In a sense (and a very good sense at that) my story could really be representative of every believer — from the apostles Paul and Peter to the biker-gang convert. I never thought of my salvation in that way until about the last 3 or 4 years of my life.
Who doesn’t want a story like Steve McQueen, Stephen Baldwin, or John Newton (the writer of “Amazing Grace”)? Yet, I’ve come to realize that both my conversion and subsequent sanctification process are really no different than the headliner personalities’. That is to say, the various stories are really not about the supposed main character (the receiver of the grace), but about the Grace-Giver. That’s amazing… and encouraging to me. The nuts, bolts, pre-fabbed materials, God-ordained “line-laborers” who have impacted my life, and so on, are indeed very different; but the end product is identical: we are all being changed into His image and will ultimately be glorified and totally perfected in eternity. So, the manufacturing process may differ radically from believer to believer, but the car coming out at the end of the assembly line will be a work created to be just like Him – to His glory. Incredible. (Ephesians 2:10 is a really cool verse in relation to this.)
I can make a very long story short by sharing with you the profound truth stated once by a theologian named R.C. Sproul who said: “I have more in common with Adolph Hitler than the holy God of the universe.” This statement especially takes on meaning for me who often has associated (and still often does!) obedience to the commands of God and outward labor for Him as tokens of my worthiness of His grace and blessing. Believe me, I’ve had my share of biker-gang living (sadly in the shadows of an outward “dedicated Christian servant” life). Those years led to immeasurable grace and mercy on the part of God for me and my dear/magnificent wife and family. However, the grace and mercy applied by my Savior to those instances of transparently evil acts of rebellion are the exact same grace and mercy applied to the “filthy rags” of my sin-tainted “good works” and acts of obedience. It all falls short of the glory of God. It all begs the intervention of a Redeemer on my behalf.
My mother and father were introduced to evangelical Christianity when I was 9 or 10 years old. The “brand” of evangelical Christianity happened to be very legalistic and it was in that environment I found myself through my college years and even into my early years of marriage. The nearly graceless fundamentalism I was steeped in laid a foundation for me to think it was all right to hide an immoral secret life since the consequences that went with being exposed in sin were unthinkably devastating. So I hid. But not from God. And these many years later He still loves me enough to pursue me when I stray. And by “stray,” I do not just mean “big” sins. I mean all sin. Consequently, I daily need a waterfall of the gospel.
So, when was I converted? Don’t be confused by this… but I’m not really sure. I do know that I am, however! How do I know? He lovingly convicts me of sin. He kindly disciplines me when I’m stubborn. He wonderfully creates more and more in me a hunger for His Word. I see His Spirit at work in many ways. He just plain loves me because — and this is the “big one” — He is true to His Word. So, did I get “saved” when I walked down a church aisle when I was 10? How about when I walked down the aisle at a Christian school scared stiff about hell when I was 13? Could it have really occurred in the last 3 or 4 years? Only He knows. What matters is not the quality of my belief, but the all-sufficient nature of what my Redeemer accomplished on the cross on my behalf. So, I latch on to that with faith and agree with Paul in Ephesians 2 that it is by grace I am saved through faith, by no action on my part, but rather due to the fact that it is a gift from God –not my supposed good works — so that I have absolutely no room to brag about any aspect of my salvation. Jesus said it best Himself in His last dying moments on the cross: “It is finished.”
So, while I never killed anyone in a gang fight or lived a lifelong pure-as-the-driven-snow Sunday school lifestyle, I am now convinced that those saved out of either scenario are miracles of new birth. Hitler has a lot of company; Jesus has no peer. And now when God sees me, He sees only the finished “work” of one –Jesus, His Son. How grateful I am! And how excited I am to see what God will do in advancing His Kingdom with this band of sisters and brothers we call Renaissance Bible Church!