God began a good work in me during a revival service, when at age 9, I followed my parents and sisters to the altar to join the church we had been attending. We were all baptized the following Sunday. We attended church faithfully for a few years, then my dad stopped going altogether, and my mom continued to take us or to put us on the church bus when she didn't go herself.
We were well-behaved children who knew how to act in church and out of church, but our family didn't pray together, except to say the "blessing" in unison over the noon meal on Sundays. We didn't do family devotions, but my dad had bought each of us a Children's Living Bible, which he challenged us to read from front to back, just as he was reading the Living Bible. I don't remember much of what I read, except the incredibly long genealogy lists that made no sense to me. I couldn't even pronounce the names, but I slogged through it to the end, no more enlightened than I had been before I started.
When I entered junior high, I was so excited to get to move up to the youth group that my older sister was involved in. She wanted to be in church all the time, and I wanted to know what that was all about. I didn't know it at the time, but I had been following in her footsteps all along. At age 14, I was listening to a sermon in which the pastor said that if we hadn't experienced a true change in our hearts, if we were able to sin without conviction, then we were not truly saved. I did a quick review of my life and realized that nothing had changed, even though I had prayed the sinner's prayer and was baptized. I was still the same person I had always been. While I wasn't a bad person by worldly standards, I knew that I didn't have Jesus in my heart. I had been going through the motions and hadn't understood what it meant to follow Jesus. That night, I went forward at the altar call, made a profession of faith in Christ, and was baptized the following Sunday.
I loved going to church, singing hymns, and worshipping with fellow believers. I became more obedient to my parents. I only had Christian friends, and everyone at school knew that I was one of "them." I was never faced with any peer pressure to try drugs or alcohol, and I was never invited to any parties. It was cool to be a Christian, no matter how uncool I was. Life was good. What I didn't know then was that my profession of faith was just that, a profession. It would be years before I obtained possession of faith.
Towards the end of my senior year, I began to have questions that I didn't know where to find the answers to. Mostly, they were questions about doctrine. How were Southern Baptists different? How did we know we were right and everyone else was wrong? What if we're wrong? Rather than look to the Bible for answers, I struck out on my own in search for truth and got instead a big ol' dose of reality. Having been a goody-two-shoes all my life, I was convinced that I was good to go, ready for the world. Man, was I ever wrong. Temptation after temptation presented itself, and I was surprised at how easy it was to give in. I hated the things I did, hated myself for doing them, and wanted desperately to find my way back to God, but I was too ashamed. I prayed often, asking for forgiveness, but I had a hard time accepting that He would forgive me. I had rebelled against Him. I had abandoned the church. I had married an unbeliever. I had compromised my testimony. How could I make it right?
Ten years after I left the church, God provided a way for me to come back. My marriage was in trouble, and my husband had gone to visit a local pastor. After counseling with the pastor, we decided that we needed to be in church. My husband was baptized, and I "rededicated" my life to Christ when we joined another Southern Baptist church. I felt like I was home, but I had doubts about my salvation because of the life I had led for the past 10 years. I prayed for assurance. One morning, I noticed that a scar I'd had on my knee for years was gone. Completely vanished. Then I heard a voice say "You are my child." I knew then that God had been there all the time, waiting for me to turn to Him for the answers I had been seeking. He had allowed me to come face to face with my desperate need for Him. My faith had been tried, and though I had faltered, He had proven Himself faithful.
I wish I could say that I've been faithful ever since, but I can't. What I can say is that I have never again doubted my salvation. I am a child of God, bought and paid for with the blood of Jesus Christ, and any good that is in me is from Him. After several years of struggling to make up for my wasted life, I finally realized that there is nothing I can do to earn His forgiveness. It is a free gift of grace, of which I am most unworthy, which God in His infinite mercy has bestowed upon this sinner for reasons known only to Him. Whenever I have stumbled, He has brought me to repentance, forgiven me, and drawn me closer to Him. He continues to prove Himself faithful, and I am confident that He who began a good work in me will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.
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