Updated: Mar 21, 2020
With this blog in its infancy, I want to be clear where I'm coming from. I'm a Christian, or a follower of Jesus Christ, invested in proclaiming His name in obedience to Him. But how did I get here? No one just starts writing a blog about the Christian faith and worldview, much less with an apologetics lens. By the same token, no one just decides out of nowhere to go to seminary to one day become a Christian philosopher. My launching this website is a result of a long series of things that God has done in my life, so I wanted to begin the blog by sharing my story.
I grew up in central Georgia. That's Lizella, to be precise, a small town outside of Macon, which more people are more likely to recognize. Ironically, my story begins at the church that I attended from the age of 10 to about 17. I was 10 or 11 years old, saying the sinner's prayer while being led by an adult in the church. A couple of weeks later, I was baptized.
End of story, right? Not quite. You see, I had gone to church my entire life, but the gospel, at least in the way I understood it at the time, could be summed up in two short sentences:
I am going to hell.
In order to avoid hell, I must be "saved."
Being saved, as I understood it, involved saying the sinner's prayer and being baptized. Simple enough. I remember, as if it were yesterday, finishing the sinner's prayer and experiencing a feeling of settled comfort. "Ah, yes," I thought, "now I'm saved. I don't have to do anything anymore. In fact, I can do whatever I want, since I'm saved now anyway."
This basic, but false, understanding of the gospel really meant that, while I would have claimed to be a Christian at the time, nothing really changed in me after saying this prayer. And in all fairness, I wasn't a misbehaved kid externally. By all accounts, I was generally well-behaved. I gave mental assent to the idea that I was a sinner from birth, but I didn't really think of myself as all that bad.
When I entered the youth group in the sixth grade, the youth pastor at the time taught with a strong emphasis on what Christians were to do. To claim to be a follower of Christ must involve some change in action and in character. Christians must live a certain way that, while not perfect, reflects a significant change in their lives that God has made in them and a new direction and focus in their lives. He would undergird such teaching with verses such as James 2:14-18 (NASB):
"What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, 'You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.'"
Later in the same chapter, James, the brother of Jesus, writes (v. 26):
"For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."
These verses and more floored me. I began to understand that if I was going to call myself a Christian, I would have to do good works. I would have to do that which a Christian does. I knew that I didn't do those things. I didn't practice Christian disciplines such as daily prayer and Bible study. I didn't share my faith. And, as my youth pastor taught, this seemed to throw into doubt the idea that I was even a Christian. Was my faith dead?
And if it is, then what does that mean? Refer above to my understanding of the gospel. If being "saved" involved doing that which a Christian does, and I don't do those things, then am I really saved? And if not, then the implication was clear. I'm going to hell. And if there was one thing that I was sure of, it was that hell terrified me and that I did not want to go there.
It is difficult to describe the fear that gripped my soul at this realization that I may not be a Christian after all, that I may, in fact, still be going to hell. At first, it was somewhat easy to brush it off and get away from it at school, but I soon found a pattern emerging, realizing that this fear would grip me whenever I went to church. This youth pastor was consistent in his teaching on what Christians should do and how they should live, so I was reminded explicitly of what I didn't do most weeks. Soon, I would think about whether I was a Christian at night and just tremble in the dark, so afraid of eternal punishment.
At the heart of this was a sincere struggle in my own mind and heart to reconcile two things that I had been taught in church. One the one hand, I had been taught that if one prayed to receive Christ, then one was saved. On that basis, I was saved. On the other hand, I was being taught that a Christian lives a certain way, and that if you didn't live in that way, then you may not in fact be saved. And I knew that I didn't live that way. I would read verses such as Matthew 16:24 and just shudder, wondering how anyone could be so committed to Jesus (NASB):
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.'"
