Let's race through the early part of my life giving just enough to set up my surrender to King Jesus.
I was born in 1961. I was raised Roman Catholic. When my confirmation at age 13 did not produce any of the change or power the church had promised me, I rejected Catholicism.
My mom then gave me loads of evangelical tracts and a couple books. I read them and spent a month praying for Jesus to come into my heart. Nothing happened. I could barely remember to think about God through the day, much less live in obedience to his teachings.
At fifteen or so, I came across a book that claimed reincarnation was true based on "past-life regressions," in which people were hypnotized and testified of past lives. The book was convincing, and I became a student of New Age and spiritualism. I became convinced that if there were a god, that god was simply the united consciousness of all humans.
At age 20, in 1981, I joined the Air Force because I had become addicted to drugs, mostly "minor" ones, but I knew I couldn't quit without help. I thought (wrongly) that I wouldn't have access to marijuana in the military.
Several small events happened at basic training and tech school to arouse my curiosity about Jesus, though I was not open to believing he was the divine Son of God, Creator, or anything like that.
God kindly arranged it that my first boss at my first Air Force base was a loud, zealous Christian who was also assistant pastor at a Church of God in Christ. If you know anything about the COGIC, you know they are loud, boisterous, and full of praise. You may also know that they are almost exclusively African-American churches, and I'm not African-American.
My boss was a patient and jovial fellow. We argued about Christianity almost every day. My main objections were:
As I said, he and I argued almost every day, often for an hour or two. Most days I backed him into a corner he could not get himself out of, and he would laugh and tell me, "Some day, Paul, you are going to make a great Christian. I really love your smile."
After a couple months of this, we got on the topic of contradictions in the Bible. I had a seen a list of supposed contradictions while I was in tech school, but when I went to the library on base, I couldn't find anything on Bible contradictions.
I was so disappointed that I decided to write my own book on the subject. I would begin with the Gospels, and I was confident that the contradictions would be so obvious that I would find them quickly and easily.
What I found is that Jesus was so interesting that I couldn't focus on looking for contradictions.
Jesus wasn't the sweet, loving prophet that I had heard that he was, or at least he didn't seem sweet to me. Instead, he seemed sharp-tongued and quick to admonish, but very wise and in control.
It began to dawn on me that most of the apostles were put to death for proclaiming that Jesus is God. He claimed to be God, or at least the Son of God, and—shocking to me—eleven men who had lived with him for three years believed him!
Now I knew what would happen if I spent every day for three years with any group of people while claiming to be God or the Son of God. After three years, no one would believe my claim. They would know how far from "knowing everything" and from perfect righteousness that I was.
Not Jesus, after three years he won over all the apostles so thoroughly that they were willing to die in defense of his resurrection, his claim to be the Son of God, the Ruler of the universe, and the only One besides his Father who knew the right and best way to live.
The Gospels were eating at me, challenging my way of life and my thoughts about how life should be lived.
Skipping several very unusual events that happened over a three week period, I wound up at an Assembly of God church with a friend on a Wednesday evening in July, 1982. I had just turned 21, and my friend was a year or two younger, so he preferred the youth meeting to the service that was being held in the "sanctuary."
I went to that youth meeting with my friend, and the youth pastor taught on saying no. He told those teenagers to say no to drugs, to sex, and to sin in any form it came.
Though I was becoming impressed with Jesus, his teachings were not yet sinking in. My philosophy was that if it feels good, we should do it. Repressing our desires and urges just made for frustrated people with unhappy lives. At least, that's what I believed.
So this youth pastor was saying things completely contradictory to my philosophy, and I saw him as putting these kids in bondage. I was angry.
When it was over, I just walked out, quiet and sullen. My friend asked if I wanted to catch the end of the adult service, and I told him that would be fine.
It was amazing. We walked in, and it was dead silent. Everyone, over 100 people, was standing. Most had their hands raised in various manners. No one made a sound.
I was not a Christian, but my New Age background made me very open to spiritual experiences. I forgot about my anger and the class I had just been in, and I raised my hands with everyone else and contemplated God/god. This sort of thing was not unusual for me, but I had never done this with lots of people. I was nervous about raising my hands with them.
The service was almost over, so our group spiritual experience only lasted about five minutes.
When I walked out, someone I didn't know walked up to me and asked if I had felt the presence of the Spirit. I told him I thought so, but I wasn't sure. He seemed amazed at my answer, as though he believed everyone should have felt the Spirit of God in there. "Are you saved?" he asked.
I knew that terminology from talking with my boss, and I knew I wasn't, so I told him no. He asked if he could talk to me, so we found to an empty room.
This man, Robin, got the same treatment I gave my boss. I told him the Bible couldn't be the Word of God, and I told him a good God would never send anyone to Hell. He tried to convince me, but he was no more successful that my boss had been.
Finally, he said, "You know what. It doesn't matter if the Bible is the Word of God. It doesn't matter whether Hell exists. Only one thing matters, and that is whether Jesus is the Son of God. Do you believe that Jesus is God's Son?"
