosophy, practicing transcendental meditation and out-of-body experiences with my “spirit guide.” Little did I know that I was actually making contact with demons, the spiritual forces of darkness, something that I would not be free of until much later.
I got pregnant at the end of my freshman year of college and went home for the summer depressed and anxious. So to take care of my problem, I did the very thing that I had supposedly stood against all my life–I had an abortion. It just led to more depression and hopelessness. Several weeks later I made a very weak attempt to commit suicide.
I didn’t return to college but I moved on with my life, so to speak. I continued to live a destructive and sinful life. I lived with men who were physically or emotionally abusive or both. I got pregnant once again. But this time I kept my baby, trying to be the best mom I knew how to be (usually failing). Having a daughter forced me to become more responsible, but I still didn’t understand what I was missing. I might have been growing up, but I was still a sinner whose father was the Devil himself (John 8:43-45).
A few years later, I left most of that lifestyle behind, moved to a new city, and started a professional career. But I carried with me tons of baggage that weighed me down. It might have looked more respectable on the outside, but I was still a slave to my sins (Rom. 6) and was absolutely miserable. One night in my apartment, after my daughter had gone to sleep, I fell to the floor in tears and cried out to God to help me. But even then I was crying out to Him to bring me what I thought I needed–a loving husband, more money, and a better life. But God in His mercy knew what I really needed–Himself.
All my attempts at religion had never helped me. I never learned that because of our sin, we have a huge problem–we are separated from God and will face His wrath and, therefore, eternal damnation, on judgment day. I thought I was a pretty good person. I thought I could earn my way to heaven. But I broke God’s holy laws. From the very beginning, I lied, I cheated, I stole from people, I hated people in my anger, I disobeyed and dishonored my parents, and the list goes on. Most of all, I did not honor God as God. No one does. In fact, the Bible says that none of us seek God, that none of us are righteous, and we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3). So we deserve eternal punishment in hell.
That’s our huge problem. We can’t do anything to erase our sins or make up for them. We can’t pray enough, do enough penance, do enough good deeds. That is very bad news.
God’s Good News
But here is the good news: God loves us so much, He provided a substitute to take our punishment (1 John 2:2), His one and only Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16), innocent of all sin, but who paid for our sin on the cross, who was raised from the dead by God and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).
We can’t earn this or buy our way in. Salvation through Jesus Christ is a free gift of God. All we have to do to receive this beautiful gift is to repent of our sins and believe, as the apostle Paul tells us, “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)
When we do that, when we truly repent of our sins and believe in Jesus, then God forgives our sins. We get to be with Him forever in heaven. But even more, He gives us a white robe of righteousness–we get Jesus’ perfect record of obedience so that we can never be sent to hell. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), and we will never stop being Christians. We begin to desire the things God desires. We want to be holy and godly and do what our Heavenly Father asks of us.
Are You Really a Christian?
Now, my story didn’t end on my apartment floor. A few months later, I met my future husband, who was a professing Christian. It was 1997 and I began to be interested in Protestant Christianity. By December of that year, I made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ and actually, my life changed quite a bit. I was fully sincere in my new religion–a devoted member at church, homeschool mom, and pretty good morally. I was now a typical American “Christian.”
But I had completely missed something very important. I never really confessed Jesus as Lord and I never really repented of my sins. Sure, I was sorry for things I had done. But to repent means to turn away from. I never turned away from my pride and my love of self. I was my own boss. I professed Jesus as Savior and did all that churchy stuff and seemed like a “good person,” but I was still very much in control of my own life. There was not much evidence that I was truly a child of God (see the book of 1 John). In fact, my demons never really left my side and would torment me at night in visions and dreams. I had a lot of doubts about the one and only true God and His Word. My heart was dark. In reality, I was a pretender, a hypocrite.
