We've been going through a sermon series at Blueprint called Genuine Faith, focusing on the book of 1 John. As part of this series, Pastor John O. has reminded us that there are four kinds of people in the world: those who are saved and know it, those who are not saved and know it, those who are not saved and don't know it, and those who are saved and don't know it. Today's post is a story from that last category. I grew up a mile from the church my family attended. My mom was the director of the children's ministry and my dad taught seventh and eighth grade Sunday School (he's a brave guy). Actually, they both still serve in these roles and have for almost 30 years. Naturally, I was at church every time the doors were open. I even remember one snow day when we had to drive so slowly that our dog followed us all the way there.
Our church was not perfect and has faced some rocky times over the years, but the gospel has always been preached and taught. From my saturation in God's truth both at church and at home, it was only a matter of time before I began to understand the implications of what I was being taught. When I was 7 years old, it all clicked for me. I was lying in bed, but couldn't sleep. I knew I needed Jesus to be in charge of my life. I described it as Him "tugging on my heart." So I got up and talked with my parents. Then I prayed to ask Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, and the rest is history.
Or so I thought.
Years later, in high school, I really started digging into the Bible and was troubled by some passages when I thought about them in relation to my own salvation. Was I one of the ones to whom Jesus would say, "I never knew you?" Was my faith authentic? Was there fruit in my life that proved I was a true Christian? How could I have understood all that salvation meant when I was 7 years old? Did I really mean it? I still struggled with sin, every day-- had I really been made new? Was the Holy Spirit really dwelling inside me?
These questions and doubts ate me up inside. I loved Jesus and I desperately wanted to live for Him, but much of the time I wasn't very good at it. I believed in eternal security-- once saved always saved, but I feared that maybe I had been insincere in my childhood surrender to Christ. The thought that I could have been wrong all this time and wasn't really a Christian terrified me. I didn't want to end up in hell, thinking all my life I was heading for heaven. I didn't want to spend my life pouring myself out for a faith to which I didn't actually belong. I didn't want to say I loved God and point other people to Him, but not actually be His child. But I also didn't want to be one of those people who "rededicate" their lives to Jesus over and over again, hoping it will eventually stick.
My doubts were mainly based on my poor memory of how things went down when I was 7 years old and the sin I saw in my life. But God has grace even-- maybe even especially-- for forgetful, sinful people.
In the few years after I began having these doubts, God opened my eyes. Through reading things I'd written even at a young age, talking with my parents, and even remembering things I'd forgotten, over time I realized that crazy as it is, I really did begin a relationship with Jesus as a 2nd grader. I don't believe this is wishful thinking on my part-- I believe God has reminded me (and continues to remind me) that our relationship reaches back farther than my faulty memory can recall. I remember going into my elementary school class the week after I was baptized and telling my entire class about it. I remember writing my little brother's name in a prayer journal and praying for him to become a Christian every single day until it happened. I remember quiet mornings spent reading my Bible before school. I remember loving my Jesus dearly, even when I failed to follow Him completely.
When you become a believer at an early age, you don't see as much of a dramatic change as you might when you're an adult. Many with my kind of story feel that their testimonies aren't as powerful as others. But childlike faith and gradual growth are miraculous and beautiful in their own ways.
Even if I'm wrong about what happened when I was 7 years old, the most important thing for me is that I know that I am a child of God now. I look back and see the evidence of God at work in my life, both years ago and days ago. Even moments ago. I trust that I am a true believer because I trust God. He didn't stop being my God because I forgot or questioned or doubted. He is so much greater than that. I'm so thankful my standing with Him doesn't depend on me-- but on Him.
It's amazing how God uses the trials of our lives-- even our doubts. I worked at a Christian kids' camp for a few summers during college. Each year, I had the opportunity to talk and pray with several 4th and 5th graders who were already doubting their salvation. With kids, you have to be careful because sometimes they don't fully understand what it means to become a Christian or they want to so for ulterior motives, like because their friends are. I definitely did not want to falsely assure them of salvation. But I also didn't want them to end up like I did in high school-- overcome with doubt. I had some great conversations with these kids, several of whom I will never forget. I was only able to speak into their lives the way I did because the Spirit guided me and allowed me to draw from my own experience and concerns.
Sometimes waves of doubt still hit me-- but I don't let them affect me like they once did. I only have to think of God's love for me and His promises. I know He will never leave me or forsake me, even in those moments when I can't remember why. My past is important, but not as important as my present and future with Him.