The effect that question had on me cannot be exaggerated. It was easy to avoid thinking about that question even while reading through the Gospels and wondering about Jesus. Now, though, the issue was being forced upon me. Yes or no? Is Jesus God's Son?
I suddenly realized I was scared to say no. I was scared of that wise, powerful man who had convinced his disciples that he was divine. His words were sharp and straightforward. If he were really risen from the dead, alive to hear my words, he would not take kindly to me lying about the evidence I had seen for his divinity.
I was silent. Robin talked to my friend a little while I bowed my head and wrestled with the question.
I was realizing that if I said yes, then everything had to change. Jesus' ways were nothing like my ways. Jesus' teachings were nothing like my philosophies. In fact, his teachings were a lot more like that youth pastor's class earlier: say no to sin; say yes to the commands and teachings of God.
Today I tell people it was about five minutes before I answered. Maybe it was less, but those few moments seemed timeless. My whole life was hanging in the balance!
Finally, I raised my head and said, "Yes. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God."
It is hard to describe what happened to me. A joy descended on me as strong as any joy I had felt in my life. The world around me seemed to change. Colors seemed more colorful. The air seemed cleaner. My breaths came more freely.
I don't know if Robin said anything. I was enraptured with the experience I was having.
What did you do to me? I asked God silently.
A voice in my head answered. "I just baptized you in my Holy Spirit."
I had heard the phrase before. A classmate had witnessed to me a few times my senior year in high school. He was small and somewhat awkward, like me, and no one liked him because he was always preaching. I liked him, though, because he was an underdog, picked on, but he never backed down.
He told me in class once that he could lay hands on me, the Holy Spirit would "come upon" me, and I would speak in other languages in praise to God. I pictured this happening in Calculus class, and I was terrified. I told him, "No way!"
Now, though, God was telling me that I had received the Holy Spirit. I had no trouble believing it because the experience was so other-worldly.
One of the things that had plagued me as a Jr. High student repeatedly asking Jesus into my heart was that each morning I awoke without even a thought of God. I would go through most of my day at school before I realized I hadn't given God a passing thought the whole day! It frustrated me, and it was the main reason I gave up on those Protestant tracts and books. I especially like reading The Cross and the Switchblade, but I didn't find the same real God that David Wilkerson found and wrote about in his book.
That day, though, at age 21, sitting in a Sunday school room on a Wednesday night, I knew I would have no problem thinking about God the next morning, the next day, and all the mornings and days thereafter. I knew a miracle had happened to me, and I vowed to God that I would never allow the passing of years and decades to make me forget what had happened to me.
Because I was attending Protestant churches and was inundated with the "accept Jesus as your personal Savior" gospel, I was very confused about why God responded to me when I confessed Jesus as the Son of God at age 21, but ignored my pleas for Jesus to come into my heart at age 13.
Now, though, I understand. Jesus specifically defined the Gospel as "the Gospel of the Kingdom" (Mark 1:14-15). The apostles proclaimed that same Gospel, though most of us don't realize that because we don't know that "Christ" means God's Anointed King. Thus, "the Gospel of Christ" is the Gospel of the King.
At age 13, I was asking Jesus to come into my heart. I had no idea that he requires anyone who wants to be his disciple to leave their old lives, take up their cross (instrument of death), deny themselves, and follow him (Luk. 9:23).
At age 21, I didn't know those Scriptures and that message, but I did know that if Jesus was the Son of God, then I had to bow my knee to him, change my thoughts to his thoughts, and live according to his commands.
Thus, at age 21, I believed the Gospel of the King, the Gospel that Jesus and his apostles preached, the Gospel that saves and transforms. At age 13, I knew that Jesus died for my sins, but I had never heard or realized that Jesus is a King who must be obeyed.
Hebrews 5:9 tells us that Jesus is the author of eternal salvation to those who obey him. 1 John 2:4 tells us that we're lying if we say we know him but don't keep his commands. To be deadly honest, I suspect a lot, if not most, of those who claim to be Christians have failed to believe that Jesus is King, failed to bow their knee to him, and failed to deny themselves so that they can follow him. They are as lost as I was at age 13, but they've been "assured of their salvation" by slick "gospel" preachers.
Justification is a free gift. Justification and grace (which is the power to overcome sin, Rom. 6:14) are gifts to those who believe the Gospel of Christ ... the Gospel of God's Anointed King, who must be submitted to and obeyed.
If you want to read more, my next story will be about my experience as a brand new Protestant. I was raised Catholic. I had wandered in on two Baptist services in my whole life, not understanding what was going on in either. I had no experience with Protestantism and the doctrine of sola Scriptura: the Scriptures as sole rule of faith and practice.
Entering the world of sola Scriptura was both a funny and troubling experience. I will be back at some point to tell you the story.
Until then, you might try these pages:
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Romans 7:24-8:13 and 2 Peter 1:3-11 both give the same simple explanation of how salvation by faith alone and a judgment by works are not contradictory.
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The very best of my Ancient-Faith.com and OldOldStory.org blogs