I knew, deep down, as much as I wanted to ignore it and tell myself that I had prayed that prayer, that I wasn't that committed. And Jesus Himself taught that this is what it means to follow Him. It is not just saying a prayer and doing whatever you want. It can't be. Somehow, Jesus' message included both believing in Him in order to be saved and being solely committed to living the way He lived. And somehow, missing the latter threw the former into question.
So I decided to try out doing good works. From what my youth pastor taught, my understanding of what it meant to live as a Christian boiled down to three things: read the Bible daily, pray daily, and be willing to share your faith. There were plenty of other commands, but this seemed like a good start. So, at some point in middle school (probably the seventh grade), I decided to do these three things. Sharing my faith terrified me more than anything, so I started with what the Bible told me to do privately. I decided that I would pray and read the Bible every night before bed.
Quickly, this became a frustrating and confusing process. I realized that I didn't understand Scripture at all. I had spent my entire life involved in church, and I had no clue what I was reading! I remember randomly flipping to a page and reading a few verses every night (a method of "Bible study" suggested to our youth group) and being so discouraged. I was getting nothing from this. Much more disheartening was prayer. I had no idea how to pray or why I should pray. I had, I think, a basic understanding that Christians should talk to God and be in relationship with Him, but how do I do that? With every weak attempt at Bible study and prayer, this fear would follow me to bed. If I couldn't figure this out, if I failed every night to practice the life of a Christian, how could I possibly be saved?
I remember, once, sharing my faith in middle school. I wanted desperately to be obedient, to do what a Christian should do, but I was terrified to share my faith. I had no clue how. I remember being on a field trip and sitting across from a good friend of mine. She asked me, out of nowhere, "Hey, how is it that you live so differently?" I almost jumped out of my skin. Here was my chance! But the fear was crippling. I said, weakly, "You see, I'm better because I go to church." Not a good start. "Inadequacy" doesn't come close to describing what I felt.
These things would have been tough enough on their own, but then I became aware of sin. If I was going to live like a Christian, then I must be aware of sin and avoid it. The Ten Commandments seemed simple enough. I didn't curse. I didn't do all of the things that I saw my friends at school doing. I wasn't rebellious against my parents or promiscuous. Not bad. Yeah, I had a bad temper, and the Bible commands us not to be angry and to practice self-control. So I just had to control my anger.
I don't remember much of the transition from the seventh to the eighth grade. I was doing all of the same things spiritually, reading the Bible and praying every night. A sort of cycle had set in here, but I was committed to keeping up with it. Surely, after enough time, I'd figure this out.
I tried to control that temper. I tried to stay away from the influence of my friends and their sin, and did so successfully, for the most part. I never shared my faith after that one horribly awkward encounter. But, at the end of every day, what became increasingly clear in my mind was that I was failing. No better at reading the Bible. No better at praying. And, if I had to be honest, I was getting worse.
On every page of the Bible were words I didn't understand. Words that were supposed to apply to me as one who had been saved! Yet those were the words that I understood the least. Words like 1 Peter 1:8-9 (NASB; emphasis is my own):
"And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls."
Joy inexpressible? I was miserable! Every word, every poor attempt at prayer, was yet another reminder! If I had prayed that prayer, now three years ago, then why were the most central parts of the Christian faith so difficult for me? How could I possibly receive any kind of peace, any kind of joy, when I couldn't find any clarity on this issue? Am I saved? And if I have to ask that question, isn't the question my answer? And if that's my answer, then is there any hope?
From the eighth to the ninth grade, I remember this deepening darkness in my own heart and mind. As I learned more and more about sin, the more I saw it in myself. As I saw it in myself, I was more at a loss as to whether I was a Christian. As I was more at a loss, I feared hell all the more. Without any way out, life became bleak. I began to harbor at all times this dull anger under the surface of my life, something which masked everything and everyone around me. I lashed out at others in anger, which only deepened my anger because it showed me my sin. I was drawing in. I remember when I started cursing under my breath at others. It was sinful, but it was also cathartic. I remember cursing at my parents under my breath when they would tell me to do something. They didn't know about it, but it helped to ease that rage. It was also failing to honor my parents. And I knew it.
