How I became a believer in Jesus
The basic message of the Bible
Words of wisdom
I was raised a Catholic, but did not actually believe what the church taught. It was just a family tradition, being Catholic. Over the years, I created my own, personal god who had blessed me with life and health and didn't mind what I did. I considered myself basically a good person. I was happy. I didn't want to be a Christian.
In December, 1977, a friend invited me to a Bible study. I declined. I had no interest in the Bible. She invited me again the next week. I was still not interested, but to show her how open-minded I was, I went. I had no intention of changing my views about God.
The man who taught the study, Tom Crocker, lived in a beautiful home in the country with his wife, Linda, and son, David. He was from Dallas, Texas, and owned a jewelry company. He was intelligent, successful - yet he believed in Jesus Christ. I was intrigued by this apparent conflict.
Tom got my attention immediately with the statement, "Religion is God's enemy." He explained that religions are man's attempts to get right with God, through rituals, robes, rules, and regulations. But God has already done everything that needed to be done to reconcile us with himself. Tom proceeded to communicate the basic message of the Bible (below), without the religion. As I listened, my resistance to the message diminished. It began to sound like a good deal! God was not a harsh taskmaster, a big killjoy in the sky. He was my creator. He loved me and wanted to have a relationship with me. My sin was not an obstacle to a relationship with God, because Jesus paid the penalty for my sin - death - two thousand years ago. He died on the cross for my sin so I would not have to die. God didn't want me to reform, give up my bad habits and go to church every Sunday. All God wanted from me was for me to believe in Jesus, to accept Jesus as my Savior.
Tom asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus as his Savior. One guy there did, but I wasn't ready. Tom gave everyone at the study that night a book, by Josh McDowell (Living Books, Tynedale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL, 1977), and a tract, by Bill Bright, of Campus Crusade for Christ. In More Than A Carpenter, McDowell points out that Jesus claimed to be God. I didn't know that! If Jesus was not God, as he claimed, then he either knew he wasn't God, and was lying, or he didn't know he wasn't God, and was delusional, crazy. As McDowell puts it, he was Lord, liar, or lunatic. There is no other possibility. There's no evidence he was a liar or lunatic. His resurrection is proof that he is Lord.
McDowell's book also discusses the evidence for Jesus' resurrection -- pro and con. Two days later, after reading the book and considering the evidence, I concluded that Jesus really did rise from the dead. None of the other explanations for the strange events after Jesus' death make sense. I know -- resurrection is impossible. But that's why Jesus' return to life is such powerful evidence that he is from God and what he said is true.
There was a simple "sinner's prayer" in the back of the book. I prayed it, basically admitting that I was a sinner, thanking Jesus for dying for my sin, and choosing to accept Him as my Savior. I've learned more about the Lord (by reading His revelation to us, the Bible) in the years since then and He just gets better and better. I haven't been faithful to Him, but He's been faithful and good to me. Thank you, Lord Jesus.
1) All human beings are sinners. The Greek word we translate as "sin" is "hamartia." Its literal meaning is "to miss the mark." When a Greek archer of the first century missed the bull's eye, his spotter would call back "hamartia!" (or some form of it - I don't know how to conjugate greek verbs), which means "you missed the mark" or "you sinned." Sin is falling short of God's standard for us.
What is God's standard for us? Many people believe it's "more good than bad." And they believe they are good people. But Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, revealed God's expectation of us: "you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). But no one is perfect - why this impossible standard? Because God is perfect. The Bible uses the term "holy," which means spiritually and morally perfect and pure. A holy God cannot tolerate the presence of sinners. He wouldn't be holy if he did.
The Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). For me, this was good news. I didn't have to feel like I was being singled out. We're all sinners - you, me, the Pope, Mother Teresa, everyone who ever lived, except Jesus.
2) Sin results in death. "The soul who sins will die" (Ezek. 18:4). "For the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). This is our problem. We all sin. Sin separates us from God, the source of life. And it's forever. We're condemned to death, powerless to do anything to save ourselves, because we can't undo our sin. We did it. We're responsible for it. No insanity plea. We can't blame our upbringing, our parents, our society. We sinned and sin results in death. We are spiritually dead. We can't understand spiritual things and we aren't interested in God because we're dead.
3) The good news is that God loves us and has saved us from our sin and our death. He couldn't just say, "You're forgiven." God is just. He has said that sin results in death, so sin will result in death. God reconciled his justice and his love for us by paying the penalty for our sin - death - himself. He came to earth as a man, Jesus of Nazareth, lived a perfect, sinless life, and died on the cross in our place, so we don't have to die. Jesus was our substitute. His death on the cross satisfied God's justice and demonstrated his love and mercy.
A classic example of reconciling justice and mercy is the judge whose daughter appeared before him on a speeding charge. He found her guilty and fined her in accordance with the law. But because he loved his daughter, he took off his robe, came around the bench, and paid the fine himself. Justice was satisfied and the judge was able to show his daughter mercy, but it cost him something.
The principle of substitutionary atonement, that God would forgive the sinner by accepting the death of another in his place, was not new with Jesus. God introduced it in the Garden of Eden, immediately after Adam and Eve first sinned. "And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21). Innocent animals had to die to cover their nakedness, symbolic of the guilt and shame of their sin. Abel and Abraham made animal sacrifices. God later revealed to Moses that he would accept the death of a perfect animal in the place of the sinner who offered it and would forgive the sinner. "The priest shall also make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering before the Lord for his sin which he has committed, and the sin which he has committed shall be forgiven him" (Lev. 19:22).
Animal sacrifices were temporary; they had to be repeated to cover new sins. But Jesus was God's ultimate, permanent provision for the forgiveness of sin. Because he was a man, he could die in the place of a man. Because He was God, He could die for all the sin of all men for all time.
4) God's forgiveness is a gift, available to anyone who wants it and accepts it. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23, my emphasis).
As with any gift, it's not yours until you accept it. We accept the pardon from eternal death that Jesus earned for us on the cross by faith, by choosing to believe in Him. Jesus said, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:16-18, my emphasis). Note that it's not "whoever does more good than bad" or "whoever gives up all his bad habits and goes to church every Sunday" but "whoever believes" in Jesus. We don't deserve eternal life. We can't earn it, all we can do is accept it.
The amount of faith you have is not an issue; it's the object of your faith that's important. For example, you can have a lot of faith that your house key will start your car. You're not going to go anywhere in that car, though. However, you only need enough faith that your car key will start your car to stick it in the ignition and turn it. You'll get where you want to go. Faith in Jesus results in eternal life. No one has a lot of faith. Jesus said in Luke 17:6, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you." The mustard seed is a very small seed.
We have small faith. But when I put my pitiful, hesitant, questioning, doubtful faith in Jesus, the Truth (John 14:6), I became a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and possessed eternal life (John 3:16). I became a member of the family of God not because of the amount of my faith, the fervor of my commitment, the degree of my surrender to his Lordship, the level of my faithfulness to God, or the absence of sin in my life (thank God!), but because the King of the Universe loved me enough to become a man and die for my sins, in my place. In the words of a famous hymn, "Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow."
Even the little faith I have is a gift from Him. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-9)
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it" (Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 7:13-14).
"Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened. Or what man is there among you, when his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"
(Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 7:7-11).
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Jesus in Mark 8:36)
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light" (Jesus, Matt. 11:28-30).
"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12,13).
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me" (John 14:6).
"And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life" (1John 5:11-13).
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me" (Jesus in Rev. 3:20).