But in April 2011, I had a crisis of faith. I had been being convicted over the course of several days by the Holy Spirit about my sins, especially my temper. I yelled at my kids a lot and for the first time it really, really started to bother me. I was also becoming aware of how mean I was. I didn’t have much love for others. I started questioning whether this “Jesus thing” was even really true, that maybe someone just made up the whole thing and got a lot of us suckers to buy into it.
That’s the condition I was in when God took hold of me.
I’d been reading some missionary biographies that had come with our new homeschool curriculum. As I read their stories, I became jealous of what those people had. They were different from me, undoubtedly, but even different from those around me. I didn’t know a single person who seemed to have that much passion for Christ, that they would give up everything for Him–money, friends, family, possessions, even their lives. And they loved other people, even those that beat, imprisoned, and tortured them or killed their friends and family. Some, even to the point of death, were still loving their enemies. I wondered, where did this kind of love come from?
One night, while my husband was away on a business trip, and after the kids were in bed, I sat in my room and had it out with God. I asked him about these things, yelled at Him a bit, and cried tears almost all night. Somewhere in the middle of it, in His grace, He pointed me to His Holy Word:
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!“ (2 Cor. 13:5)
What?! There is a test? Am I even a Christian?
I was in shock. Never having heard this before, I was brought to my knees in bitter tears. I knew then that I had failed the test. The Holy Spirit brought me to a realization of my sins, my wickedness, my hardheartedness against God. I had known the gospel but in my own way had rejected it. I was still the one sitting on the throne in my life.
That night, I repented of my sins, placed my faith in Jesus Christ, and was forgiven completely. God made me a new person with a new heart (Ezek. 36:26). I finally had put my entire life in Jesus’ hands, and I just knew that I was now truly one of His children, saved from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9). What’s more, being born again was a literal thing, not just a figure of speech (John 3:5). That’s also when I, quite naturally, began calling God Father (Rom. 8:15).
Since then, I have gradually grown, not by my own power, but because the Holy Spirit lives in me. God gave me a passion for studying His Word, learning the truths of the Bible, and a love of prayer. He has given me a heart for missions and for persecuted Christians around the world. I have a joy that stays with me, even through the tough times, and a love for others that I never had before. I can see the fruit of the Spirit evident in my life (Gal. 5:22) in various degrees. I am finally free from the guilt of my abortion (although I will always regret it). But I know that God has forgiven me, and I will see my child in heaven.
I am not sinless, and I am not perfect, but I know that this Christian life is a process, whereby God gradually changes His children into the image of His Son (Rom. 6:22). He sanctifies us through the power of His Holy Spirit, and we receive eternal life.
Neither is my life problem free. I have had many trials and sufferings, have been put through tests, and have been disciplined by God. I have been persecuted for my faith (by American standards anyway), but through His Word, I now understand why these things happen (1 Peter 1:6-7). These are things we should not be surprised about (1 Peter 4:12-14). The depression and doubt I once experienced has been replaced by peace and joy. I have wonderful, beautiful joy, because I have Jesus Christ forever and ever!
The message God has burdened me with is to all professing Christians–make sure of your election! Make sure you do not fail the test! Read 1 John, read the books of James and 2 Peter. Read through Scripture, whole books at a time, not just little snippets, not just a verse here or there, but take the Word of God and treasure it. Because that’s what it is–a treasure. You might also want to listen to this sermon on Non-Burdensome Christianity by Tim Conway.
If you don’t like to read the Bible right now, first ask God for forgiveness for not loving His Word, then plead with Him to give you a hunger for it, like a drowning man longs for air. Some of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world risk their lives to possess even a fragment of the Word of God, while most of us in America have five or six Bibles at home collecting dust. We are richly blessed–but to whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).
Maybe you are not like that. But if you were like me, going through the motions of Christianity while knowing deep inside that something is just not right, I implore you–get help from God. Ask Him to show you! Ask yourself if you pass or fail the test. You do not have to live with doubt. There is something you might be missing, but you’ve got to submit yourself (your entire self) to Jesus as your Savior AND your Lord AND your Master and surrender your life to God (Rom. 12:1).