This is one of the darkest periods of my entire life. All of these sins popping up out of this broiling rage within had their root in one fact: deep down, I hated myself the most. I couldn't figure this out, and I couldn't control myself. I was spiraling into this abyss in free-fall.
I remember feeling particularly afraid (the only emotion that would cut through the anger) one morning at church as the youth pastor taught. In a moment of clarity, it occurred to me that I could ask him about this. Right then, a different kind of fear cut through my fear of hell. It was a fear of vulnerability. A fear of being exposed. I was a very private person who stuck to myself. But, as counter as it was to who I was and in spite of how deeply uncomfortable it made me feel, the idea stuck. So I decided, sometime in or before the ninth grade, to seek out my youth pastor's help.
It was the morning of September 2, 2012. I had just started high school as a freshman. After Sunday school, I walked up to this youth pastor and asked if I could talk to him in private. He obliged, and we sat down in a small office. Very uncomfortable, I eventually stumbled through some words describing what I was going through, basically saying that I didn't know if I was saved, but I know that I should be living like a Christian. The youth pastor heard me and said that, though he didn't think that I wasn't a Christian, he thinks that Jesus is calling me into a deeper relationship with Him. He prayed with me, but I didn't speak. Then he patted me on the shoulder, and we left the office.
I remember initially feeling disappointed. That's it? I need answers! The youth pastor walked ahead of me and around the corner at the end of the hallway, and at that moment, alone, I felt a tangible change in the room. A presence that I had never experienced before. God! God is here! The weight of all of the self-loathing and anger lifted off my shoulders, and what took their place was this feeling of lightness, elation, joy, and, yes, love! Love! That committed, unconditional love that acts in grace toward those who don't deserve it! I said no prayer. I had nothing to say. I just stood for a few moments in awestruck wonder.
I don't remember a word of the sermon that day. I just remember wanting to rush home and read my Bible and pray. I had no idea what had happened to me. I still had no idea what this thing called salvation was. But I knew that something had changed. I had been changed. In the first month after this profound experience, God gave me a voracious appetite for Scripture. I wanted to study and know what He had done in my life.
What was the difference? Suddenly, I was confident that I was saved and that, though I still struggled in sin, God's work on my behalf on the cross was enough. I began to see myself transformed. I began to see people through the lens of God, people He loved, though they were His enemies. And I began to understand what I'd always missed. If God so loved us that He was willing to send His Son to die for us (John 3:16), then our proper response is to love Him with our entire lives, completely sold out to His will and purpose. We are commanded to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5). In a relationship of mutual love grounded in God's initiative in loving us self-sacrificially, we are transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit in us, conformed into the image of His Son. John, the disciple of Jesus, sums it up when he writes in 1 John 4:19 (NASB):
"We love, because He first loved us."
Our love, then, is our proper response to Him. This is what I didn't grasp. Without the foundation of the gospel and what God has done for us, we cannot properly serve Him. Once we grasp that gospel, then, enabled by love for God and the work of the Holy Spirit, our transformed life is evidence of our faith. Because of it, our faith is alive.
My story, then, is all about the God who rescued me from my weak attempts at serving Him by showing me what He had already done for me. Once I understood that, then I came to understand what it meant to be a follower of Christ, to "take up my cross" and follow my Lord. And that is how I aim to live my life, always in service to my God. I am not perfect by any means, but He has guided me and sanctified me so much along the way.
In short, I was made a new man in Christ on September 2, 2012. As a new man, my life looks different now. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says (NASB):
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."
So that's how I became a follower of Christ. If you noticed, none of this is about apologetics. That's why there will be a second part to my story, which will be coming soon! I hope that you enjoyed this read and found it edifying. If you're interested, please consider subscribing in order to be notified of new posts. Also, feel free to leave any comments here and start a discussion. Thanks for reading!